Since arriving in Dallas, Mike McCarthy has made a habit of using his final preseason game to give a position coach the opportunity to call plays and get experience in hopes of earning a promotion in the future. It’s not an uncommon thing, but it is a nice gesture. In years past, with Kellen Moore calling plays regularly, it was quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier who got the call.
Now that Moore is off to Los Angeles with the Chargers, and Nussmeier followed him there, McCarthy is the playcaller. He wisely used the first two preseason games to get back into a rhythm doing the thing he did regularly in Green Bay, something the head coach has likened to riding a bike. But for the third and final preseason game, McCarthy didn’t pick one of his assistants but rather his quarterback, Dak Prescott.
Sure, McCarthy could have had his offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, handle it. But Schottenheimer has called plays for three different NFL teams and one college team; he doesn’t need the exposure. Quarterbacks coach Scott Tolzien is in his first year as a position coach and fifth year coaching at any level, so it’s probably too early to give him the main headset.
Prescott, though, is a perfect fit for the one-game job this year. McCarthy and Schottenheimer have remained adamant that they aren’t overhauling the offense, and have gone as far as saying that 70% of the offense Moore ran is staying the same. But that’s still nearly a third of the offense that’s changing for the longest-tenured starting quarterback in the NFL, and it’s a different voice in Prescott’s ear on Sundays.
By giving Prescott the play sheet and having him call plays for a game, the quarterback gets to momentarily step into his coach’s shoes. For this one game, he got to see what it’s like when a coach calls a play and how that evolves from the moment it’s called to when the players execute it. And it gives Prescott a unique insight into the process of running an offense.
Dak Prescott on calling plays: "Yeah, it's fun. It's a great time. This is the (stuff) you dream about when you play this game. It's not just playing the game, it's being able to impact it every which way."— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) August 27, 2023
It’s not all about Prescott, though. Handing the star quarterback the play sheet and letting him go to work also gives McCarthy, Schottenheimer, and the rest of this offensive staff a better idea about what kind of plays Prescott likes. It’s one thing to ask a quarterback what he wants in a game plan, but it’s another to see him actually call the plays for someone else - in this case, Will Grier, a close friend of Prescott’s who found out before the game that it would be his last in Dallas.
By having Prescott call the plays in that game against the Raiders, the Cowboys got a win-win. Prescott now feels a little more comfortable with his command of the new offense, and the coaching staff now has a better idea of just what their quarterback is looking for on Sundays. Obviously, not every game will go the way Prescott called it, but this is a good starting point.
And, as it turns out, Prescott is pretty darn good at it. The Cowboys put up 457 yards of offense and scored 31 points, both of which were high marks for the team this preseason. Grier, who had mostly struggled in the first two games, threw for 305 yards and scored four total touchdowns. Undrafted rookie Hunter Luepke, who had barely touched the ball the first two games, broke out with 58 rushing yards on 15 carries and 60 receiving yards on five catches, including a touchdown reception. That undoubtedly played a part in Luepke making the initial roster.
Jerry Jones on Dak Prescott calling the Cowboys’ offensive plays tonight: “We may find that he found his calling.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 26, 2023
All in all, Prescott’s debut as a playcaller was a resounding success. With the regular season inching closer and closer, Prescott took one final step towards assuming full control of this new offense. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it should definitely give everyone some confidence heading into the season opener.