Dak Prescott's progression has taken an encouraging turn in the last few days, which might lead to an on-field debut surprisingly soon.
Prescott spoke Wednesday afternoon and provided reporters with the first significant details of his shoulder strain, which has kept him out of action for much of camp. Prescott described the injury as a "freak accident" and still isn't sure how it happened. More importantly, it sounds as if he might still get a chance to play in the preseason as he'd hoped when camp began.
The target date for Prescott's potential participation is Aug. 21, when the Cowboys face the Texans. Barring any unforeseen setbacks or unfortunate circumstances, Prescott expects to throw in Monday's practice and is aiming to play against Houston.
"Uh yeah, that's the plan," Prescott said when asked if he was scheduled to throw Monday and looking to play against the Texans. "Obviously if everything keeps progressing the way it's been. I'm going to be optimistic about that. Obviously, keep doing the things that I need to do. Being very cautious with it though. Making sure that more importantly, I'm ready for the season opener."
There's the obvious question of whether playing in a preseason game is truly worth it for the franchise quarterback, who's coming off a season in which he missed the majority of the action due to a significant ankle injury. The Cowboys have taken the cautious approach with Prescott throughout the offseason and his current injury, and that won't change.
"In a sense, I'd like to play in that game," Prescott said, "but I've got to keep progressing the right way and as long as I don't have any setbacks, when we get to that crossroads, we'll obviously talk to the doctors, coaches and figure out what's best."
Prescott is due for an MRI when the Cowboys return to Dallas on Monday in what amounts to a check-up on the status of his shoulder, per NFL Network's Jane Slater. That will be the most important source of information regarding Prescott's timetable and chances of playing against Houston.
If it were a regular-season game, Prescott would play. But since the preseason doesn't count toward any team's final record, there's no point in rushing someone back just to get some live reps.
Should Prescott be ready to go and free of restrictions or concerns, then he'll be clear for takeoff. The runway just isn't quite there yet.
"Yeah, it's tough. I mean I'm a go-go-go guy," Prescott said. "I always want to be in the action, getting better. I think more reps are better before me, but obviously something like this, you can't stress it too fast. Sitting out and being out of all the time I was out last year, that's what I think about and that's what's able to pull me back in. It's just the risk versus reward at this point and I've gotta know what I'm playing for and that's to be ready for the season."
The regular season is the most important for Prescott, of course. So is clear communication between the Cowboys and Prescott, and judging by what was said Wednesday, there seems to be no issue on that front.
"It's not out of the question," Cowboys executive VP Stephen Jones said Wednesday of Prescott's chances of playing against Houston, via the Dallas Morning News' David Moore. "The question's going to become, when we get there, do we do it or not?
"We've got to make good, sound solid decisions for Dak as we go here. But I wouldn't rule it out."
To this point, Prescott has yet to be a full participant in practice since the shoulder issue first arose. He's started his way back, participating in individual drills Wednesday.
Light throwing and drill participation is an improvement, but not quite a full ramp-up to being prepared to play in a game that won't end up counting toward Dallas' final record this season. There's no need to rush him back to get snaps with a little under a month to go before the start of the regular season.
Hence, the target date of Aug. 21, 10 days from now and in the sweet spot of the preseason slate in which starters are expected to see the most playing time of the portion of the schedule before traditionally relegating them to the sideline for the final preseason game of the year. If the Cowboys truly want to fulfill Prescott's wish of seeing preseason snaps, it would seem the game against the Texans is their best (if not last) chance to do so.
"Just gotta be smart about how I progress through it and how I deal with this after we're past it," Prescott said.
For now, caution is among chief importance to the Cowboys when it comes to managing Prescott's physical condition. After spending a season drifting in the abyss of a season spent largely without Prescott, the Cowboys are focused on avoiding a similar outcome. Preseason snaps might be sacrificed to achieve this goal, but if the Cowboys end up returning to the playoffs in 2021, it will all have been worth it.