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Dak Prescott, Cowboys set up to survive Romo's injury

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In spite of themselves, the Dallas Cowboys are finally set up to weather the quarterback storm while Tony Romo's increasingly brittle body recovers from yet another crushing blow.

Since handing Kyle Orton a $5 million signing bonus to act as premium Romo insurance back in 2012, the Cowboys have gone 31-19 with their starter in the lineup and 1-13 when forced to turn to a backup.

Orton walked away. Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel faceplanted. Kellen Moore lacked NFL size and arm strength.

Armed with the understanding that the ship would continue to sink any time the captain is removed, owner Jerry Jones set out to find his next Romo this past offseason.

Jones publicly lamented his decision not to overpay for Memphis' Paxton Lynch in the first round of the 2016 draft. Hopscotched by the Raiders for Michigan State star Connor Cook early in the fourth round, he ended up settling for Mississippi State's Dak Prescott 35 picks later.

Did the Cowboys realize what they had in preseason sensation Prescott when training camp opened?

They installed Moore as No. 2 quarterback, extolling his "it" factor. When Moore went down with a broken ankle early in camp, they made advances at Nick Foles and Josh McCown.

Even if their Prescott luck wasn't purely the residue of design, the Cowboys deserve credit for putting the rookie in the best position to succeed.

Through three preseason contests, Prescott has shown remarkable poise, excellent ball location, savvy scrambling, a veteran's field vision and the ability to change speeds on his passes.

To put that performance into proper perspective, though, it's important to note that he has been handed the keys to the NFL's finest luxury yacht. Rarely dropping straight back from under center, Prescott has been coddled with shotgun spread, play-action and boot-action plays designed to define his reads. Afforded time to scan the field behind a dominant offensive line and a punishing ground attack, he's throwing back-shoulder passes to an uncoverable Dez Bryant and tossing touchdowns to 10-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten.

That's not a knock on Prescott. It's simply good coaching, affording a mid-round rookie his best chance at immediate success.

Prescott is leading the NFL in completion percentage (78 percent), passing yards (454), passing touchdowns (5) and quarterback rating (137.8). We've never seen a young quarterback equal or surpass those numbers in his first preseason. Of course, not since Jay Cutler a decade ago has a rookie signal-caller been surrounded by an embarrassment of riches to the degree of Dallas' current offense.

It's no wonder that executive vice president Stephen Jones noted Saturday that Prescott has already inspired a "quiet confidence in our football team."

In stark contrast to previous seasons, the backup quarterback is positioned to keep the Cowboys afloat.

"(Romo) feels very confident our team can win games without him while he's not here," Jones added. "He's driven to help Dak win football games for us so when he gets back we have a great chance to have a great season, get in the tournament and contend for a championship, nothing's changed."

Rookie quarterbacks are notorious for manic streaks and slumps as they learn on the job. Once the season starts, defenses will begin tailoring their gameplans specifically to erase Prescott's strengths and exploit his weakness.

Coach Jason Garrett and play-caller Scott Linehan will counter by asking Prescott to simply play complementary football, distributing the ball to difference-makers such as Bryant, Witten and Ezekiel Elliott with the help of a star-studded offensive line.

This time around, the Cowboys are poised to remain competitive in the division race -- even with untested rookies sharing the backfield.

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