The future of the Dallas Cowboys was altered greatly on August 14th, 2016 as rookie QB Dak Prescott made his NFL preseason debut in the bright lights of the Los Angeles Coliseum against the returning LA Rams. Football was back in the city of angels this night, but so was America's Team – and not because of Tony Romo.
With Romo harmlessly sitting out the first of Dallas' four preseason contests, Prescott took full advantage of the opportunity in front of him, elevated to QB2 in training camp after Kellen Moore suffered a broken leg.
Prescott attempted just 12 passes, completing ten of them for 139 yards and two touchdowns, but even re-watching this game last night captured the magic that Dak put together with some surreal accuracy, poise, comfort level, and confidence as the quarterback for the Cowboys.
With the Cowboys back in LA on Saturday, I thought I would help all of Cowboys Nation relive the moment that this 135th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft emerged as the eventual NFC East winning quarterback.
Early on, Prescott's connection to Cole Beasley looked in mid-season form as Dak comfortably targeted #11 on plays dialed up by Scott Linehan very similar to the throws he was asked to complete in the spread at Mississippi State. Even still, it is the decisiveness and dead-accurate throw from Dak that jumped off the tape in his first game and foreshadowed a career year for slot receiver Cole Beasley in 2016.
Hitting Beasley in stride again here, Prescott quickly made the world forget he was just a rookie expected to take a red shirt season on ESPN by reading the linebacker against Geoff Swaim up the field before knowing the football should go to Cole. I can't remember ever turning on the tape to study a player and being as excited while watching as I was viewing the game live, but even seeing simple plays like these again had me on the edge of my seat.
Dak proved pretty quickly as well that there was more to his game than the short and intermediate reads, as he not only hit on two memorable deep throws for touchdowns, but drove the ball with strength and accuracy to the likes of Brice Butler above. Play action passes like these became a key element to the Cowboys' offense in 2016, not just because of Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line but because of Prescott's ability to sell his fakes, climb the pocket, and deliver the ball with zip.
Seven quarterbacks were drafted before Dak Prescott, for those scoring at home.
Another surreal part of rewinding to the tape of this game was seeing players no longer with the Cowboys make an impact. Fortunately for Dak Prescott, the Dallas offense will have a scary amount of continuity carrying over into his sophomore season, but there was still plenty of Darius Jackson, Lucky Whitehead, and of course the forever-awkward imagery of Tony Romo with a headset on the sidelines.
The above moment might as well have cemented #4 as a fixture for the Cowboys for years to come though, as Dak nailed the back shoulder throw to Dez Bryant – who hauled in both Prescott's first preseason TD and regular season score against the Bears.
This touchdown is best described as electric, as the buzz of Prescott driving the Cowboys down the field right from the start of this game had silver and blue minds running wild with imagination – salivating at the very fact that the Cowboys were back on TV. A touchdown to Dez Bryant on a spectacular catch was a euphoric moment.
Rational thought was very likely nowhere to be found in Cowboys Nation as Prescott's magic unfolded into the second quarter, but the amazing thing about this performance was how much room he showed for further development. Improvement would become evident with Prescott after each and every week, as he'll likely tell you himself this touchdown strike to Terrance Williams needed to be led farther into the end zone to hit Williams in stride.
However, I let the tape roll after the reception to show some emotion from Dak – who was otherwise just cool, calm, and collected on this night and every Sunday for the Cowboys. It was almost as if, in this moment, Dak Prescott realized that all he needed to do was give his guys a chance to make plays and they would come through for him – something this cast of receivers did to the tune of 13 wins and a division title a year ago.
It is likely that Dak Prescott will see some action again against the Rams to start his 2017 preseason on Saturday night after sitting out the Hall of Fame game. Nothing he can do will be able to top his jaw dropping NFL debut, but Prescott has publicly set very high goals for himself and his team this season.
A year later from the LA Coliseum, it is time for the very same Dak Prescott to make good on performing to these standards – and is there anyone really doubting him now?