Sophomore Slump? Cowboys' Dak Prescott's QB encore has been just as good

Clarence E. Hill Jr., Fort Worth Star-Telegram on

Published in Football

FRISCO, Texas -- There is playing quarterback in the NFL and there's playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.

Consider what Dak Prescott has had to deal with on and off the field in his first 24 games. Sending Cowboys' all-time passing leader Tony Romo into retirement is nothing short of amazing.

In addition to navigating the quarterback controversy with Romo last season, he led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record with in his rookie season. Prescott came into 2017 facing questions about a sophomore slump and the added distraction of running back Ezekiel Elliott's legal fight with the NFL.

That's not even including the natural scrutiny that comes with playing for the Cowboys.

He deflects it all like an oncoming blitz.

"The level or the amount of attention, publicity this organization gets is obviously second to none," Prescott said. "We have to be able to focus in. I mean, we've got tours that come around (The Star) all the time. We've got all the news, good and bad, you're going to find. It's just part of it."

"Every now and then, I'll give a bark or a bird noise," joked about the fan tours that come through the team headquarters on a daily basis.

But there is no question he is the big dog in the Cowboys organization and off to a sensational start to his sophomore season.

"I feel like I'm playing well," Prescott said. "I'm seeing the field, studying, I'm preparing the right way. I'm able to go out there on Sunday and just let it go and play within myself, have fun and get all these guys the ball. It's been working."

Prescott has been so impressive in leading the Cowboys to a 5-3 record at the midpoint of the season -- with 1,818 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions, along with 10 rushing touchdowns -- that owner Jerry Jones said he is playing as well as any quarterback in the league, and with poise like no other.

Jones said the Cowboys' offensive coaches have an even loftier view of his play.

"He's playing right now at the highest level of anybody they see in the NFL," Jones said Wednesday morning on 105.3 The Fan. "The main thing is that they comment that he's maybe as mentally tough and mentally into it, or least as discourage-able with a bad play, than any player they've ever seen."

Coach Jason Garrett wouldn't co-sign on Jones' comments but offered high praise for Prescott.

"He's certainly playing very well and his decision making has been excellent," Garrett said. "His ability to make plays, both little plays and big plays, has been excellent. Maybe as much as anything else, for me, for the coaches and for his teammates is his leadership is off the charts. The guys look to him. They rally around him. He's just got a way about him that guys respond to.

"And they play well around him, and he's very productive and his execution helps his leadership but also he just has a great spirit. So he's certainly playing very well right now."

Jones said he's definitely further along than any second-year quarterback he's ever seen, and the numbers bear that out.

His 66.0 completion percentage after 24 games is higher than the legendary likes of John Elway, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Dan Marino and Aaron Rogers.

His quarterback rating of 102.4 is higher than that entire group but Marino.

And his eight interceptions are far and away the fewest of the bunch while his 10 rushing touchdowns are the most.

"It's definitely humbling to be in that conversation, to be with those guys, but I mean, it's only 24 games," Prescott said. "It's only the beginning."

It's the continuation of the beginning of something special that has defied defenses and flummoxed critics who felt opposing teams would catch up to him this year.

His ability to run and use his legs as a weapon while also challenging opponents with the pass is arguably his greatest on-field asset, causing Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who will see Prescott on Sunday, to compare him to Rodgers.

"I think the extension of plays has been something I've been impressed with his game," Quinn said. "When he's able to get outside the pocket and extend plays, both with his feet and his legs. He seems like a person like Aaron Rodgers on the edge on a third-down play. 'I see the opening and can take it and run for the first down. I can extend the play and still throw it on the run accurately.' I'm not comparing the player, but I'm saying the mobility of a player where you can extend plays. I think it's an important factor and a big part of his game for sure."

As are his work ethic, preparation and leadership.

Garrett said Prescott has improved across the board from last year and credits the same attitude and professionalism he came in with as a rookie.

"Yeah, a very committed guy," Garrett said. "His preparation leading up to a ballgame is second to none. He watches the game from the previous Sunday early on, well before we ever watch it with the team, and he's on to the next opponent quickly. He's a really good note taker, he's a very detailed guy and works very hard in his preparation. He knows that frees him up to play as well as he can on Sunday."

It's the preparation and note-taking that allows Prescott to be comfortable and confident so he can play like a kid in games and bark in the face of scrutiny, both natural and manufactured.

"Early in the week, you catch me on Tuesday, that's when I'm nervous the most," Prescott said. "That's when I know, I guess you could say, everything that I'm going to have to do within the week to be ready for Sunday. So when Sunday comes, I've done all the work. Now it's just time to play football and be that kid that fell in love with the game when I was 6 years old."

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