No ordinary rookie, Dak Prescott takes charge of Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants: NFL weekend preview

While he will be under the spotlight for the Dallas Cowboys when they host the New York Giants in their season-opener, the standout from Mississippi State University has been able to fly under the radar.
Greg Trott / AP
Greg Trott / AP

The only reason why an NFL team starts a rookie quarterback in Week 1 is because they are a bad team. Chances are these quarterbacks were selected in the first round of the draft and they were brought in to salvage a struggling franchise.

As soon as any young, top-tier college quarterback signs that big-money contract, joins a professional team and is expected to start right away, the hype builds and the pressure is on.

Dak Prescott is a different story. While he will be under the spotlight for the Dallas Cowboys when they host the New York Giants in their season-opener, the standout from Mississippi State University has been able to fly under the radar.

Dallas is not considered to be a bad team and Prescott, 23, was not highly touted coming out of college. He lasted until the fourth round of this year’s draft. Seven other quarterbacks were selected before him, and a majority of them will watch Sunday’s action from the sideline while holding a clipboard. In fact, Prescott will be the lowest-drafted NFL quarterback to start Week 1 in 39 years.

But he did not rise to this level on talent alone, as August was a gruesome month for Dallas.

Their perennial starter for the past 10 years, Tony Romo, was diagnosed with a compression fracture of his L1 vertebra two weeks ago and backup Kellen Moore suffered a broken fibula and was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

• More NFL: Rookies to watch | Predictions | Power Rankings

Dallas really had no choice in the matter. Insert Prescott.

During the preseason, the rookie certainly delivered. He was spectacular in three games with five touchdowns and zero interceptions while completing 78 per cent of his passes (39-of-50).

Prescott has shown maturity in the pocket and also revealed his ability to scramble, which strikes fear into any opposing team.

Of course, things speed up quite a bit once the regular season starts, and the Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will do all he can with his revamped US$200 million (Dh727.8m) defence to confuse the rookie and slow down the Dallas rushing attack.

“I know people are talking about ‘confuse the rookie quarterback’,” Spagnuolo told the Associated Press. “Well, the confusion in a rookie quarterback is more when you can get him behind schedule. If they are ahead of schedule and all he has to do is hand it off and play-action passes, there isn’t anything we can do to confuse that.”

This is an ideal time for Prescott to make his mark. Taking over the starting spot from a veteran teammate during the season — regardless of the pecking order — is always tricky, and the scrutiny can be severe. But this is the first week of the season, so anything can happen and expectations are wide open. It is the perfect occasion for an unknown player to slip in and change everything.

“I think ‘believe’ and ‘expect’. Believe you’re supposed to be there. Expect you’re supposed to be there,” Prescott said. “Expect for good things to happen. Believe that success is going to come when you prepare.”

Dallas coach Jason Garrett has already said that when Romo comes back from this latest injury — he is hoped to be ready around midseason — he will return to the starting spot. But what if Prescott plays well? This could mark a changing of the guard in Dallas.

Since joining as an undrafted free agent in 2003, Romo has received four Pro Bowl nods, but has led Dallas to only two play-off victories.

Two. Not exactly the CV of a winning quarterback. Maybe it is time to go in a different direction.

Prescott may have been an unknown to his teammates up until a month ago, but at least one fellow quarterback in the league knows him well.

The Giants’ Eli Manning will be on the other sideline at AT&T Stadium on Sunday and will be trying his best to get New York off to a winning start. For the previous two summers, Prescott was a college quarterback instructor at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana, which is run by the Manning brothers — Eli and Peyton — along with their father Archie, who is a former NFL quarterback.

“Dak came in and he wanted to learn. He asked questions,” Archie Manning told the New York Daily News this week. “He was kind of a sponge around Peyton and Eli.”

So it is only fitting that Prescott gets his first NFL start against one of his old summer camp mentors. If he falls victim and gets confused by the New York defence, there should be no immediate worries in Dallas because the job is still his. For now.

But if he sparks the offence and Dallas start the season with a win at home over a division rival, then Prescott will write the first chapter to his fairytale emergence and could turn an injury pity party into something special.

Thursday’s result

Denver Broncos 21, Carolina Panthers 20: Denver’s dominant defence came up big against Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and the Broncos escaped with a one-point victory when Carolina place kicker Graham Gano missed a 50-yard field goal with four seconds remaining. In his successful first NFL start, Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian finished 18-of-26 for 178 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Sunday’s games (in UAE time)

• Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons, 9pm

• Cincinnati Bengals at NY Jets, 9pm

• Cleveland Browns at Philadelphia Eagles, 9pm

• Oakland Raiders at New Orleans Saints, 9pm

• Green Bay Packers at Jacksonville Jaguars, 9pm

• San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, 9pm

• Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens, 9pm

• Chicago Bears at Houston Texans, 9pm

• Minnesota Vikings at Tennessee Titans, 9pm

• Miami Dolphins at Seattle Seahawks, midnight

• NY Giants at Dallas Cowboys, midnight

• Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts, midnight

Monday’s game

• New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals, 4.30am

Tuesday’s games

• Pittsburgh Steelers at Washington Redskins, 3am

• Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers, 6am

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Published: September 9, 2016 04:00 AM


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