FRISCO, Texas -- Wade Wilson remembers the Dak Prescott from 53 weeks ago.
“The snap, he’d never done that,” the Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach said. “Never called a play. He had his feet all goofed up. Never been under center too much. Never. Rarely said the words in the huddle or really any verbal communication at all.”
After the rookie minicamp ended and before the start of organized team activities, Prescott made a promise to Wilson.
“I’ll never forget this as long as I live,” Wilson said. “He said, ‘Give me a week and you’ll never know that I played exclusively in the shotgun and never called a play.’ He said, ‘I’ll get it fixed.’”
“One week later, he’s doing it,” Wilson said. “No doubt.”
Four months later, Prescott was the Cowboys’ starting quarterback after Tony Romo suffered a compression fracture in his back. Seven months later, he had set 19 team rookie records for a quarterback, including most touchdown passes (23) and fewest interceptions (four). Most important, he tied an NFL record for wins by a rookie (13).
Nine months later, Prescott was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
There are major expectations for Prescott’s encore in 2017, and the Cowboys are all-in. They released Romo, the franchise leader in touchdown passes, who is now CBS’ lead NFL analyst. He has become one of the most popular players in the NFL. He finished second to Ezekiel Elliott in official merchandise sales, according to the NFL Players Association.
Two weeks ago, he signed a sponsorship deal with Frito-Lay and Pepsi. He was featured Sunday on ESPN’s relaunch of E:60.
But just as Romo found the secret is in the dirt, stealing a line from Ben Hogan, Prescott will find the same thing.
The goal is longevity; not just being a one-hit wonder.
“I think we pick up where we left off, and that’s not a bad start,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “We were in a good place as the season went on. The focus is on some of the things he wasn’t able to be a part of last year, which is an entire offseason. Some people forget and even I forget he wasn’t here until the end of Phase 2 of the offseason program.”
Linehan’s background with young quarterbacks is encouraging. As a rookie in 2009, Matthew Stafford had 13 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions. His second season was cut short after three games because of a shoulder injury, but he had six touchdowns and one interception. In his first full season, he had 41 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions in 2011.
Linehan was Daunte Culpepper's coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings. In their first year together, Culpepper had 18 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions. The next season, he had 25 touchdown passes and 11 picks. In their third season together, he had 39 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions with a league-high 4,717 yards.
“You don’t want to over-accelerate the process,” Linehan said. “We’re in a process right now. We’re in Year 2 of a young quarterback, and he’s showed us everything we wanted to see in his first year. Obviously we want to raise the bar this year and start doing things as well and doing some of the same things better.”
At last year’s rookie camp, executive vice president Stephen Jones noticed some of the same things Wilson mentioned, from Prescott’s funky footwork to his unfamiliarity with taking snaps. But he also noticed that the fourth-round pick quickly became the leader of a rookie class.
“This time last year was when we started to see you had someone who was unique in terms of his ‘it’ factor, his leadership skills,” Jones said. “You were kind of saying, ‘Boy, he’s got something about him.’ Now, we didn’t know he was going to be Dak, but we thought, ‘Man, he’s starting to show some qualities here in terms of his work ethic, with Scott, the way he interacted with the players in the weight room.’ That’s when you first started saying, ‘Ooh, I kinda like this.’”
Nobody knew he would be so successful in 2016. Maybe Prescott did, but the thought entering training camp was he would be the third quarterback behind Romo and Kellen Moore. When Moore got hurt, the Cowboys tried to find a veteran replacement, but they eventually were convinced Prescott could be the No. 2.
Then Romo got hurt and Prescott became a Pro Bowl selection.
Earlier this offseason, Prescott spent time in Orlando, going through the same pre-draft workouts he had from a year ago. He was among the early workers at The Star before the offseason program started, and he has not missed a day of voluntary work.
Wilson said the Cowboys want to give Prescott more freedom within the offense, running more than just the plays that are called. The leaders of the team, Jason Witten and Sean Lee, want Prescott to have a larger and louder voice in the locker room.
“He is relentless,” Jones said. “It means a lot to him. It's a huge priority for him obviously to be great. I think it’s all in front of him. Each year it’s going to be better.”