If you are a fan of the Dallas Cowboys and were watching the preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, your heart probably skipped a beat when Tony Romo went down, grabbing at his back. So far, all the reports from the team and Romo himself are that the incident was not as bad as it first looked. It is not going to keep us from worrying ourselves sick every time the 36 year-old quarterback takes a hit this year. But the incident also showed us that the team is not in the same dire situation it was last year. Dak Prescott came in, and while he was not the near-perfect quarterback he seemed in the first two preseason games, he still had the team dead even at the end of the first half even as the Cowboys started pulling starters off the field.
And that might be the best hope we can have for the future of the Dallas team in both the short and long term. With a solid to excellent run game and a full set of receivers, Prescott looks completely capable of stepping into the quarterback role. He still has a lot of areas he can improve, but given the almost incredible strides he has already made, there is certainly reason to believe he will continue to grow. As sad as the thought of the inevitable end of Romo’s career in Dallas is, now there is legitimate hope that the team will not descend into quarterback hell or purgatory when it happens.
Before going on, it must be made clear that this is in no way advocating that Prescott should replace Romo until is is absolutely necessary. Romo is too talented when he is able to play at or near his best. The issue is that we cannot have any great faith that the time when he can no longer play is several years down the road. It is something that can happen at any time. That has sadly been true for several years as Romo has been struggling with his back issues and the collarbone issues that cost the team the 2015 season. Those can reoccur on any play. But what has changed is that the team now has a player who is at least demonstrating that he may have what it takes to be the heir to the position of leading the team.
In keeping the team competitive, even in a game when the pass rush was again sorely lacking, Prescott did more than any backup the team has had since Jon Kitna. Yes, it was only preseason, but the Seahawks were playing their starters well into the second half. They clearly took winning the game seriously, which is not something the Cowboys seem to do in any preseason game.
Further, the defensive unit has been a patchwork affair so far this year. Tyrone Crawford, David Irving, and Shaneil Jenkins were not available. Benson Mayowa, Cedric Thronton, Maliek Collins, Jack Crawford, and Terrell McClain all played for a third or less of the defensive snaps. While the pass rush has not been very productive, what we saw against the Seahawks was hardly the best effort this team is capable of putting on the field.
And don’t discount the absence of Dez Bryant, either. That was one weapon that would likely have made Prescott more effective. As it was, he and Jameill Showers were spreading the ball around well. Fifteen different receivers caught at least one pass for Dallas, although many of those are not going to be on the team after the final cuts are made. But there is no doubt that Prescott can find the open man. We still have to see what he eventually does when faced with game-planning, but the work he has done so far is encouraging.
Also important, Prescott does not limit the offense in any way. He seems capable of executing all the plays the team has for Romo, although he certainly has a long way to go to be as effective as Romo in making audibles at the line. But to compensate, he actually expands what can be done with his running ability. While the Cowboys will hopefully never make a running quarterback a staple of the offense, the occasional use of a read-option can give the defense a real headache.
While we have to be cautious about counting those unhatched chickens, there is much more reason to hope that Prescott will be the quarterback the team needs to step in when it becomes necessary. And the events during the first drive against Seattle show that this necessity can come at any time. We all are hoping that Romo will be able to play a good bit longer, but it is obvious that we have to be prepared for that not to happen. Romo himself needs to do everything he can to prolong his time on the field, but for a player whose game incorporates such spectacular escapes, it is not going to be easy to be more cautious of his own health. Giving up on plays to make sure he comes back to try again is just not in his nature. And those near-miraculous escapes all come with the risk of taking another hit, when any one of those hits could be the last.
The sobering reality is that we may have seen just how the transition from Romo to Prescott may come one day, with Romo leaving the field and his backup having to become the starter from then on. But the good news, if it can be called that, is that the replacement looks far more capable than we had any reason to expect just a few weeks ago. We all knew that the day was coming, and now we have to face the fact that it may be much closer than we or most of the Dallas staff were willing to admit. Maybe, just maybe, it will not be as bad as we all were afraid it would be before the team managed to find Prescott to take up the reins.