Dak Prescott may not see in-game action until Week 1

The Cowboys are close to making a bold statement when it comes to starting quarterback Dak Prescott: If he doesn’t play against Interstate 45 rival Houston on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium, you won’t see QB1 until Week 1 of the regular season. 

Prescott got some limited reps during the open practice at the Ford Center early Monday night and was a spectator for team drills. The Cowboys are planning to bring Prescott along slowly until he’s completely healthy from a strained right shoulder.

All that matters now is Prescott facing Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ defense in the season opener Sept. 9. The Cowboys don’t care so much about whether Prescott plays against the Texans in the dress rehearsal. And forget about the final preseason game against Jacksonville.

“To me, the fourth game is for the players who are competing for the final roster spots,” coach Mike McCarthy said before Monday’s practice. “That’s what I believe in, and that’s definitely the case for us this year. If you look at the way this is shaking out, it’s definitely needed across a number of different positions. We’ll see how the week goes, but ... there’s no urgency from my perspective to see Dak play against Houston.”

It doesn’t seem like a stunning turn of events for Prescott to miss the preseason, but the moment he injured his shoulder July 27, the ability to play in August became more remote by the day.

Earlier in training camp, Prescott expressed a desire to play. He suffered a season-ending ankle injury last October and had to deal with the emotions of recovering from a mental and physical standpoint. During early stages of training camp, he was feisty with teammates and needed to get forced out of some drills.

Prescott missed playing football. You can’t blame him because he knows how important he is to this team. Over a two-day stretch in late July when Prescott was first injured, Cowboys quarterbacks threw eight interceptions. The dropoff from Prescott to Garrett Gilbert, Ben DiNucci and Cooper Rush is dramatic.

If there’s such a phrase, maybe you could say dramatically bad. If the Cowboys need to utilize Gilbert in a regular-season game, you better take the opponent. Prescott won’t admit this — why would he? — but his absence from playing would have a negative effect.

Prescott wants to project a positive vibe for a team coming off a 6-10 2020 season in which injuries dominated the narrative at times.

That’s one of the reasons Prescott desires to play. Every moment he’s on the field in live action, good things are expected to happen. The expectations of signing the richest contract in franchise history gives him the power needed to command playing.

“I definitely want to play,” Prescott said in July. “As far as giving you a number or quantity of how much I need to, I just want to obviously get back out there and get some reps before it’s real. Just to have a live defense coming at me.”

When training camp started you wanted to see how Prescott responded in a preseason game on that surgically repaired ankle. His movement around the pocket against teammates not trying to tackle him was a good baseline. Going against an opponent who doesn’t care about Prescott’s health will be the real test.

“Hopefully not to take too many licks because I have great protection,” Prescott said. “But that’s part of the game, and I think it would obviously be great to get up from that, wipe it off and be just another process of burying the injury. I think it will be huge.”

Once Prescott hurt his shoulder, everything changed. So the questions about Prescott’s ankle holding up in a live game and now his shoulder recovery probably won’t get answered until, well, when Tom Brady welcomes Prescott to town.

So it’s probably best the Cowboys protect Prescott from himself.

“This is more about we don’t want to create a setback possibly,” McCarthy said. “His volume of throwing leading up to that point, I mean, he was probably in midseason form from the amount of work he put in over the summer, coming out of the OTAs. Just trying to get that volume back to where it belongs.”

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