Cowboys using offseason to define a 'Dak friendly' offense

FRISCO, Texas -- Every so often, team owner Jerry Jones comes up with a phrase that seems to stick with the Dallas Cowboys through a season or two.

A few years ago, the Cowboys’ design was to make their offseason “Romo friendly,” doing everything they could to maximize Tony Romo’s time as their starting quarterback.

Earlier this offseason, Jones came up with “Dak friendly,” which is another way to maximize what Dak Prescott does best as their starting quarterback.

But what does “Dak friendly” even mean?

Stephen Jones, the team's executive vice president, borrowed from a famous Supreme Court ruling when coming up with an answer last week at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

“I don’t know what it entails in terms of what I want to say right now, but certainly I think when you see it, you’ll know it and we’ll go from there,” he said.

Coach Jason Garrett was asked the same thing at the combine.

“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,” 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.”

Of course, the Cowboys want to tailor what they do to Prescott’s strengths. They did that in his rookie year when he took over for Romo, getting him outside the pocket with bootlegs and waggles that keep the reads simple. Those plays were not as successful in 2017, and the Cowboys could not get the ball to Cole Beasley. Beasley led the Cowboys with 75 catches in 2016. He had 36 receptions in 2017.

To the naked eye, the offense might not look very different than it has since Garrett’s system was installed in 2007. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is going into his fifth season as the playcaller and third season with Prescott. In the second half of last season, the offense struggled. Prescott had just one game with more than 212 yards passing. He had nine of his 13 interceptions in the final eight games. The best way to score points is to get chunk plays in the passing game. The Cowboys had just two games in the second half of the season with more than two completions of 20 or more yards.

Jerry Jones offered up his definition of “Dak friendly.”

“It’s an offense that lets him be unpredictable. It gives him the best way to be hard for the defense in the sense of game planning for him,” Jones said. “I’d certainly love for him to be able to hurt them from the pocket. We’d love for him to be able to hurt them on the run -- and to run. We’re not necessarily interested in increasing the number of runs. I think we’ve got a lot more options as far as how to get him on the run in the passing game, and giving him a better pocket and having better blocking. You might say protection, but the way to get that done is to be imaginative in the running game. Some of the college stuff needs to be thought about here. That’s a big part of the conversation that’s going on at the office.”

And that’s where the changes on the coaching staff could lead to more “Dak friendly” thoughts. The Cowboys have been successful with their running scheme the past four seasons, but new line coach Paul Alexander can bring different runs outside of the zone game that can marry better to the passing game in terms of personnel.

New tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier’s past three jobs were at Alabama, Michigan and Florida. He can bring elements of the college game to the Cowboys, with Garrett saying offenses are “trickling up” to the NFL instead of the pro game influencing the college game.

Prescott came from a spread offense at Mississippi State that relied on both his arm and legs. He has proven to be adept with his legs in his first two seasons but he does not rely on them to make every play.

Prescott was so good as a rookie -- 23 touchdown passes, four interceptions -- that there was an expectation he would just get better in 2017. He finished the year with 22 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions, but the drop in production can be attributed to Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension, the injuries suffered by left tackle Tyron Smith, the lack of separation by the receivers and a scheme that became stagnant.

But that doesn’t mean Prescott doesn’t need to improve.

“If you look at the track record of big-time quarterbacks in this league, the best players in the history of the league, not many of them play and had the success that he’s had in the first couple of years of their career, first rattle out of the box as a rookie,” Garrett said. “So he’s done a lot of really good things, but he can improve in every aspect of his game. His understanding of what we’re doing, his understanding of what the defense is doing, how those fit together. Physically he can get better, the way he gets away from center, his mechanics in the gun, the way he throws the football, his decisiveness, his decision-making, all of those things can get better and they will get better.”