We are in the last week of preseason. After Thursday night's game against the Houston Texans, the Dallas Cowboys will be practicing for the season opener against the New York Giants on September 11. But we still have that last 60 minutes of meaningless football. Bryan Broaddus takes a look at what to expect for the week, but the best thing in the whole article may be this one about the rapid evolution of the teams' faith in the man of the hour, Dak Prescott.
It was clear the minute Dak Prescott first stepped foot on the practice field at Valley Ranch, Scott Linehan was looking to scheme up some ways for him to succeed. Linehan has provided Prescott with throws that he is comfortable with. He moves him in the pocket to create easier reads - giving him some simple options. Where this all changed for Prescott was during a two-minute period in Oxnard, Calif., where he was running the first offense. During that drill he found Cole Beasley, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten all on the drive to move the team. At that point, he finally looked like a pro quarterback. Then came the Rams game where Linehan put him in the shotgun and let him go to work. There were downfield throws off play action as well as touch passes in the flat that were all well-executed. You could see the confidence between Linehan and Prescott grow with each play call. We are to the point where -- instead of coming into the game and handing the ball off just to set up a punt - Linehan has Prescott rip a throw inside to Cole Beasley for a first down. Those are calls you don't make if you lack confidence in the man taking the snap.
Executive VP Stephen Jones has made some waves by saying that there is no way Tony Romo isn't the starting quarterback when he gets healthy - unless, you know, he's not.
"I can't imagine a scenario where Tony's not our quarterback when he's ready," Jones said, seemingly closing the door on Prescott taking the job before jamming it open. "But things happen. You know that. You know what happened to Bledsoe and [Tom] Brady. I'm sure Tony's aware of that. But the reality is Tony's going to come back for us and play great, we believe."
While the team is fully supportive of Prescott as he prepares to be the starter for however long he is needed, it is also still behind Romo, as his oldest friend on the team, Jason Witten, relates.
"But I've been around this league for a long time and there's been a lot of people I've observed and had relationships, and none greater than the relationship with Tony. I do know this: I don't believe in anybody more than him. I know what he's about. So this setback is just that. He'll do everything to come back. I know that, this team knows that. We believe in him."
His teammates may be prepared for his return, but Jeff Sullivan, in a post that we must earnestly hope is a bit premature, worries that Romo's body is no longer able to carry the load.
Romo has sacrificed his physical being for that dream to become a reality, many times over and then some. The fans, even many of his teammates, don't fully comprehend the abuse his body has taken the last decade. There have been multiple occasions when the doctors and the training staff have shaken their heads in disbelief as he willed himself on the field. Heck, he wanted to go back out there for a preseason game with a broken back.
For those who talk about the money and the fame, they don't appreciate those who are playing for the love and competition. We all tick differently upstairs. We all have different thresholds of pain. That's why so few are still playing such a violent sport at 36 years of age, whether their bank accounts have $87 or $87 million.
Given the punishment Romo has taken in his career, you almost have to wonder if a possible return in just six weeks is a good or a bad thing.
If the report is true, this would see Romo returning as soon as the Oct. 2 game against the San Francisco 49ers, as the opener is still two weeks away.
No, we are not addressing the whole Colin Kaepernick kerfuffle. No matter what would be said, it would anger about 49% of the readers. What is of interest to us is the second part of this article, which deals with Dallas and that Dak guy.
Prescott, of course, has been a godsend. A DUI arrest in March (he was later cleared) pushed him down draft boards, and he's been the best quarterback by far in the NFL preseason—whatever that means. His 137.8 rating and .780 accuracy rate have blown away the Cowboys. In some ways, he's almost been too perfect. This story from training camp reflects that: In an 11-on-11 period late in practice, the offense had 10 seconds left to score, and Prescott was the quarterback with the first unit. He passed to Dez Bryant, and Bryant was supposed to out of bounds immediately so the clock would stop or go to the ground so the offense could call a timeout. But Bryant tried to score instead, was stopped, and the clock ran out. Prescott ran to him and said words to this effect: We know you're the best receiver in the world and you MIGHT score, but we can't take that chance. You gotta use your head and get the clock stopped. That's a rookie, talking to Dez Bryant. And Bryant, to his credit acknowledged Prescott was right. Prescott grew a lot in the eyes of the starting offense, and the coaches, that day.
All hope now rests on Prescott, but some feel the team and fans are putting way too much hope in him. This is one of those realistic or pessimistic (depending on how you think) takes. It raises a lot of questions and possible pitfalls, but not all are equally valid.
Let's just say the odds are against him. It's not just negativity by guesswork, either. The list of rookie fourth-rounders to play regularly in recent years isn't very long or impressive, at least during their debut campaigns. Since 1980, just four fourth-rounders have thrown 200 passes or more during their rookie campaigns. After adjusting for era by using pro-football-reference.com's index statistics, none of the four were above-average even once in passer rating, yards per attempt, completion percentage, net yards per attempt or adjusted net yards per attempt. It's an ugly bunch.
This seems a logical fallacy. The performance of former fourth round quarterbacks has absolutely no influence or relationship to how Prescott will perform. That is a measure of how well players are scouted. Draft position should be thrown out the window once a player sets foot on the field. Right now, Prescott is building a case that everyone missed on him. That's about all the quote above illustrates.
There are also a lot of analyses going on that conclude that there really is a chance for a Dak-led Dallas team. (You can insert your own "So you're saying there's a chance?" GIFs in the comments.)
No matter how you spin it, going from Romo's consistent efficiency to a rookie quarterback is going to hurt the Cowboys. It would be impossible for this not to happen. But the team shouldn't necessarily abandon all hope just yet.
Prescott was a successful college quarterback who enters the NFL with a solid amount of experience under his belt. It's not as if he was some run-first athlete at that level who will need to completely learn how to play the position. That alone should rekindle a slight amount of hope.
Among the many things that can be counted as pluses for Prescott is the fact that suddenly having to step in as the starter is really kind of old hat for him.
"I think," Prescott said. "I've started at every level this exact, same way, unfortunately for those guys: High school, college and now the NFL I've become a starter because of injury, unfortunately."
Overshadowed by all the Dak delirium is the fact that Jameill Showers is still fighting for a roster spot as Prescott's backup while Romo is sidelined. Jason Garrett laid out the opportunity he has.
"Dak wasn't scheduled to go in and play on Play 4 of the game. He was prepared for that opportunity, did a good job on the first play, helped us convert a third down and did a good job on the series he played after that. It's a good example of the rest of our team, and it's not different for Showers. You never know when your opportunity is going to come, so you have to prepare yourself mentally, physically and emotionally every day to be your best, particularly at that position. Both of those guys go about it the right way."
We often refer to RT Doug Free as the weak link of the Cowboys' offensive line, where he is the only starter who was not a first round-level talent coming out of college. This article illustrates just how much of a disservice that is to the senior member of that line. And you stand a good chance of learning something about O line play from the excellent video clips.
Free wins by having a functional stance: being technically sound, calculated with his hands, balanced with a strong base, and by being extremely efficient in his movements. Very rarely is there any wasted movement in anything Free does either in the run or pass game, and this makes up for his limited athleticism from his previously mentioned injuries.
Free is a pro's pro who is easily overlooked on the best offensive line in the NFL, but is a key cog in the machine nonetheless.
Finally, three quick injury-related stories.
There is no indication of how serious the injury is, but Sean Lee was reportedly suited up and going through some individual work in Monday's practice.
We can almost guarantee that whenever Sean Lee played the board game Operation as a child, he always had to replace worn out batteries.
The Cowboys star weakside linebacker sat out practice on Monday due to an undisclosed knee injury.
With Lee a bit nicked up, getting Andrew Gachkar back into practice is good news, even if he having to have a cast applied every day.
It's been almost a month since Gachkar broke the thumb during practice in Oxnard, Calif. The veteran linebacker finally worked his way back to practice on Sunday, as the bone is now sufficiently mended from the surgery he had earlier in August.
"The bone is back to - it's not a break anymore," he said. "It's just the ligament getting fine and all that stuff. I was just super excited to get back on the field."
Darren McFadden really wants to make it back in time for the first regular season game. The problem is that it may be better for the team to have him start the season still on the NFI list.
Because unless he practices Tuesday, which is highly unlikely, McFadden will now miss the entire training camp and preseason schedule with an elbow injury he suffered in July.
Still on the Active/NFI (Non-Football Injury) list, McFadden hasn't been cleared to return to practice and might not before the Week 1 game with the Giants on Sept. 11.