Anniversary of Dak’s Debut
This weekend the Cowboys & Rams play in a preseason game at the Los Angeles Coliseum. A year earlier, when these same two teams met in the same venue, the opening pages to an important chapter in Cowboys history were written: the debut of Dak Prescott.
“Yeah, he was very impressive,” head coach Jason Garrett said of Dak’s first NFL game action. “He had shown us who he was up to that point. He went in and handled himself well, handled himself the way he did really from the first day of rookie minicamp. He was prepared. He was ready. He was confident. I thought he led well, and the guys responded well to him and he made a lot of plays in the game. It certainly was a good night for him.”
To say it was a “good night” is a typical Garrett understatement. Dak played the entire first half and threw 2 TD passes, completed 10 of 12 passes for 139 yards, and finished with an eye-popping QB rating of 154.5. The two incompletions were drops by receivers.
Dak started the game in place of Tony Romo who was held out of game action as a precaution. Kellen Moore was supposed to start the preseason opener, but Moore suffered a season-ending broken ankle during practice 10 days earlier. Dak moved up to 2nd team after Moore’s injury, which meant that he would get to start the preseason opener while Romo watched from the sideline.
When Dak took the field for the first time against the Rams, he already had a 7-point lead thanks to Lucky Whitehead returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Then in the Cowboys’ first offensive series, Dak connected twice with Dez Bryant for completions, including a 10-yard touchdown pass. Later in the first quarter, Dak threw a 32-yard scoring strike to Terrance Williams in the corner of the end zone.
“I think if you look at the body of work throughout the game, he made a lot of really good decisions, made a lot of really good throws,” notes Garrett. “They (Rams defense) did some different things to him, and he was really unfazed by it. Physically he was really good, but maybe more than anything else, he demonstrated that poise and composure that he had shown us from Day 1.”
And, remember, that “poise and composure” came on a big stage. Last year’s opener was not a typical preseason game. Over 90,000 tickets had been sold inside the L.A. Coliseum because the game marked the return of the Rams to Los Angeles. The Rams were playing their first home game in L.A. since 1994.
But the size of the stage didn’t matter to Dak. The moment and the setting were not too big for the rookie. Coach Garrett knows why Dak seemed unfazed by the grandeur of the setting: Dak’s preparation.
“Being ready, being prepared: that’s what you’re trying to do with your football team,” insists Garrett. “That’s maybe the overwhelming impression I had from Day 1. He was ready. On Day 1 of the Rookie Minicamp he knew the calls, he knew what the cadence was. He just knew things, and it was because he was prepared and ready. And that’s the approach he’s taken really since we’ve met him. He’s just handled every different situation both on-and-off the field really well. And again, for that game, his first action in the NFL, he handled that well.
“But the rest of that story is that he went back and played well the next week. And he played well the next week. He has a capacity, like all the best players I’ve been around, to put yesterday behind him and focus on the task at hand. He was able to do that his rookie year and he’s certainly done that this offseason and up to this point of training camp.”
For fans and media, Dak’s NFL debut was a revelation. But for the coaching staff and teammates that had been alongside him since the draft, Dak’s performance was less surprising. That’s because he had already started earning trust and respect through his diligence in the offseason and training camp.
“Practice matters,” Coach Garrett states emphatically. “Every opportunity matters. You certainly build different levels of trust in everything you do, each and every day. And certainly starting with the Rookie Minicamp and through OTAs and the offseason and up to that point in Training Camp, he was developing trust. Trust in his teammates. They were developing trust in him and certainly the coaching staff. The more opportunities you get and you demonstrate you’re prepared, you’re ready, and you’re going to take advantage of those opportunities, you obviously develop that trust even further.”
And now…a year later…when Dak enters the Los Angeles Coliseum for the Cowboys-Rams game, he is the face of the franchise, coming off a record-setting rookie season. He is, simply stated, “The Man”. Oh my, how circumstances can change in one year’s time!
*Note: the Cowboys actually lost the game to the Rams by a score of 28-24. But nobody cared about the preseason result. The Cowboys were excited about the rookie QB. Maybe he could be a solid backup to Tony Romo. Nobody would have imagined that two weeks later Dak would be thrust into the starting role when Romo suffered a back injury in Preseason Game 3 at Seattle. And the rest is history.