It happens every offseason. A player in the NFL is now in the ‘best shape of his life’. Or is making that ‘second-year leap’. Or the game is finally ‘slowing down’ for him. It’s the optimistic offseason offensive. Media falls prey to it. Coaches too. Even front-office personnel.
The latest example is the Cowboys own Stephen Jones. He likes what he is seeing from his franchise quarterback, Dak Prescott.
“I thought [Dak’s] had his best camp that I’ve seen him have since he’s been a Cowboy,” Jones said, via Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News. “Velocity, his accuracy, the whole thing. Obviously, as the quarterbacks get older, they get better. The good ones do. They get better every year. There’s no question in my mind, I think he’s had his best training camp he’s ever had.”
There can be a lot of truth in what Jones is saying here. There are the over-arching factors which are that quarterbacks do tend to get better as they age because they’ve seen it all, have no trouble dissecting defenses, and have a better understanding of their capabilities and of their offense. This isn’t universally true, and there is an age where it can start falling apart, but in general the prime years of quarterbacks seem to come a little later than other positions.
There is also the personal factor here. Prescott is over a year removed from the brutal ankle injury so he has confidence in his physical abilities again. He also is no longer concerned with contract negotiations in the offseason like he had been for a few years. So given all those factors together, it’s quite reasonable that what Jones is saying about his signal-caller is absolutely true.
And it better be.
It better be because Jones and his father Jerry have made it imperative that Prescott have one of his finest seasons in his career. While we won’t go as far as saying the team has left Prescott with nothing to work with, they have definitely presented him with a set of challenges.
They are tinkering with his offensive line. Terence Steele has been elevated to the permanent right tackle position. Rookie Tyler Smith is being broken in as the starting left guard. And the swing tackle position is a mystery and that is important given the unsettled health of Tyron Smith each year. Prescott may have to do more from the pocket, and outside of the pocket, than he is used to in the past.
Then there is the revamped receiving corps that can basically be labeled as CeeDee Lamb and the Others. Yes, the group will get help once Michael Gallup is ready, but no one knows when that will be, or how effective Gallup will be recovering from his ACL tear. The Cowboys receiving corps will be relying on youth potential, and no one knows how effective that will be. Dalton Schultz will help, but Prescott is likely going to have to do a lot to elevate this group.
Finally, there is the talk about returning to a running game identity. That sounds good in theory, and if it works, that’s great. But if they try and it doesn’t, that could leave Prescott with a lot of third-and-longs to convert through the air when defenses will know the pass is coming.
All of that is the negative view of what could happen. In another view, it could be the offensive line gels, or that the young receivers really impress, or that Ezekiel Elliott and company bulldoze opposing defenses. Or more than likely it will be some mix of the good and the bad.
Whatever the case, it would be a really great time for Dak Prescott to be having the training camp of his life. Because the Cowboys just may need it in 2022.