FRISCO, Texas – Stay with me on this one, please.
The Dallas Cowboys finished with the No. 1 offense in the NFL last season, averaging 407 yards a game, the second most in franchise history.
The Cowboys finished tied for the No. 2 passing offense, averaging 282.4 a game, third most in franchise history.
They finished with the third-most first downs in franchise history, averaging 22.9 a game, just 0.7 first downs off the franchise high of 23.6 in 2019.
Quarterback Dak Prescott finished the season with 37 touchdowns and but 10 interceptions, that's a franchise high in the 16 games he played, one more than Tony Romo's previous high of 36.
And Dak's QB rating of 104.2 for 2021 finished third highest in the NFL.
All this after playing in only six games in 2020, having suffered the compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle and spending the majority of the offseason still rehabbing from the surgery while acclimating himself to playing football again. And knowing that mentally he also had to work on trusting his right foot again.
And suddenly, precisely 19 months removed from that gruesome injury, folks want to know if he will run the football more in 2022 than he did last year? Will the Cowboys be apt to call more read-option plays than they did last year now that he's fully healthy, or as he says, as healthy as he's ever been?
Why? Why for goodness sakes?
Why do you want to put him unnecessarily more in harm's way? Look, probably the same folks who want to hand the ball more times to Tony Pollard. They want the Cowboys to use wide receiver CeeDee Lamb more like Deebo Samuel, handing him the ball out of the backfield.
Fine with all of that. Fine with mixing in some of that with all three players, but not a steady diet. Plus, with Ezekiel Elliott healthy and looking stronger and quicker during these offseason workouts, why minimize him. After all, he won't turn 27 until three days prior to the team charter leaving for training camp, and he was one of only seven players last year rushing for 1,000 yards.
Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy was the last person to ask this question, too. He deflected with that's game planning, you know, strategy.
Dak himself deadpanned sarcastically, "I expect to have about 20 carries a game."
Look, Dak was the third leading rusher on the team, gaining 146 yards and scoring one TD on 48 carries. He had 52 carries for 277 yards and three rushing touchdowns during his previous full season in 2019.
Dak hit the nail right on the noggin' when pointing out "risk-reward," about being smart, saying if it's a third-down run, then run for the first down and shut it down. Don't need no more bulldozing Dak.
Don't want him out in space taking big shots.
- Speaking Of Noggins: We were reminded in the first minicamp practice on Tuesday, and quite possibly the last, that the NFL had mandated back in the spring offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends to wear what's called Guardian Caps in practice from now through the second preseason game. These waffle-looking, soft-padded cushions fit over the helmets, and the manufacture's claim they will reduce impacts to the head by as much as 33 percent, helping greatly to reduce concussion incidents. Hey, whatever helps.
- Welcome Back: After missing OTA workouts last week in hopes of jumpstarting long-term contract negotiations, franchised tight end Dalton Schultz did attend Tuesday's minicamp session. Probably for three reasons. One, he made his point concerning the Cowboys getting serious about negotiating a long-term deal with guaranteed money past one year that has a July 15 deadline to accomplish. Two, Schultz and his agent didn't want to risk getting fined the allowed $15,980 for missing one minicamp practice. And three, seems there was an arrangement to hold Schultz out of any seven-on-team or 11-on-11 sessions, which really are no big deal this time of year.
- Wideouts Out: Early in OTA work, the Cowboys were without three of their projected top four receivers: Michael Gallup continuing to rehab from torn ACL surgery, veteran free agent James Washington (sore foot tendon) and third-round draft choice Jalen Tolbert (hamstring). Well, during this minicamp practice, while Tolbert returned, missing were Lamb (hamstring), Washington and Noah Brown (hamstring). Lamb and Washington seemed certain they would be ready for camp, and likely some throwing with Dak prior to camp. So, this meant when the first-team offense took the field, the top three receivers became Tolbert, Simi Fehoko, last year's fifth-round pick, and rookie free agent Dennis Houston from Western Illinois. Both Tolbert in the two-minute drill and Fehoko in the 7-on-7 scramble drill had touchdown grabs.
- Kicking In Gear: For the first time this offseason we were able to watch rookie free agent kicker Jonathan Garibay kick in live team drills. And by my account, he was awfully good. The kid has a live leg, and you can tell by the thud on the ball. He made seven of his first eight attempts in the team special teams drill, missing the first time from 55 yards out, although he then hit the repeat. And during the "thunder" drill when the kicking unit rushes onto the field at the spur of a moment, Garibay made all but his 53-yarder. Pretty darn steady, but still sounds as if the Cowboys will sign another kicker to provide some pressure during camp, but also not to wear out the 22-year-old's leg.
- Impressed Someone: Told you former Cowboys quarterback, offensive coordinator and head coach Jason Garrett could do this announcing thing. Must have impressed NBC execs doing color analysis for the USFL games since they hired him to replace Drew Brees on NBC's Football Night in America pregame shows. Garrett told NBC Sports, "I intend to share my life-long passion for football and utilize my experience as both an NFL coach and quarterback to try to explain the game and break down the matchups for our audience every Sunday night. I can't wait to get started."
- Mini Shots: The four-man quarterback rotation went like this: Dak, Cooper Rush, Will Grier, then Ben DiNucci … Nothing has changed with first-rounder Tyler Smith, going in with the second team offensive line at left guard behind Connor McGovern, but joining the first team at left tackle when Tyron Smith doesn't take all the snaps. Seems to be settling in better at both spots … Cowboys trainers Jim Maurer, Britt Brown and Greg Gaither likely won't have much time off prior to training camp since Gallup, Washington, Jabril Cox, Damone Clark and young running backs Rico Dowdle and JaQuan Hardy all are still rehabbing … Former Cowboys defensive end Robert Quinn sure has come a long way since 2019 when on a one-year, prove-it deal, he led the Cowboys with 11.5 sacks, parlaying that into a multi-year contract with the Chicago Bears. Well, after setting the Bears' single-season sack record with 18.5 this past season, he was missing from Chicago's minicamp practice. Hmmm, his five-year, $70 million deal he signed in 2020 has run out of guaranteed money, though his base salary jumps nearly $6 million this season to $12.8 million.
Hey, we never hear enough from Dak, so let's give him this week's last word after mentioning he's leaner. Judging from the rosters, he was listed at 235 in 2021 and on the current minicamp roster he's at 228.
So, what's the secret? Did you change your diet?
"I can't say it's drastically different than a year ago," Dak says. "Maybe a few years ago … definitely different than in college. College was Taco Bell, McDonald's, mandatory, weekly. So, the fast food, removing all that for the most part.
"Yeah, it hasn't changed from last year, just training a little bit different. Doing a lot more rotational things that I think just jumped some of the baby fat I guess off."
Lean and mean, good to go and much better than he was at this time a year ago.