The long-term outlook for the Dallas Cowboys offense may have changed dramatically during the past couple of weeks.
And it all started with backup quarterback Kellen Moore’s broken right ankle.
The Cowboys began their training camp in Oxnard, Calif., with a sense of urgency offensively after an injury-riddled 2015 season which helped cause the Cowboys go from a Super Bowl contender to a 4-12 mess.
Quarterback Tony Romo is 36 and is coming off a season in which he played just four games because of clavicle injuries. Standout tight end Jason Witten is 34 and head coach Jason Garrett, who always seems to be on the hot seat, could be entering his final season in Dallas if the team doesn’t return to the playoffs this season.
The good news for the Cowboys is that if key figures can stay healthy (star receiver Dez Bryant missed seven games last season with foot and ankle injuries) the offense, which boasts perhaps the league’s best offensive line, should be a top-level unit in the NFL. But there was no doubt the Cowboys entered camp with a sense of urgency.
“(Offensive coordinator Scott) Linehan talks about it all the freaking time,” Dallas receiver Brice Butler said earlier this month in Oxnard. “We know what we missed last year. He talks about it and tells us now is the time. I think every guy on this offense feels the need to get it done this year.”
However, the narrative of the Cowboys’ offensive window closing may have changed suddenly in recent weeks.
It’s because of the summer of Dak.
The biggest story in the first half of the NFL preseason season has been Dallas rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. The fourth-round pick from Mississippi State has been the preseason MVP of the league.
Prescott has completed 22 of 27 pass attempts in two preseason games for 338 yards. He has thrown four touchdown passes and has not been intercepted. Prescott’s great numbers don’t appear to be deceiving. He has looked very comfortable and natural. He is consistently throwing NFL-quality balls.
Prescott’s emergence may affect the Cowboys now and for the future. Early in camp, Moore broke his ankle and is out for about three months. With Romo’s age and recent health issues (this was the first offseason since 2012 that Romo made it through the entire program), the backup position in Dallas is paramount, as the Cowboys saw last year. When Moore went down, the Cowboys were connected to Nick Foles, who ended up in Kansas City. There has also been speculation about a possible trade for Cleveland’s Josh McCown.
However, Prescott’s performance in the preseason may have changed any talk of Dallas going outside for quarterback help. Prescott looks ready to be the backup. He also looks like he is the future in Dallas after Romo retires.
Prescott’s teammates are sold on him.
Added Romo: “I’ve been very impressed with how Dak has played. It kind of reminds me a little bit of back in the day in some capacity. He’s playing great. To have depth at that position, it’s a big, big bonus. Hopefully he can continue to do that. And he’s a good kid, so you really root for him.”
The most influential man in Dallas – Cowboys owner Jerry Jones – had glowing words about Prescott according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. These words seem like Jones feels like he’s found his future.
“We’ve seen him do it at practice. We’ve seen him do it in meeting sessions. We’ve seen him carry that now to games,” Jones said. “There is an energy that comes with him to the field. That same energy, surprisingly, comes with him to the classroom. That same energy comes with him in many different ways. You got to add that up. We are in a situation where we can have a developing backup quarterback because of the excellence of Tony Romo. We can have that behind him. To me, that’s what you’re ideally striving for. What we’ve seen so far in these first two preseason games does make you look positively toward his progress.”
The Prescott development is a pleasant surprise for Dallas and it may take major pressure off the Cowboys. Considering that Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, the No. 4 overall pick, are rookies, the offensive line is young and Bryant is 27, the Cowboys’ offensive window suddenly looks like it can be open longer than expected.
Time, though, is winding down a lineup with Romo and Witten as the centerpieces.
If the Cowboys are going to win big this year, it will be because of Romo. The Cowboys feel if Romo can stay healthy, the offense should shine.
“There is no limit to what we can do,” Butler said of having Romo healthy. “That’s exactly why we have to go out and do it.”
Whether Romo can finally lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl or not, we’ve learned in the past couple of weeks there may be quarterback life after Romo in Dallas in the form of Prescott.