FRISCO, Texas — The realization hit around Cinco de Mayo.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott had resumed running and cutting in rehabilitation sessions, practicing pocket footwork and jumping. Spending the holiday with friends and family, Prescott was active without restrictions.
“Maybe did some little dance moves and I felt like I’m ready to go,” he said Wednesday after the Cowboys’ second mandatory minicamp practice, both of which he participated in. “So that was the time that I said in my head, ‘The injury’s gone.’ ”
It’s a mindset.
And it’s a mindset that the Cowboys’ sixth-year quarterback wants help buying into.
Nearly eight months have elapsed since Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle on a designed run against the Giants on Oct. 11, 2020. He underwent emergency surgery to clean the open wound and repair the fracture, walking in a boot afterward. A December surgery further stabilized his ankle. After that, Prescott shifted his focus from counting down days and months to stacking small wins.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott went through drills on Tuesday. (Photo: Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports)
He believes the injury, or at least its pervasiveness in his professional and personal pursuits, is behind him. He asks: Do you?
“I’ve buried the injury, honestly guys, you know me,” Prescott said Wednesday afternoon from the Star. “From the point of practice, from the point of just moving forward and going about my life, I’ve buried it. I’ve buried it mentally. And I think you guys and a lot of people around me have to help me and bury it as well as we move forward.
“Put that right on the tombstone.”
Dak Prescott told us today he’s put ankle injury behind him. “I’ve buried the injury…from the point of practice, from the point of just moving forward and going about my life. I’ve buried it mentally.”
At minicamp today, his confidence in ankle/leg shows.
(📸: Dallas Cowboys) pic.twitter.com/QPo06MbOMc
Moving past the injury is easier said than done. But the more Prescott takes the field, the more realistic that possibility seems. In OTA practices open to media this spring and in two minicamp practices this week, Prescott participated in every portion except 11-on-11 drills with a live pass rush. Sure, he cycled through a more in-depth warm-up than fellow teammates to get his body fresh and his muscles firing.
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But as quarterbacks began practice with target drills and footwork Wednesday morning, Prescott was leading them. When offensive weapons faced off against defensive backs and linebackers shortly after, Prescott was the first of four quarterbacks to fire at them. He found receiver Noah Brown deep in a hurry-up situation and nailed Michael Gallup for both a back-shoulder fade in the corner of the end zone and a toe-dragger down the left sideline.
Prescott is comfortably scrambling.
“Knowing that I could do all the different drops, get away from pressure when I need to, I’m sure you guys see the scramble drill that we’ve done,” he said. “That was a big one for my confidence, just being able to pivot and turn out left, get out to the right, change directions not feeling anything.”
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott on RB Ezekiel Elliott: “When Zeke’s healthy and doing his thing, he’s the best running back in the league. So it’s exciting to see him in the best shape of his life.”
It was so natural that Prescott didn’t realize some of his strides in real time. Then he watched tape and could see: He’s running more smoothly. Building atop the 17,634 yards and 106 touchdowns to 40 interceptions he amassed in his first five seasons again seems realistic. Visions of the 24 rushing touchdowns he collected in 69 games achieve greater clarity.
“I’m getting better, I’m using my legs more as I throw,” Prescott said. “Those are just all building blocks and stepping stones for me to get where I want to be.”
As the Cowboys wind down minicamp, coach Mike McCarthy expects Prescott to be full-go for training camp in six weeks. Until then, he’ll alternate between working with Cowboys trainers on his fitness, Cowboys teammates on offensive chemistry and private quarterback coaching on refining technique.
Prescott, who commissioned an outdoor football field built in his backyard last summer, consistently invites his receivers, running backs and tight ends over for throwing sessions. The goal: Continue to master communication with his linemen and engrain in his receivers which is hot, when. In five games in 2020, Prescott completed 68% of his passes for 1,856 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He notched four more touchdowns from scrimmage. He looks to his again-healthy offensive line to help power a repeat.
Dak Prescott: “There’s no limits to what the mind can do. There’s no limit to what you can picture yourself to do. A lot of injuries have more of a mental weight than they actually have a physical weight. If you can (trust) yourself…you can do pretty much anything you want.” pic.twitter.com/UIa7pCoHol
“I want to know what Dak sees so we’re like two minds combined at the line of scrimmage,” Cowboys center Tyler Biadasz wrote in his 2020 season exit interviews in January. “That’s why I made an emphasis of going to throwing and making sure I’m on the same cadence variations, the same page and all that.”
It’s refreshing for Prescott after months where he was bonding with his offensive linemen instead in rehabilitation, teammates grateful for the encouragement and motivation they provided but eager to move past their multitude of injuries.
Prescott is, in his mind, healthy. He won’t stop there.
“There’s a lot of injuries that have more of a mental weight than they actually do have a physical weight,” Prescott said. “If you can learn how to get that off of you by trusting yourself, believing in what you can do, believing in the doctors and people around you, then you can do pretty much anything you want coming back from majority of the injuries this game gives us.
“My plans when I head into camp are to be better than I was before I broke my ankle.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein
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