Jason Garrett readily admits the Dallas Cowboys must be better and more efficient in the passing game than they were in 2017.
The Cowboys remain a run-first attack and will get back to that even more with running back Ezekiel Elliott on the field for 16 games.
But the Cowboys must prove they can win via the pass, consistently and efficiently, when necessary.
The team has overhauled the receiver corps, including the addition of new position coach Sanjay Lal to stress fundamentals and route running.
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They have improved the offensive line with the addition of guard Connor Williams in the second round and new line coach Paul Alexander.
But what about quarterback Dak Prescott?
All his numbers were down in 2017 from his sensational rookie season in 2016, including passer rating, completions, completion percentage, yards and touchdowns. His interceptions went up.
He had eight games with fewer than 200 yards passing and struggled to get the ball down the field.
The Cowboys have made the offense more Prescott-friendly by putting in things that fit his skill set.
But what has he done and what is he doing specifically to improve his game to make the passing offense fly more efficiently in 2018?
First of all, he is in the best shape of his life, having lost 10 pounds.
“He is in great shape, probably the best shape he has been in,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “He has always been in good shape. But he has really worked on that. It helps him. It helps his mobility. I think it will help him be a little more elusive. He has always been a pocket guy, a pass-first quarterback. There is no downside to being in the best shape you can be.”
Linehan also said Prescott’s knowledge of the offense is a great asset heading into his third year.
He’s got a lot more in his memory bank, and he carries himself “more veteran-like,” according to Linehan.
As far as fundamentals are concerned, both Prescott and Linehan point to his footwork and drops in the pocket.
“I mean, kind of the footwork. Footwork in the pocket. The subtle movement,” Prescott said when asked what he is working on during OTAs. “Being an athlete I guess when I take a move sometimes it’s bigger than I necessarily need to. You watch guys that have been in this league awhile, (New England Patriots quarterback Tom) Brady is the best example. Sometimes he barely moves, and the defensive end or somebody flies by him. Being the athlete I am sometimes it’s just toning that down and not necessarily moving a full yard, or it’s just barely scooting up here and there but keeping my feet in the same position. Footwork is definitely something I’m trying to get better at.”
Prescott said it’s a balancing act and he has to work hard to fight the instinct of always trying to be an athlete.
“Yeah I mean in a way it is,” he said. “In a way you have to go out, I mean when you try to miss a guy and you explode up and you explode up 2, 3 yards you’re getting yourself in more trouble in front of you. It’s about finding that balance when I need to jump up 2 yards or so when I can just shrug my shoulder and a guy gets by me. It’s finding that balance.”
Linehan said he and new quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore have specifically focused on Prescott’s drops and location in the pocket.
Alexander and the offensive line want to know where he is going to be on every play so they can set their protection.
“I think we are being more aware based on the play we are running being tied in together where the whole line expects him to be,” Linehan said. “He is a long dropper. He has a long stride. He is really working at getting back there. Sometimes it’s perfect. Sometimes maybe it’s a little deep. Sometimes we are overemphasizing and he is not deep enough. Its just things like that you work on and break it down.
“We have done some subtle things, just some subtle things footwork-wise. So we think it's going to help. You see those things out there. It speeds up the game a little bit for him in a good way. It will definitely help improve.”