Dak Prescott had one of the best rookie seasons of any quarterback in history, but there was still plenty of room for improvement. There were also concerns that the second year passer would regress in his second season.
Dak is doing everything in his power to be better in 2017 and his offensive coordinator has taken note.
“He has gotten better every day,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “You look from the start of camp to the finish. He has had a great camp. He has showed physical improvements. The anticipation and his arm strength looks better, and it was good to begin with. I see his improvement, but not just in his intangible stuff, which is so great, but his physical stuff things.”
Prescott is aware of where he needs to improve more than any critic or observer. In the opening days of training camp, the quarterback spoke of how he wanted to push himself outside his comfort zone in some practices, throw a pass here, test his arm strength there in ways he normally won't in a game.
He did that. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan felt this group connected on more deep balls in camp than in any of his previous three years with the Cowboys.
"We get a lot of respect with our running game," Linehan said. "Being able to do that, especially not just one-on-one throws but downfield, I think we improved our ability to do that in a lot of ways."
Former Cowboys OC, NFL head coach Norv Turner has some advice for QB Dak Prescott - Jon Machota, SportsDay
Turner with some wise words.
"He's an exciting young player," Turner said of Prescott. "He's going to have a great career. You just can't rush it. There's a process you go through. Everyone wants the guy to be Dan Marino in Year 2. I just think he needs to be himself and do what he did last year, and he'll keep growing as a player."
The Cowboys sideline reporter is also a special contributor to DMN, and in a recent Q&A session she addressed the possibility that Dallas may find itself with three QBs on the final roster.
When determining whether or not the Cowboys should keep a third QB, here's another consideration: game day actives/inactives. Unless one of the first two QBs are dinged up with injury, Rush as the third QB would be inactive on game day. But it's also likely that the sixth WR or the fourth RB or the extra DB would be inactive, too.
So that's the question: Do you want to risk losing a good, young QB prospect for a bottom-of-the-roster player at another position who would probably be inactive on game day, anyway?
Tough call. But if I had a chance at a solid QB, I would keep the QB since the other guy probably wouldn't play much, anyway.
Ideally, Rush would spend the 2017 season on the Cowboys' practice squad. But it's not assured he would sneak through waivers, especially if he continues to engineering scoring drives in his final three preseason games.
Some of you will recall a similar situation with Matt Moore, when Dallas lost the services of a potential ‘third’ passer by trying to slip him onto the practice squad. Could history repeat itself?
Just when the excitement starts to build along comes a reminder that the road to the Super Bowl is not without its potholes. The staff at the mothership remind us that not everything is set in stone and that Dallas has plenty of hard work to do before the season even kicks off.
Nick Eatman: I know they’ll have four pass-rushers suiting up against the Giants, but it still seems a little premature to figure out whom they might be.
There are questions on the other side of the ball as well.
Dave Helman: I’m not sure I love the idea of Darren McFadden taking 15-20 carries per game, and I also feel like the coaches don’t trust Alfred Morris in pass protection or special teams. Rod Smith has looked great during training camp, but how large of a role does this coaching staff trust him with?
It is certainly not gloom and doom, but there are still plenty of concerns.
More than anything else about camp, I enjoy ‘watching’ it through the eyes of former scout Bryan Broaddus. The man knows a thing or two about evaluating players and how they are progressing. His ‘Scout’s Notebook’ series gives you a look into how the pros are judging camp. Two examples concerning the pass rush:
Stephen Paea continues to be a problem for the interior of the Cowboys offensive line. His power and quickness have been impressive as he deals with Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. During the “play it out period,” Ezekiel Elliott took a handoff coming to his left and was met in the backfield by Paea before he had a chance to even think about making a cut. Paea had beaten Frederick so quickly off the line, Elliott just stepped in his tracks.
Speaking of the Indianapolis Colts. Keep an eye on the Cowboys pass rush in this game. In studying their game tape from the Detroit Lions game last week, their pass protection was awful on all levels. The Lions knocked them around the entire game and were able to hold the Colts in check. This might be a great opportunity to build some confidence for some guys like Taco Charlton and Charles Tapper, who could use some success.
Broaddus is not the only one giving us his view. The media gives us their impressions each day as well. They may not have made a living evaluating talent for an NFL team, but that does not mean they don’t know their stuff. These guys takes really sum up the affairs of training camp. In this post Machota gives us his overall take on what he saw in California.
Join Machota for his run down of the things and people that impressed the veteran beat writer the most over the past few weeks. One example:
Top LB: Anthony Hitchens
Yes, Sean Lee is one of the game's top linebackers and the Cowboys' defensive leader. He missed time with a hamstring injury but should be ready to go in Week 1. Hitchens has had an excellent camp, making plays in both the run and pass game. Look for him to be one of the Cowboys' top defensive playmakers in 2017.
Sturm's mailbag: The most underappreciated Cowboy - Bob Strum, SportsDay
Continuing with the individual accolades after the Oxnard portion of camp, Sturm singles out Cole Beasley & Anthony Hitchens.
Q: Who's the most underappreciated player on this Cowboys roster?
I have two answers. One is Cole Beasley. He is a real weapon who is even more of a weapon on third downs, which makes him vital. But, do fans rate him very highly on the list of players you value most? I know quarterbacks and play callers do, but I assume he is underappreciated by the general public.
The other is a deep cut that I often undervalue, too. But, after three seasons, it would seem to me that Anthony Hitchens would get a few more mentions and appreciation than he does. Did you know he has played at least 500 snaps each of his three seasons? That is really remarkable to me and demonstrates great value for the former fourth-round pick out of Iowa. It seems that people are always in a rush to replace him, but it sure is evident that the Cowboys trust him and he has grown into a real important piece over his three-season run here.
This is the most anticipated debut in recent Cowboys memory. Jaylon Smith will finally take his first competitive snaps since the Fiesta Bowl a year and a half ago.
Now well on his way back from a devastating injury, the Cowboys are looking for Smith to show the world he is the same guy who impressed everyone when he played for Notre Dame.
"He's been so impressive," coach Jason Garrett said. "He was so impressive to us throughout the draft process. We all understood the severity of the injury but we always felt like we knew the guy and just the way he's handled himself. I say this and you guys will probably laugh a little bit, but he literally has not had a bad minute since he's been here. And clearly somehow, someway he's had obstacles to overcome and his mind is probably been affected at some point but he never demonstrates that. He comes to work every day with incredible spirit and he's just so much fun to be around and everybody is pulling for him and he's worked very hard. He deserves this opportunity."
The team is anxious to settle in at home after a few weeks of camp. More important is that they are ready to get down to the business of defending their NFC East title in the upcoming months. No one seems more excited for ‘real’ football than star wideout Dez Bryant, who will be entering the season looking to reclaim his spot as the top receiver in the Cowboys arsenal.
Circumstances may have limited the Pro Bowler the last two seasons but Bryant is chomping at the bit to remind the league that he is one of the top pass catchers in the game.
Like the last day of school, the Cowboys final practice in Oxnard for 2017 was not the most serious of events. The players were able to put the events of the past few weeks behind them and have a little fun before closing up shop. It was a case of “boys will be boys” as it is every year on the final day.
Former Texas A&M quarterback turned defensive back Jameill Showers threw a perfect strike at the ‘star’ logo on owner Jerry Jones’ suite between the practice fields to cancel afternoon meetings. Safety and emergency kicker Jeff Heath nailed a 25-yard field goal to scrap the afternoon walk-through. And then 6-foot-10 reserve offensive lineman Dan Skipper cleanly caught a Chris Jones punt to wipe out any curfew.
Even though it was all fun and games, it was also about executing under pressure. Jason Garrett made sure of that and his guys came through for their teammates. Other than a light workout before heading home, the next time things get serious the Boys will be on home soil.