Walking on the field for the first day of training camp Thursday, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott made a point to savor the moment.
He had known since the spring that he made enough progress in his rehab from a fractured ankle that he would be ready to go.
He had declared his injury dead and buried in his mind when participated in mini camp in June.
But after all he has overcome over the last year, including the death of his brother, battling depression and then the tragic fractured ankle five games into the 2020 season, he wasn’t about to take his presence in camp for granted.
“That was a special moment just to think about where I was, think about all the hard work and support and everything that went into me being back out there and being able to do what I love again,” Prescott said. “I’ve had a lot of adversity in my life and this was up there with them. So just to be able to accomplish what I have in that process, and to know this is the beginning of a long journey, I’m excited to be on top of it and have that season of adversity behind me.
“I’m just looking forward to each and every day, getting to do the things I love and to do it with the people I love. It’s a great game and I’m excited to be back at it.”
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy didn’t talk to Prescott about it but he could tell being on the field for the first day of camp without any limitations meant a lot to his quarterback.
But it was also important to the team because of what he means as a leader as well as a player.
McCarthy said Prescott, who was on pace to set an NFL record passing yards in a season before suffering the injury last year, made a strong first impression.
His ability to run, throw and throw on the move on the move in a scramble situation looked no different than last season and offered no hint that is coming off of an injury. He completed 11-of-16 passes in team drills.
But it’s going to be a day-by-day evaluation.
“As we go into padded practices, I think clearly that will be a threshold that he’ll get over, particularly with the bodies around him as we get into the team work,” McCarthy said. “I watched him closely in the team work live yesterday by design. He didn’t flinch. It looked like he never left. So that’s a good point. When he plays in a preseason game, that will be the second threshold and I’m sure he’ll be as excited as anybody when we kick it off in Tampa [for the season opener on Sept. 9].”
McCarthy said Prescott will play in the preseason but wouldn’t commit to the preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game on Aug. 5.
Prescott wants to play in the preseason to regain that chemistry and continuity with his teammates.
But he knows it’s going to be a process.
His absence last year and being away from his teammates added to his appreciation for what he has before him now. He believes it will make him a better player and leader.
“I never had to watch as much football in my life without being a part of it,” Prescott said. “You don’t take the small things for granted, you don’t take the walk throughs, you don’t take the meetings, you don’t take hanging out at lunch or dinner with the guys for granted because at any moment obviously it can be taken away from you. I’m going to make sure these young guys know that, these old guys know that, how special it is when we’re all together and we’re all working and that we can accomplish all the things we want as long as we’re on the same page.”
When the Cowboys signed Prescott to a four-year, $160 million contract in March, they were investing in him being able to not only pick up where he left off last year but also be the quarterback and leader who can return the franchise to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995.
With offensive tackles La’el Collins and Tyron Smith and Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin back in the fold after all missing games last season with injuries, running back Ezekiel Elliott in the best shape of his career a receiver corps with CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup that rivals any in the league, there is no doubt that the Cowboys will feature one the league’s most explosive offenses.
But Prescott is not taking any of it for granted.
He is appreciative and thankful to be back on the field and ready to go.
Now it’s time to go to work. As this is not the ending but hopefully the beginning of a championship journey
“It’s about getting better,” Prescott said. “I want to be better than I was before the ankle injury, so for me, it’s about getting to that point and getting past that and making sure this team gets better, more importantly. I’m going to be ready. But I got to make sure we’re playing together and we’re one heartbeat and we’re as good as our weakest link, we got to be committed to that. I think if we do that, then we decide our goals and we can go and accomplish them.”
And on the vaccine ...
Prescott was actually trying to show leadership when he cited HIPAA laws in declining to reveal his vaccination status.
According to a source, Prescott is not against the vaccination, but he didn’t want to put any unnecessary public pressure on his unvaccinated teammates.
“Obviously we all have to do a better job of educating ourselves, of educating our neighbors just on this whole pandemic, this whole situation, the vaccine,” Prescott said. “I think and I know this team is going to get to the numbers. This team is going to do what we have to do to make sure we’re continually progressing through this thing the right way.
“I’m very confident in this team that we’ll get to where we need to be and I know we’re on that way to doing the best we can to help each other, help this team and help the possibilities of this season.”