More than 200 days in his tenure as head coach passed before Mike McCarthy shared a room with his starting quarterback.
But Dak Prescott and his masked Cowboys teammates have now returned to team headquarters at the Star, scrambling to make up lost time as coach and players acquaint themselves with each other and a facility they scantly recognize after changes to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
McCarthy’s first impression of Prescott?
“I’ve really enjoyed his personality,” McCarthy said in a Friday press conference. “He’s very upbeat, very driven. So I’d say he’s kind of picked up where he left off. … Very detailed in his preparation.
“He’s a lot of fun to be around.”
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) smiles while on the field before the game against the Oakland Raiders at AT&T Stadium. (Photo: Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports)
It’s too early to know how long McCarthy and Prescott should expect to be around one another. The Cowboys and Prescott failed to reach a deal on a long-term extension before the July 15 deadline. The Cowboys wanted to lock up their quarterback for at least five seasons; Prescott and his representation sought a deal no longer than four years. Prescott stuck with the franchise tender he’d signed, a one-year deal at a fully guaranteed salary of $31.4 million. But Prescott maintained the night of the franchise tag that he’s “a Cowboy and couldn’t be happier,” he said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports.
“I look forward to working along coach McCarthy, the staff and my teammates to be the best team we can be in pursuit to our goal of a Super Bowl,” he added.
Prescott didn’t wait until returning to the building to hammer routes with his teammates.
Instead, he commissioned a football field built in his North Texas backyard, his “D4K” logo spray-painted in blue near the 50-yard line of the field Cowboys receivers, running backs and tight ends became acutely familiar with. Teammates whom Prescott flew to San Diego last offseason work instead gathered locally.
“Dak has done a great job with the time away,” McCarthy said. “And, really, the whole group.”
McCarthy welcomed veterans to team headquarters last weekend after each tested negative three times for COVID-19. The team has since emphasized strength and conditioning to ensure players are ready next Friday when they progress to practicing in shells. The NFL canceled its preseason games, so Cowboys players will ramp up gradually in anticipation of a Sept. 13 opener against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Cowboys officially announced Mike McCarthy as head coach on January 7, 2020.
Today, 208 days later, he had his first opportunity to meet his veteran group in person (📹: @dallascowboys) pic.twitter.com/ZnF3nBfKvA
McCarthy says he’s carried over some schematic principles from last year’s league-leading Cowboys offense (431.5 yards per game), working in concert with second-year coordinator Kellen Moore. But terminology has changed, and it’s time for Prescott and Co. to integrate their new play calls.
“It feels very normal as we go through the installation,” he said. “The biggest adjustment for Dak is the language – which has been an adjustment for all of us. But he’s looked very good in the throwing segments of the strength and conditioning phase we’re in right now.
“I’m very pleased where he is and very impressed.”
More clarity on the Cowboys’ scheme will come, but McCarthy reiterated that three-time Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott will continue to be a “primary target” along a stocked Cowboys receiver room including Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and rookie CeeDee Lamb. Cooper and Gallup each surpassed 1,000 receiving yards last season. Cooper said earlier this week that they’ll expect three 1,000-yard receivers.
Cowboys WR Amari Cooper on adding CeeDee Lamb along with himself and Michael Gallup’: “I think the expectation is to have three 1,000-yard receivers this year.”
McCarthy indicated game plans will determine ball distribution but didn’t challenge Cooper’s lofty goal.
“The most important thing,” McCarthy said, “is I love the way he thinks.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein
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