from Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
Six months ago this week, Dak Prescott was under pressure. Well, more precisely, he was talking about being under pressure. He loved the suspense, he said. He welcomed him. It brought the best out of him and out of Dallas Cowboys. It created the right kind of expectations.
“I don’t know why people define the word ‘pressure’ as such a bad thing,” Prescott said.
A few days later, the Cowboys ended up getting swept by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC wild card round.
Whether it was the pressure or just the 49ers’ elite defense, Prescott and Dallas headed into the offseason, extending a dismal stretch in which the franchise has won just three playoff games over the past quarter-century.
Now that much of the summer has passed and thoughts have turned to a new campaign, he’d better start loving the tension again, or at least getting comfortable with it. Because there’s a lot to come.
That’s the nature of things as a Cowboys quarterback, where expectations and reality don’t always mesh well, and where the hunger and desperation for success grows with each barren year.
Prescott’s season was statistically spectacular — with 4,449 yards and 37 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions — in a campaign in which he bounced back from a gruesome sprain and compound fracture of his right ankle.
In terms of numbers, it’s hard to see how he could have done much more. Yet when the debates that fill these non-football months turn to which players will have the highest expectations next year, Prescott is usually near the top of every list.
A season like the one he just had — good enough for a 12-5 record — would have gone pretty much anywhere else. But Dallas fans are tired. They have had seasons of hope that should have led to more. The positive signs. Platform placement campaigns. The years of building and learning. Also mixed in was a bunch of non-standard gloom.
Now it’s at the break-even point. Win by really winning. Not as in double digit wins, but as in playoff wins.
It’s just been too long. Too many hopes have been invested, and for Jerry Jones too much money spent. Too many false dawns.
Is it fair for Prescott to shoulder the brunt of that responsibility? Hardly. But that comes with the territory of being the Cowboys quarterback, and he knows it.
When you’re the Cowboys QB, there’s just nothing about you that people don’t care about. This could be your love life. What car do you drive. What are your views on topics that have nothing to do with football. Heck, they still care enough about Tony Romo that his win in a professional golf tournament last weekend got a lot of attention.
The hot topic for Prescott right now is his physique. The 28-year-old slimmed down over the summer, training with a full-time trainer he personally employs.
Dak Prescott in ‘best shape of his life’
Dak Prescott is feeling good this season. He told reporters he was “in the best shape I’ve ever been in.” The Dallas Cowboys quarterback also raved about his recent trip to Miami with teammates before training camp. Skip Bayless ponders how much this offseason will help his quarterback’s performance.
“A few weeks out (of training camp) and I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in,” he told reporters. “So it’s time to step it up and go.
“Whether it’s vacation or not, (my coach) comes with me. We work on these movements and stretches. I feel like I’ve trained more functionally than ever since the injury. So I see it in my body, I see it in the way I move and the way the ball comes out.”
In theory, Prescott should be primed to perform even harder this season than last, which was the first leg of a four-year, $160 million contract. He no longer has to go through an extensive pre-workout routine to make sure his ankle is properly supported.
His mobility, 21 months since the injury, is believed to be greater, enough that head coach Mike McCarthy is already talking about getting Prescott into more running games.
Prescott is making all the right noises and seems full of optimism — although optimism is a dangerous word in Dallas and should be handled with care.
The odds are somewhat cautious about the Cowboys, listing them as the eighth favorite to win the Super Bowl, at +1,800. Skeptics have concerns about the departure of preferred wide receiver Amari Cooper and the overall state of the offensive line.
When Prescott addressed the media, there was an air about him. Good, for sure, but hard to pin down.
Feeling confident, no doubt. A feeling of readiness, perhaps eager to get things going?
Prescott says he’s ready for anything, ready to unleash his new fitness, ready for the opportunity, ready to try to make up for the latest disappointment.
And, presumably, ready for the tension that’s always there — and until the Cowboys get back to the Super Bowl — it’s always growing.
You might as well learn to love it because it won’t go away.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and contributor to the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Yyou can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.
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