FRISCO, Texas (AP) - Dak Prescott barks at his teammates a little more now that he’s a couple of years removed from a sensational rookie year with the Dallas Cowboys.
At least that’s the way tight end Geoff Swaim put it, and he didn’t mean it in a negative way. The star quarterback sure hopes so.
“I may be a little bit more vocal,” Prescott said. “But when you say ‘barking,’ it’s almost like at a negative tone. Like, you’re going out at them hard. I’d say if anything, I’m trying to be more encouraging and bring more out of them.
“When you have a young team and different personalities, it’s hard just to be negative and be critical the whole time. For me, it’s a lot about coaching the guys up. And then the guys that I know I can be critical on, yeah, sure I am.”
The 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, who opens the season Sunday at Carolina trying to get the Cowboys back to the playoffs after they missed during his less-than-stellar encore , just illustrated offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s take on leadership from Prescott.
Sure, this 25-year-old with a master’s degree in workforce education leadership from Mississippi State is the unquestioned commander of the offense - and that includes over running back Ezekiel Elliott, his fellow first-year standout from 2016.
But it’s not necessarily because of the retirement of Tony Romo, the quarterback he replaced with one of the best debuts for a quarterback in NFL history.
Or because 15-year tight end Jason Witten joined Romo in the broadcast booth this year. Or because the Cowboys dumped boisterous receiver Dez Bryant, the franchise leader in touchdown catches, in a cost-cutting move.
Since Prescott showed up as the forgotten third-teamer on Romo’s team two years ago, he has shown the leadership qualities that suddenly became more pronounced. He was a natural to become the face of the franchise , and would be by himself if not for linebacker Sean Lee.
“He’s always been a guy that, even as a rookie, he was not afraid to speak up and give his two cents on the field and encourage guys,” Linehan said. “He’s a natural when it comes to that.”
Prescott led the Cowboys to 11 straight wins after Romo injured his back in the preseason in 2016, when Dallas had an NFC-best 13 victories before losing to Green Bay in a divisional playoff.
Elliott’s six-game suspension marred their second season together, and Prescott felt the burden of the absence.
The poor decisions he avoided as a rookie were more frequent, including an ill-advised throw that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown in a late-season loss to Seattle that finished off Dallas’ playoff hopes in Elliott’s first game back.
The theme last season was whether Prescott could avoid a sophomore slump, a term he brushed off. Now it’s whether he can have a bounce-back season, if there is such a thing for a young quarterback.
“You can call it whatever you call it,” he said. “I’m excited for what we’re going to have and the year we’re going to have and I feel very, very confident in the players we have and the team we have and what we’re going to do this season.”
There are questions, starting with a revamped receiving corps that lacks the star power brought by Witten and Bryant.
The Cowboys say they’ll attack the passing game with versatility, hoping to take advantage of one-on-one matchups with opponents focusing first on stopping Elliott, the league rushing leader when Prescott was voted the top offensive rookie.
There are two new starters on Dallas’ vaunted offensive line. Joe Looney is replacing Travis Frederick at center while the four-time Pro Bowler recovers from Guillain-Barre syndrome, an auto-immune disease that attacks nerves. He doesn’t know when he will return. Rookie second-round pick Connor Williams is at left guard.
Despite the questions, Prescott is determined not to try to do too much again.
“I know I’ll be better,” he said. “I just learned so much from last year, just moving forward, mature within the game, just learned a lot more that I didn’t know last year that I wasn’t as comfortable with. Just reads, my game on footwork, accuracy and consistency, everything.”
Learning isn’t stopping him from coaching, as he put it.
“I think as a rookie it was more encouraging and that kind of thing,” Swaim said. “This year, the barking, it’s not like he’s screaming and yelling. That’s not his thing. It’s more just, ‘Hey, this is what you need to do here.’ And it’s good because it keeps everyone focused and in their role and doing their job.”
Prescott just wants you to know it’s not negative.
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