The Cowboys said they knew because of how impressive he was in pre-draft interviews and the work ethic, leadership and maturity he displayed once he joined the team after being picked in the fourth-round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
There is knowing and then there is no knowing, as the old folks used to say.
The latter didn’t even register until Prescott took the field against the Los Angeles Rams in front of 89,140 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Aug. 13, 2016.
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It was the first game back in Los Angeles in 21 years and the glitz and glamour of Hollywood was there, making this no normal preseason opener.
Add in the tension of the Cowboys’ suddenly desperate backup quarterback situation behind then-starter Tony Romo, with Kellen Moore lost for the season with a broken leg and a trade offer to the Cleveland Browns for Josh McCown being rebuffed.
Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson admits the expectations were low for Prescott, a spread quarterback in college at Mississippi State who came to camp just two weeks earlier as a developmental prospect for the future.
“I wasn’t sure how Dak would respond in his first game, playing in the coliseum and all that stuff,” Wilson said Tuesday, just days before Prescott and the Cowboys return to the site of his coming-out party in the second preseason game of 2017 against the Los Angeles Rams.
Prescott will again be making his preseason debut after sitting out last week’s Hall of Fame Game against the Arizona Cardinals.
“The expectations weren’t that high,” Wilson continued. “He had a lot of traits that good quarterbacks have. But the inexperience of playing in a pro system, coming from the spread, how do you handle the big stadium and all of that.”
Of course, that was before Prescott foreshadowed the best rookie season of any quarterback in NFL history with a lights-out performance against the Rams, completing 10 of 12 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. His only incompletions were two dropped passes by tight end Geoff Swaim, and he finished with a passer rating of 154.5.
Prescott clearly exceeded expectations, won over his teammates and ran the offense like a veteran.
And while he approached the game with the same mindset he took to practice, he understood the ramifications, good and bad, if he failed.
“I think it was important, I think it showed some significance in the fact it was the first game experience they got to see me play with the offense,” Prescott said. “I had plenty of scrimmages and live reps out here, but the first game experience with the crowd, a huge crowd out there in the coliseum, it was a pretty good performance and I think it gave them confidence in believing in me and pushing further.”
It would take more preseason games and the eventual fateful injury to Romo in the dress rehearsal game against the Seattle Seahawks before Prescott was giving the key to the team as the starter.
His effort against the Rams, however, alleviated the team’s immediate concerns about the backup quarterback position.
“At that point, he deserved to have all the reps,” vice president Stephen Jones said. “Tony was still the quarterback of our team. We just felt really good about our situation there after Dak did that that he was going to deserve to have every opportunity to have that backup spot. We were going to be real comfortable with him being No. 2 for us.”
Prescott said his main focus was trying to take advantage of every opportunity. The Cowboys didn’t truly know what to expect, but they knew Prescott would be prepared to seize the moment because of what he showed them from the beginning.
“We have talked about Dak a lot and maybe the overall impression I had from Day One about Dak was he was ready,” coach Jason Garrett said. “On Day One of the rookie minicamp, he knew the calls. He knew what the cadence was. He just knew things and that’s because he was prepared and ready. He just handled every different situation both on and off the field really well and for that game, his first game in the NFL, he handled that really well.
“But the rest of that story is he went back and played well the next week. And then he played well the next week.”
What Prescott did during the season — he threw 23 touchdowns to only four interceptions in leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record, NFC East title and NFL Rookie of the Year honors — has been well-chronicled.
Prescott has simply built on last season’s success through two and a half weeks of training camp, according to Wilson. He is playing with more confidence and sharper instincts because of his familiarity with the offense and increased comfort in the system.
He is challenging himself in practice with more aggressive throws, something you might see in what will likely be a brief stint with the starters against the Rams.
“He has been real solid,” Wilson said. “He is making great decisions. He has turned the ball over a couple of times, but he is wanting to see if he can grow. The only way to do that is if you challenge yourself. He is not afraid to do that and then learn from it.”
Said Prescott, “It’s risk vs. reward, measuring out what throws I can make, what shots I can take. Some of them have been good. Some of them have turned into batted balls and interceptions. It’s measuring that out now.”
With no fear, just like last year at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Cowboys at Rams
8 p.m. Saturday, KTVT/11, NFL Network