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Offseason | 2021

Spagnola: Most Impressive This Offseason


FRISCO, Texas – This gave me pause this week when asked who was the most impressive for the Cowboys during this year's OTAs and minicamp.

That is, other than the fact that after last year's COVID-restriction cancellations the Cowboys actually had an offseason, on-field workouts with right at 100 percent attendance.

Could have said CeeDee Lamb on his way to a huge jump from his impressive rookie season to now his second, just from how many highlight catches he was making over the past month.

Surely could have said Micah Parsons, the Cowboys' first-round pick, even if in just helmet, jersey and shorts, showing the athletic skills that made him the absolute best defensive player in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Might have gone with a healthy Leighton Vander Esch exhibiting just why he became the Cowboys' first rookie Pro Bowl linebacker back in 2018.

Or by naming the true surprise of the offseason, Nahshon Wright, the third, third-round draft choice. The pick most everyone got on their high horse panning since they didn't have him rated draftable and ranked the 38th best cornerback by one draft service. The Oregon State product, by circuitous way of doing something called "greyshirting" at City College of San Francisco where O.J. Simpson once played and then Laney College as an unrecruited guy out of high school, letting us know on a per-practice basis just who No. 40 is.

And was mighty tempted to go with the most encouraging sight of Tyron Smith, La'el Collins and Zack Martin, while not participating in any of the drills, showing during their rehab sessions they undoubtedly have recovered from last season's debilitating injuries and will be ready for the start of training camp.

But, then it was like, Mick, come on, don't over-think this. Don't ignore the obvious smacking you right in the kisser during every one of those six OTA workouts and both minicamp sessions.

It is, unquestionably, Dak Prescott actually playing ball. Again. Dak Prescott taking part in everything going on except for any 11-on-11 sessions out of an abundance of caution since the Cowboys can't win a Super Bowl in May-June.

Come on, let's go back to Oct. 11, 2020, right around 5:35 p.m. that Sunday evening when we saw Dak on the AT&T turf at the Giants' 18-yard line, grabbing his right ankle and trying to twist it back into the direction it should have been facing. Go back to when eventually we could see the concern in the eyes of the Cowboys' medical staff and then the tears coming from those of Dak's, as he was being carted off the field, with little did we know at that immediate time a dislocated ankle causing a compound fracture, too.

The medical staff's biggest fear at the time, and why Dak was whisked straight to the operating room, was the potential of an infection developing in his open wound. And why Dr. Gene Curry immediately performed surgery upon his arrival at the Carrell Clinic surgery facility.

At the time, who of us lay folks figured Dak would be participating in OTA workouts by the end of May, just seven months later. Or this week's two minicamp workouts, even being able to perform in those "scramble" drills, running around in the pocket while firing downfield. Or heck, even just standing in the pocket and throwing the football with his old speed and accuracy.

Or as offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said, "We're playing ball now. You can ask Dak. He's ready to just go play football."

Amazingly impressive, at least to me.

With some injuries, their gravity remain glued to your memory. Like seeing Michael Irvin face down at The Vet in 1999, suffering the neck injury that would end his NFL career. Or when wide receiver Mike Sherrard suffered compound fractures to his fibula and tibia on the other side of the field from me during the 1987 training camp in Thousand Oak, Calif. Or the time wideout Anthony Lucas, right in front of me along the sideline, fractured his patella that summer of 2002 in the Alamodome that I could have sworn hearing the crack, this for the second time within a year's span, ending his NFL career.

Now Dak. And he has fared much better so far than those other guys.

In fact, he's to the point of tiring talking about the injury, and as you probably know by now, told members of the media, "I've buried the injury." Repaired and gone.

But thought this was interesting when he wasn't all that interested in recalling a recovery timeline I had asked for. You know, how long in a cast, how long in a boot, when did you first begin running.

"After (the second surgery in December for cleanup) I really like said to hell with the time, to be honest with you, and didn't keep count day by day or week by week," Dak says. "Just started to go off of how my body felt. Just the things I was able to do from one day to another. And I think that's what got me through it, honestly. I wasn't counting months."

Maybe not months. But Dak admitted recently that he started counting days since Oct. 11.

"I think it was just the other day I had to count on my fingers the time since I've been hurt," he finally admitted.

One … two … three .. and, of course, he ran out of fingers.

So did I. But thanks to the handy calculator, from Oct. 11 to when he spoke about this on June 9, it's been 241 days. And health willing, by the time he steps on the field for the Cowboys and NFL season opener on Sept. 9 against Tampa Bay, he'll be just two days short of exactly 11 months.

This hasn't been easy reaching this point by any stretch of the imagination. Let's face it, rehab is no joke. I can now attest to that. Not just the physical grind, but the mental games your body plays with you. Like just when you think you're turning the corner, your body basically says, uh, not so fast big boy, creating an aching reminder of just what you're rehabbing. He's right, though. Just put your head down and carry on.

And let La'el Collins give you a clue since he, too, was doing a lot of his own rehab from his hip surgery right alongside Dak.

"You just see everything he's doing," the Cowboys' starting right tackle says. "I mean, even when it was tough, he pushed through. I mean, he's definitely a big-time leader. It gives me chills to think about it because he doesn't complain even if things are bothering him. He just finds a way to keep going, to keep pushing through. And, you know, that goes a long way with guys, especially when there's been days we'd be out there, and it's like, man, it's a tough day. But he keeps going and it makes everyone else keep going, especially me.

"When I see that guy, that's who I do it for, that guy, that's my locker mate, and I'll protect him at all costs, that's what it's about."

So yeah, you want impressive, let me give you impressive:

Dak Prescott.

Hands down. All them others a distant second.

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