The Brandt Report  

 

Dallas Cowboys in good hands with rookie QB Dak Prescott

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The Dallas Cowboys will do something on Sunday they haven't done in 47 years. When quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott walk onto the AT&T Stadium turf to face the Giants, it will be the first time since 1969 the Cowboys start an all-rookie offensive backfield in Week 1.

In the '69 season opener, we started Roger Staubach at quarterback and Calvin Hill at running back. Craig Morton replaced Roger in Week 2, but Calvin went on to win NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors.

Since that season, there have been a countless number of rookie running backs to start in Week 1, but only 38 rookie quarterbacks, including Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota last year. Of those 38, only three were drafted outside the first 100 picks.

Prescott (taken by the Cowboys in the fourth round with Pick No. 135) is about to become No. 4 -- the same number he will wear on his jersey Sunday afternoon.

It's not a great list, especially if you're a Cowboys fan in hope of salvaging this season. Kyle Orton (Pick No. 106 in 2005), Chris Weinke (106 in 2001), and Randy Hedberg (196 in 1977) were a combined 18 games below .500 as NFL starters. Take out Orton (42-40) and the career mark of the other two is 2-22.

(Interestingly, Hedberg was Carson Wentz's position coach at North Dakota State; the Eagles' Wentz will join Prescott as the only rookie QBs to start this season in Week 1.)

So where does that leave the Cowboys this season? In pretty good hands, I believe.

Despite the history that might say otherwise, I think Prescott will handle the bright spotlight well. His history says he will.

Bright lights are nothing new for Rayne Dakota Prescott. He led Haughton (La.) High School to a district championship as a junior, sealing the title game by driving his team 80 yards in 47 seconds, without using a timeout. As a senior, he led his high school to its first ever undefeated season and another district title. Playing with a torn MCL in the championship game and unable to run, Prescott saved his best for last, throwing for 366 yards with three touchdowns with dozens of college recruiters watching from the stands.

At Mississippi State, he was a three-year starter in the nation's toughest conference. In 2014, he led the Bulldogs to nine straight victories to open the season, including three in a row over top-10 opponents that led to the school's very first No. 1 ranking. He won 20 games in his final two years in Starkville, setting nearly every school passing record along the way. Currently he sits third on the SEC's all-time list for passing yards and fourth in total touchdowns.

Nothing seems too big for Prescott. It was one of the reasons I was so enamored with him in the months leading up to the draft.

Last March, while attending a black-tie retirement party in New York for longtime NFL executive Joe Browne, I had a chance to visit with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. We discussed a few things and eventually made our way to the draft. He told me at the time he was not going to take a quarterback with the Cowboys' No. 4 overall pick. He was certain he would have Tony Romo around for another four to five years and was clearly leaning on taking an impact player at another position that could put his team over the top.

That player ended up being Elliott. What Jerry didn't know at the time was that he'd lose Romo two weeks before the season opener. Had he been able to look into the future, history on this one likely would have played out differently. His offer to move up for Paxton Lynch on draft night most certainly would have been stronger and much harder to turn down.

Instead, he landed Prescott with the hope the quarterback would be ready at the end of Romo's road, whenever that came, and Jerry thought he had several years to work with. I told the Cowboys owner during our talk last spring that this was a draft he could wait to take his quarterback. I felt strongly there were several good prospects in the mid rounds, especially Prescott and North Carolina State's Jacoby Brissett (Brissett went to the Patriots in the third round and is a contender to replace Tom Brady one day), and would have recommended both had he asked.

Jerry didn't say it, but I think at the time he saw Lynch's stock dropping and the possibility he'd be in play late in the first round. Not that Lynch was pro-ready, but he appeared more pro-ready than Prescott, and I don't think Jerry had the patience to wait and see if he had a Romo successor he could count on. When things didn't work out in the draft with Lynch, he was left with no choice.

I knew Prescott would need some re-tooling coming from Mississippi State's spread system, but he had the size, arm strength, intelligence, athleticism, and overall talent to one day succeed in the NFL.

The Cowboys are fortunate the way things have worked out. So is Prescott. He's landed in an ideal situation, with two former quarterbacks as coaches. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who I brought to Dallas as an undrafted free agent out of Idaho in 1987, and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, who enjoyed an 18-year career in the NFL, have done a tremendous job getting Prescott ready in short order.

While I don't anticipate Prescott having the same success as he had in the preseason, he should be able to hold the fort down in Romo's absence. And he'll have the benefit of working behind the NFL's best offensive line, a strong running game, and security blankets in WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten. I don't think a .500 record is out of the question before he hands the ball back to Tony around midseason.

In the end, this could turn out to be a huge blessing for the Cowboys. If nothing else, in two months they'll know if they have their quarterback of the future.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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