OXNARD, Calif. — Dak Prescott is well-aware of the pressure sitting upon his shoulders as he enters this coming season, one that will mark his eighth in the NFL and with the Dallas Cowboys, but it's also a tenure that has yet to produce the organization's sixth Lombardi trophy, and the two-time Pro Bowler is hellbent on finishing the story in 2023.
Signs are at least pointing toward progress in that direction, considering the Cowboys have delivered a 12-5 record in each of the previous two seasons with their trip to the second round of the playoffs being a step forward over their first-round exit one year prior.
"I think we've done a great job," said Prescott in an exclusive one-on-one sitdown. "It's building, it's building. And there's not been many years in my career where I can say we've gotten better as a team and grown from one year to two years, and especially not to three years. I think that's what we're capable of doing now."
It's difficult to argue against that optimism, all things considered.
"We understand everybody's job responsibility," he added. "And we can lock in and use this great brotherhood, this great culture, to improve upon this success we've had over these past two years and help us get over this hump, and get to where we wanna be."
Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore were added to the roster this offseason via trade, and despite the decision to release Ezekiel Elliott, the excitement generated by the addition of Deuce Vaughn is electrifying the RB room alongside Tony Pollard.
Breaking their 32-year embargo on selecting a nose tackle in the first round — for the first time since Russell Maryland in 1991 — drops the literal No. 1 Freak (via Bruce Feldman's 2022 rankings) named Mazi Smith in-between DeMarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons, in rotation (and sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder) with another definitive run-stopper in Johnathan Hankins.
Tie this into the ability to retain Donovan Wilson and Leighton Vander Esch in free agency and then securing First-Team All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs on a five-year extension means the Cowboys are all-in on this coming season.
Of course, there is the matter of Zack Martin's contract, which has yet to be resolved and adds more question marks to an offensive line that was already not lacking in that regard, and the jury is out on what the "Texas Coast Offense" will look like in the wake of parting ways with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
So, are the Cowboys perfect right now? Not at all, but they're in much better shape than most of the other 31 clubs in the league.
Besides, they only have to be perfect in January and, hopefully, in early February.
You know, when it matters most.
"Mike [McCarthy] always says, 'It's hard to have that kind of success and to continue to win those games,'" said Prescott. "It's about getting hot at the right time and putting a couple of wins together. And, for me, it's about making sure the details are defined so that when we get into the playoffs, we're going to be playing our best ball."
Things began for Prescott nearly a decade ago with a record-setting rookie season in 2022, and he readily admits he was then incorrectly convinced winning in this league would always be that easy.
Though he's racked up an impressive record of 61-36 as a starter, he's not been beyond the second round and the injury bug has bitten a large chunk out of two of his most recent three seasons.
There's a lot to point at to explain what's prevented the Cowboys from turning the corner in the postseason in the Dak Prescott era (or since the mid-1990s, for that matter), and there's also plenty to point at that would showcase why Dallas arguably could have and should have already done so before 2023.
For his part, Prescott has narrowed the biggest hurdle down to one thing in particular.
After all, isn't a mountain simply a bunch of smaller rocks melded together?
"The reason we haven't done what we've quite needed to do were details, just details," he said. "Using our scars, as we've done throughout spring and heading into training camp, and those things that hurt us, is that hurdle. I think that is what we've going to get over. Credit to Mike and the staff and the players for buying into that.
"The things we call failures can be the exact reason we have success. We all understand that, we take accountability and we grow from it."
So … is it Super Bowl or bust in 2023?
"It's always Super Bowl or bust when you play for this organization," Prescott said. "I think that's the expectation that's there, and I don't think there is any coach or player on this team who would want it any other way."