Dallas Cowboys

As Tony Romo’s exit looms, Jason Garrett gushes over Dak Prescott

If the best way to get over a bitter divorce is to find a new love, then Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is rebounding just fine after a public and private falling out with former starting quarterback Tony Romo.

Garrett and Romo no longer speak.

Keep in mind that the two used to go to basketball games together and take trips together while also obliterating the Cowboys passing records for much of the last decade.

The fissure in the relationship was keyed by Garrett’s decision to keep rookie sensation Dak Prescott at quarterback last season when Romo returned from a fractured bone in his back after missing the first nine games.

Garrett’s cold-blooded decision that the rookie fourth-round pick was the right man to not only lead the Cowboys in 2016 but be the team’s franchise quarterback of the future all but ended Romo’s career in Dallas and severed their relationship.

Why the flip?

Garrett simply fell in love with a new quarterback. And he fell hard.

It was not just about Prescott having a hot hand and him not wanting upset the chemistry of a Cowboys team that finished with a franchise-record tying 13 wins.

It was also about Prescott being the best and most impressive rookie quarterback that Garrett has ever seen.

Three months after Prescott fashioned the finest statistical rookie season in NFL history, Garrett is still head over heels.

A 24-minute conversation with the media at the NFL Owner’s meeting in Phoenix this week yielded 943 words and 4071 characters from the Garrett about Prescott.

While he had little say about Romo and his looming departure from the Cowboys _ deferring all those questions to owner Jerry Jones _ Garrett couldn’t stop gushing about Prescott.

Topping the list were, “I have never seen a rookie quarterback handle everything as well as he did” and “I have never seen a rookie quarterback do what he was able do to.”

Here is Garrett in his own words:

What do you expect from Prescott in terms of improvement heading into Year 2?

“Dak was really interesting in that he was able all the different situations that he came across as a rookie really, really well. I close my eyes and I go back to that first time we saw him in rookie minicamp and how he came in and how he handled himself in meetings, in walk-throughs, out on the practice field. And that grew over the course of the off-season once the veterans came back, how he interacted on the practice field in OTAs, then minicamp and then into training camp and the preseason. The thing that I would urge him to do is continue to go about it the way he has. He’s always prepared, he’s always ready for any situation, he’s got great poise and composure. He has great confidence in himself and he’s able to transfer that confidence to the people around him. So every situation by definition was new to him last year and he handled it all really well. He’ll be able to reflect on all of that and start again this year and we hope to continue to make strides with him. He goes about it the right way and has a chance to be a good player.” 

Do the expectations for him change now?

“The expectations that we have are all our own expectations, the standards that we have for how we go about things each and every day as coaches, as players and as a football team. Obviously there are a lot of external expectations that we’re all confronted with in life but our focus is on the stuff that we need to do, the standards that we have and the expectations that we have for ourselves are higher than anybody else. So that’s what we’re going to challenge him with. That’s what we’re going to challenge our team with to live up to those each and every day and everything else will take care of themselves.” 

What game stood out where you thought he could be the long-term starter?

“I don’t think it was a point. I think he just handled everything well along the way. He came in from that rookie minicamp and you said wow, he handled that well. And then you get into the next phase and the next phase and the next phase. And at every turn he handled things really well both on the field and off the field. Obviously we try to create a good environment for our quarterback. We have a really good offensive line. We’ve got good receivers, weapons outside. We’ve got a really good runner. So the burden on the quarterback is something that you try to alleviate as much as you can. And he did a good job in that role but when he was called upon to bring us back and bring us back again he was able to do that. So he responded to so many different situations at home, on the road, on the field, off the field, really really well. He certainly had a really impressive rookie year and now it’s on to Year 2 and he’s excited about the challenges ahead.” 

What did he surprise you the most about during his rookie season?

“I just think we’ve all been around this league a long time and I’ve just never seen a rookie quarterback handle everything as well as he did. That’s on the field, that’s off the field. There weren’t many situations that he was confronted with that really seemed to kind of knock him off his game and get him off his course. He just continued to work through things. He obviously had adversity at a lot of different times last year, within games, from game to game. But somehow some way he just got himself righted, focused on the right things and just kept going. And to me that probably was what was most impressive. And ultimately that approach really showed up in his play and was reflected in his play because he focused on what he needed to do, he executed, he helped our team win a lot of games.” 

Did he surprise you in the pre-draft evaluations last year?

“The only thing I’ll say is I just had never seen a rookie quarterback do what he was able to do. We felt really good about him. He had such great reports from the people at Mississippi State. They love him. And they expressed that to us at all different levels of that organization. Coaches, trainers, equipment guys, strength coaches, everybody just said such great things about him. You add that to what you saw on the tape, a three-year starter who helped them win a lot of games, that was impressive to us. And then our interactions with him when he came to Valley Ranch and we had extensive time with him, he was really really impressive. He handled all that stuff really well. He was highly recommended. Having said all that, to go in and do what he did as a rookie, that’s hard to do. It really hasn’t been done very much in this league ever. So the standard for that performance was really high and he matched it at every turn. That’s the stuff that was most unique. And it’s something we hopefully can build on.” 

What is unique about him that allowed him to perform so well as a rookie?

“The poise and composure that he had to handle so many different situations at such a young age, both on and off the field. 

How about his work ethic?

Yeah, fantastic work ethic. Always prepared, but that’s almost the baseline. You can do all those things, then you’re confronted with different adversities over the course of the year and it’s just hard to stay on track and he always was able to do that. Rarely has a bad day. Demeanor is always great. Connects with so many different people. Has unique leadership skills that people respond to. Really so many positive things about him.”   

Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr

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