FRISCO, Texas -- Since owner Jerry Jones opened the offseason with the term “Dak-friendly” to describe the Dallas Cowboys’ approach to their offense, there has been no actual definition of what it means.
At least to a small degree, the first unveiling of a Dak-friendly offense will come Wednesday, when the Cowboys hold their first of three organized team activities that are open to the media.
"I think maybe it’s a fun, narrative term or whatever, but I think the Dak-friendly, Cooper-friendly, Mike White-friendly, all quarterbacks, is an offense that executes and does its job when we call upon them," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "We’re just focusing on some of that. We’re looking at some new things, like we do every year, but looking at things we want to improve on that wasn’t up to snuff last year.”
Dak Prescott isn’t really sure what Dak-friendly means.
“It’s a misnomer,” Prescott told reporters last week. “It’s not exactly Dak-friendly. It’s Cowboys-friendly.”
To suggest the Cowboys will be Dak-friendly in 2018 suggests they were not Dak-friendly in 2016 or 2017. Of course they were. They tailored their offense to Prescott’s strengths when he was forced to take over for an injured Tony Romo in 2016, when he directed the Cowboys to a 13-3 record with one of the best seasons for a rookie quarterback in NFL history. They continued to play to Prescott’s strengths in 2017, but the passing game became stagnant in the second half of the season, which played a big part in the Cowboys’ 9-7 finish.
“You are trying to have a system that is comprehensive enough and flexible enough that you can fit players in it and play to their strengths,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “No position does that apply to more than the quarterback position. We have always felt that way, whether a quarterback is comfortable throwing certain routes or doing certain things in his drop. If he is better outside the pocket or inside the pocket, you always want to play to his strengths and in some way minimize things he doesn't do quite as well.”
Since Prescott became the starter, the Cowboys have used some run-pass options but will now do more. It’s not about having Prescott run more. It’s about keeping the defense off-balance with the quarterback’s ability to run.
In each of his first two seasons, Prescott ran 57 times. He picked up 282 yards as a rookie and 357 yards in 2017. In each season, he ran for six touchdowns. The Cowboys won’t want him to run as much as Cam Newton, who has had at least 90 carries in all seven of his seasons with the Carolina Panthers.
A model could be Alex Smith, who was traded to the Washington Redskins in the offseason after a successful tenure with the Kansas City Chiefs. He carried 60 times a year ago for 355 yards and a touchdown.
But as the Chiefs incorporated more run-pass options, Smith’s efficiency in the passing game rose. He threw for a career-high 4,042 yards with 26 touchdown passes and five interceptions in 2017.
Since Garrett came on board in 2007 as the offensive coordinator, the Cowboys have run a systematic passing game that's similar to when Michael Irvin was catching passes from Troy Aikman in the 1990s. With Prescott, the Cowboys will want to incorporate more of the spread offense he ran so well at Mississippi State.
Part of the Dak-friendly movement has been to find receivers who will be in the right spots at the right times. With run-pass options, receivers have to be precise with their routes and their timing. That was not a strength of Dez Bryant, who had some of his success with Romo based on reading and reacting.
As a rookie, Prescott excelled when throwing outside the pocket, but defenses were able to contain that better in 2017. The Cowboys want to do more with Prescott on the move, but they want to improve their play-action and run-action games to give him easier, quicker throws.
“One of Dak's strongest points has been his progressions,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “He likes to read through a progression -- one, two, three, four. He likes to do that and get it to the right player rather than maybe have pressure to get to a player.”
Wednesday is the first look at what those changes could be, but even Prescott isn’t so sure the changes will be noticed.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a big difference,” Prescott said. “Every time you go into the offseason there’s new adds and there’s new things you’re going to do and there’s going to be changes. Basically, the scheme things we’re doing is not much different for the most part.”