He has been a rock of security in the midst of the uncertainty of running back Ezekiel Elliott. He is the calming presence to balance the constant circus that surrounds a franchise forever in the spotlight and under scrutiny.
Prescott was named one of the team’s seven captains this season.
As the face and voice of the franchise, there is no question he is Captain America of America’s Team. He is not only the leader they want, but the leader they need.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones says Prescott, who supplanted an injured Tony Romo last year and had the finest season of any rookie quarterback in NFL history while leading the team to a franchise-tying 13-3 record, was simply a gift to the Cowboys when he was picked in the fourth round.
And if he had to do it all over again, the Cowboys would have picked Prescott instead of Elliott, who the Cowboys selected fourth overall and who led the league in rushing as a rookie, not to mention all the quarterbacks and players they had ranked ahead of Prescott.
“Are you kidding me,” Jones said incredulously. “To get a guy of this caliber, if you knew Dak would be Dak he would be picked at the top of the draft. We would have picked him with the fourth pick. I love Zeke, but based on his performance last year, I can’t imagine Dak wouldn’t have been the first pick in the draft. Obviously, good fortune smiled upon us. He’s done nothing but get better from the day he walked in the door.”
Those fortunes are paying dividends as the Cowboys prepare for Sunday’s season opener against the New York Giants. The opener comes following an off-season of arrests, player suspensions, the pomp and circumstance of owner Jerry Jones being inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Elliott situation.
It was known that the star running back would go against the Giants, but Friday’s favorable court ruling leaves Elliott free to play every week while his case heads to a possible months-long court battle.
“There is no doubt it’s a huge positive,” Stephen Jones said of Prescott’s presence and leadership. “His leadership skills would be a huge positive for any team. Obviously, when you have a high-profile team like the Cowboys, then it’s not too big for him. He’s proven that. Some people may be better at it when it’s not as big a stage, but he seems to thrive regardless of the size of the stage.
“I think it was rare when he walked in the door and he continues to build upon it. There is no doubt he is a leader, a calming force.”
Being a leader has always been important to Prescott. He was three-year high school captain and a two-year captain in college.
It came naturally to him, but he was purposeful in realizing his full potential. He left Mississippi State with a bachelor’s degree in educational psychology and a master’s degree in workforce leadership. He plans to pursue a doctorate degree in psychology.
He hasn’t changed much heading into the season, save for being a little more outspoken at the request of the veteran leaders, who recognize that his voice is the one that needs to be heard the most.
“I just know in all my times in football, it’s always about everybody,” Prescott said. “It’s the ultimate team game. You can’t win unless the defense does its part or the offense does its part. I know when I have to be outspoken in practice. It comes naturally for me to speak to guys and make sure guys are doing the right thing and have the right mindset.”
Said offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, “It’s huge. I’m sure every team is going to say the quarterback is their leader. But Dak is unique because he seems like he’s been here forever, a long, long time. It seems like he has been dealing with things and always seems to be doing it the right way and always says the right things and always seems to have the timing of doing those things when you need them and his leadership style is of one of a genuine person. When it’s all said and done, he is the one who always has his hands on this team, the locker room and the field ”
Elliott, who led the league in rushing as a rookie last year, is a co-superhero on the field with Prescott. Having the league’s best running back in a ground-oriented style makes life easier for everyone.
The Cowboys, however, survived the dark cloud of the NFL’s 13-month investigation of Elliott all of last season and through training camp largely because of Prescott’s calming presence and leadership.
And they believe they can win if Elliott is forced to miss games because Prescott is better on the field and off the field.
“He is a young guy,” tight end Jason Witten said “But he is well respected. He was named captain for a reason. It’s all in the body of work. Who you are when nobody is watching is a great illustration and representation for all us. There is a calmness that comes with that. You can trust them because they put the work in. They understand it and they communicate it well.
“In that situation, that is great resource for Zeke and all of us to have in Dak. There is a stableness that comes with that.”
The Cowboys said they heard about Prescott’s unique leadership and communication skills from his days at Mississippi State.
But it’s another thing to see them take hold in Dallas.
Stephen Jones, who witnessed Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman’s career and was here for Romo’s rise to stardom, called Prescott rare and unique.
Linehan said Prescott touches everyone in the organization.
“I don’t know where he got it,” Linehan said. “His mom and dad have to get some credit for that, maybe all the credit. God gave him an unbelievable gift of being a great communicator and a great team guy. He is always in the locker room and around his teammates.
“But somehow, someway he touches everybody in this building on a daily basis. You never see Dak Prescott pass by someone where he isn’t saying hello or acknowledging people. His people skills are of the chart.”
Prescott doesn’t fear failure. He accepts challenges and shuts out the outside noise like those that question whether he will be be the victim of a sophomore slump like so many rookies before him.
Asked how many times he had heard the term sophomore slump over the last few months, Prescott shot back with a smile, “What’s that?”
“All I’ve ever known is hard work, and hard work pays off,” Prescott said. “That’s what I did in this off-season as I’ve done every off-season in my career. I don’t see that (sophomore slump). That has never been anything in my mind. I don’t think anyone around me would think that.”
Two notable facts:
▪ While Prescott became the eighth quarterback to win NFL offensive rookie of the year last season, none of the previous seven made the Pro Bowl in Year 2.
▪ Three of past four quarterbacks to post a 95.0 or better quarterback rating as a rookie improved in Year 2, including Hall of Famer Dan Marino, Pittsburgh Steelers two-time Super Bowl Champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson.
The lone outlier was former Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is currently unemployed. And all comparisons between the two quarterbacks are rendered moot when it comes to leadership, work ethic attitude and approach.
Prescott is obviously more at ease heading into Sunday’s season opener against the Giants compared to a year ago because of the experience he gained over the past year and his off-season work.
It was certainly noticeable in training camp and the preseason.
“Yeah that comes with the experience and knowing how much of a better player I am now than I was last year,” Prescott said. “I’m prepared. I’m ready to go.”
Linehan said Prescott was one of the best players in training camp and he challenged himself to make throws he didn’t make last year.
“He’s so much better this year than he was last year,” wide receiver Cole Beasley said. “He just has more confidence, and he’ll make throws he might not have made last year just kind of playing it safe and taking care of the ball. He’s making throws now, but still safe with it where he’s putting the ball.
“There’s a play in camp I remember running a seven in the red zone and I wasn’t open at all, but he put the ball to where only I could make a play on it and I made the play. It’s like incredible to see guys do that at this level. I don’t know how he tells where to throw it that quick, but it’s exceptional.”
Witten says he “can’t recall a ball that’s been thrown to me that wasn’t exactly where it was supposed to be … Coach says ‘Just walk it to him,’ and he puts it right there in the breadbasket. And he does it time and time again.”
Prescott has grown so much that Witten believes they can win with the passing game, if necessary.
“I felt like we leaned on Dak a lot last year with what we did,” Witten said. “It’s going to continue to be that way. Everyone has a lot of confidence in him. We don’t view that we can put too much on his plate. He’s the playmaker.”
Prescott is the leader they wanted, the leader they need in the midst the turmoil and the leader they hope will make them champions again.
They can take comfort in knowing Prescott will never stop working, communicating, directing and setting the right tone until he gets it done.
“Oh my gosh, you don’t know this game if you don’t have question marks about a fourth-round rookie quarterback starting for the first time,” Stephen Jones said. “Even though he showed from the day he walked in the door, exceptional skills when it came to leadership and those type of things.
“The bigger thing to me is he is certainly not satisfied by any stretch. He knows what this position entail and it entails getting better every year. He has improved tremendously. More than anything, he has an insatiable appetite when it comes to his work ethic, his will to compete, his want to to be a champion.”