'Ahead of schedule,' Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott honing physical, psychological game

Jori Epstein
USA TODAY
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FRISCO, Texas – Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott dropped back and rolled out. He handed off to running back Tony Pollard and faked a scramble. Prescott sprinted to the line of scrimmage, where the running and cutting he’d cycled through during Tuesday’s OTA practice continued unimpeded.

Progress.

“A couple of weeks ago, I may have been a little bit more timid,” Prescott said Tuesday afternoon from Dallas' training complex, The Star, “where the last few days I was really trying to push it and trying to go further than I normally would carrying out the fake. Just for that psychological effect where it’s, ‘Hey, it’s good. You’re fine. You see you doing it.’

“The more reps happen, the better and better it feels.”

More than seven months have elapsed since Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle on Oct. 11. His 2020 season was suddenly over in Week 5, tears streaming down the quarterback’s face as he was carted off the field from a Giants-Cowboys game and into an ambulance that would transport him to a hospital for emergency surgery. A second surgery occurred in December to stabilize his ankle. But as he progressed from crutches to boot, football eluded him.

Now, as he’s physically unshackled, Prescott is aiming to retrain his mind also. Working at Cowboys OTAs this week was a significant step.

“A full-speed 7-on-7, to do a 2-minute drill and mechanics today was good for him and everybody,” Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday. “Doing no-huddle (Monday). So just getting the full-speed tempo and working not (only) physically but the emotional and the mental components of it to be firing on all cylinders.

“This is exactly what he needed.”

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‘No excuses’

Prescott’s return to team work in this OTA phase excites teammates, coaches and the quarterback alike. The decision making and pre-snap communication required to decipher coverages are welcome returns to a team looking to rebound from a 6-10, injury-riddled campaign.

Prescott's been doing his part at The Star ever since he was injured.

“He’s worked his tail off every day,” says tight end Blake Jarwin, who continues to rehab from an ACL tear. “He got in here in the offseason at 8 a.m. and he left at 2:30 p.m. at the earliest.

“The guy is just a worker.”

Prescott regained strength and flexibility long before reintegrating the footwork and movements he’s now cycling through. Trainers carefully strategized the rate at which he would test each movement without risking a setback. In April, Prescott was buoyed to find himself sprinting and cutting, jumping and landing with his weight on his right leg. And not simply moving in familiar ways – but doing so with abandon.

“Doing a lot of things I’d naturally do in a game and doing them in a reactive form, not necessarily calculated,” Prescott said. “Not necessarily feeling anything or having the nagging residual pain afterward. I felt like then, I was ready to go.”

A return to quarterback movements followed.

Tight end Dalton Schultz marveled earlier this month when Prescott’s private quarterback coach elucidated how Prescott should tap and turn his hips during a throwing session. Schultz then thought for a second.

“I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t know how you see that stuff,’” he said. “The ball’s hitting my hands the same exact way.

"The ball’s coming out the same was it was before the injury. From what I can tell, it looks like he picked back up right where he left off.”

Schultz felt the same way Tuesday as Prescott dropped back before nailing him down the right sideline in one drill and again for a shovel pass underneath that Schultz tucked before running upfield.

Prescott similarly found receivers Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb and Cedrick Wilson on routes, though he did cede an interception and another batted pass on his second consecutive day of work. Shaking off the rust?

“One of them was on the run, in the sense right now in OTAs I’m not going to necessarily throw the ball away,” Prescott said of the failed plays. “I have to say my leg got tired, but I felt it more than I did yesterday. No excuses. It’s just something I’ve got to move forward and continue to build that endurance.”

Getting back to pre-snap routines is just another aspect of Cowboys QB Dak Prescott's recovery.

Ahead of schedule

The Cowboys anticipate the remainder of OTAs and a mandatory minicamp June 8-10 unfolding similarly for Prescott. He’ll integrate into individual drills and the technique work McCarthy calls “quarterback school,” but avoid live play vs. defenders that could invite a tackle, awkward bend of his ankle or defender falling on his legs. It’s not that Prescott is physically unable to bear that, the Cowboys say. But the risk is not worth taking for the man to whom they awarded a $160 million contract this spring. Prescott will plan to join team drills in training camp.

“It’s more precaution on the medical staff and myself and just being smart there,” McCarthy said. “We’re just focusing on the footwork and getting back through each concept, particularly the quarterback movements.”

Some new routines will linger, like an extended pre-practice warmup during which Prescott wakes up his body and simulates dropbacks so he’s not running on what he called a “cold” ankle. He anticipates continuing to work Monday, Tuesday and Thursday with recovery focus on Wednesday.

He hopes building in rest will keep him from resorting to compensating for sore legs with his upper body. Prescott’s throwing motion “begins pretty much with the ground,” he says. “Using my hips and creating the ground force from the ankle up.”

If the Cowboys’ season opener were this week, Prescott is confident he’d physically be able to play at a high level. Consecutive days continue to test his stamina, but his faith in his recovery deepens daily.

McCarthy is pleased.

“He’s been moving with a lot of confidence for some time now,” the coach said. “I’d say he’s ahead of schedule.”

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Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.

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