OXNARD, Calif. — The Dallas Cowboys completed their fifth training camp practice, the first with actual pads on; no more basketball on grass.
The Cowboys also got quite the scare when quarterback Dak Prescott left practice early with a sore shoulder. That, of course, becomes the biggest of the five takeaways from Wednesday at River Ridge Playing Fields in Oxnard:
1. Dak's shoulder — There is no bigger storyline with the Cowboys right now than Prescott's shoulder. The two-time Pro Bowler left Wednesday's practice with a sore throwing arm which had everyone holding their breath.
The team provided a statement after practice and said that Prescott underwent an MRI, and the results showed that he had a strained right shoulder and will be evaluated daily. Prescott said via the team, "I felt some soreness when making certain throws today, and I really just decided not to push things too far. Better to be cautious and smart about it. I don’t see this as any kind of serious setback. We’ll treat it on a daily basis, and I’ll be fine.”
The optimistic view is Prescott is listening to his body and realizes it is a long, 18-week regular season, let alone the four weeks of preseason and the postseason – if Dallas is fortunate enough to qualify. You can't win the Super Bowl in July after all.
The pessimistic view is Prescott is falling apart after the club signed him to a four-year, $160 million contract with $128 million guaranteed. Reality will reveal itself over the next two weeks whether Cowboys fans have any reason to worry.
2. Garrett Gilbert to the rescue — The former SMU product had a lone start at quarterback against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9 after the rash of injuries hit the Cowboys worse than pustular psoriasis. Gilbert will practice in Prescott’s stead while working with a closer representation of the Cowboys’ starting offense with Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, and Zack Martin back in the lineup.
Even the full offseason's worth of work has given the 30-year-old confidence. "I’m enjoying getting all the bases of the offense this spring," said Gilbert. "I feel a lot more comfortable within everything. Last year was sort of a crash course, catch up as you can and get with the game plan, and this year I got all of the base, day one install type stuff. And, so, I feel a lot more comfortable with everything from that, from a schematic standpoint.”
3. Dalton Schultz, master of manipulation — The former 2018 fourth-round pick took a big stride in 2020 when he filled in for an injured Blake Jarwin, who tore his ACL in Week 1. Entering a contract year, opportunity and production are starting to converge for Schultz. The 25-year-old from Sandy, Utah, has been studying the Cowboys' defense in training camp as part of his overall goal of diagnosing coverages.
"Everybody’s got a gap, everybody’s got an assignment," Schultz said. "They’re doing a lot more disguising but when you watch defensive responsibilities. there’s ways you know who’s got hook-curl, you know who’s covering flat, you know who’s covering B gap. So, for me, it’s like I’m trying to find a way to make them think I’m running here when I’m really running there. So, it’s that kind of manipulation."
Schultz has been making the most of his first-team reps as Jarwin works his way back.
4. Hooker line and sinker — The Cowboys have officially signed safety Malik Hooker after the story floated in the media for the past week. The former Indianapolis Colts 2017 first-round pick from Ohio State has a process for when he will be able to practice, but no definite dates.
"For me, right now they are slowly working me into the process," said Hooker. "There really ain't no timeline, I’m good to go now. I haven’t played football in a year and obviously been a week off because of the COVID protocol and coming off a major injury. They ain't in no rush for me to get back to this point."
Hooker played two games for the Colts in 2020 before tearing his Achilles.
5. Mike McCarthy admits calling passes is more fun — When the Cowboys' coach was talking about the all-important offensive "balance" between the run and the pass, McCarthy let on in his press conference that calling passes is more fun.
When pressed, McCarthy opened up: "It's the old quarterback coach. If the ball is in the air, everybody says, 'Three things happen, and two of them are negative.' I don't look at it that way. I think it's just more fun. They sound better, too. They're longer calls, more sexy verbiage."
Cowboys fans are hopeful that Prescott returns to practice soon so that McCarthy can bring sexy back.
After the Dak news, do you think the Cowboys should look for a veteran backup QB? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.