Training Camp | 2021

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Spagnola: This Injury Nothing But A Piece Of Cake


OXNARD, Calif. – Compared to what Dak Prescott went through last year, this arm/shoulder muscle issue to him must seem like having a pimple.

No, seriously.

You know Dak, ever the optimist. Heck, remember he was the one on the field after unknowingly suffering a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle on Oct. 11 trying to straighten out his foot turned 90 degrees the wrong way.

Heck, Dak Alerts began pinging around camp here on Wednesday, probably back home in North Texas, too, when the Cowboys quarterback trotted off the field in the middle of practice for that first "oh-no" moment of training camp. Let's face it, the Dak we know is athletically stubborn. He ain't leaving no practice for some little ache or pain. Or hit to the head as we've already found out in one game if they didn't make him.

So good gosh, don't tell me, a season on the brink? Again?

At first blush, the reason for his premature departure was termed a sore right wing, his throwing one. An MRI revealed more clarity: sore upper arm/shoulder muscle. As he termed it early that same evening, "tightness."

Today, Friday afternoon, Dak was back – back to his optimistic self, saying that he "was never really worried, that five to 10 minutes before I came out I was starting to think about it, thought it was going to warm up. I was feeling the tightness or whatever, and as a competitor, you want to push through it, and say it's just a day I feel different.

"But like I said, it's something I never felt, so at that point I thought it was important to share it and do what was necessary to get it better."

Smart man, but then here is the best news of all.

When asked if this had happened in a game, would you have come out?

"Naw, I doubt it," Dak said after thinking about it for a nano-second the day after he had turned 28 on Thursday, greeted by his teammates with a sizable cake they smashed into his face, the great guys that they are. "Yeah, I doubt it, but I know it's early, early in training camp, and obviously I'm trying to get to the season and get to the season healthy … but I doubt in a game that happens."

OK, great.

Now then, what if this had happened during the week while preparing for a regular-season game. Do you think you would have been able to play?

"Yeah, for sure. I would have taken the steps necessary to make sure I was ready for Sunday," Dak said without hesitation. "I know I'd get myself there one way or another and be able to perform the way that I'd want to."

Whew, what a relief.

Dak and head coach Mike McCarthy evidently are on the same page, probably missing a couple days of practice. The practice schedule might reveal a logical definition of "a couple." Since Dak missed Thursday's practice and there was only the "mock-game" walk-through on Friday that he participated in, would then missing practice Saturday and Sunday amount to "a couple" followed by an official player day off on Monday?

"If it's Monday, we'll see what Monday tells us," McCarthy said of when Dak might begin throwing again.

Or maybe, since the Cowboys practice on Tuesday and probably a walk-through on Wednesday before departing for Cleveland to play the Hall of Fame preseason game on Thursday and have Friday off, would that be enough time for the violated muscle to recuperate?

Or might the Cowboys have Dak skip Saturday's (Aug. 7) scrimmage with the Rams, knowing they will have Sunday and Monday off?

Do that, and we are talking 12 straight days of rest and treatment before resuming practice on Aug. 10.

"I just want to do everything I need to, to make sure this thing doesn't linger and it's not a problem after this," Dak said. "Like I said, it's not a big concern for me."

And for me, Dak is sincere in what he says. Not one to blow fact-covering smoke at us. And after all, as he also would point out, can't win the Sept. 9 season opener against Tampa Bay in July or the first week in August.

So patience.

Also, look at this on the bright side. While there is perceived competition for the backup quarterback job between Garrett Gilbert, Cooper Rush and Ben DiNucci, Dak's practice absence will bump up the reps for each guy, and goodness knows these guys need reps.

The majority of Dak's reps with the first team went to Gilbert on Thursday. Then Rush, then DiNucci, but not necessarily in that order. And think about it. Gilbert and Rush got no training camp reps with the Cowboys last year. Weren't even here. DiNucci and Clayton Thorson got the scraps left behind by Dak and Andy Dalton.

Currently, we've heard from McCarthy and Cowboys COO Stephen Jones that, no matter what order the reps have been going behind Dak, Gilbert is the No. 2 guy. And the Cowboys would love if the fourth-year quarterback would solidify that job with high-quality reps in the next couple of preseason games.

Let's remember, Gilbert, who had never started an NFL game the three years he actually was on an active NFL roster – the son of former NFL quarterback Gale Gilbert, himself having spent the better part of three seasons on practice squads – was signed off Cleveland's practice squad on Oct. 13. By Nov. 8, he was starting his first NFL game since first arriving in 2014.

That with all of one week's worth of practice with the first team. Three days to be precise.

And after having only attempted six NFL passing attempts previously, Gilbert had the Cowboys first-and-10 at the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers' (7-0) 29-yard line with just eight seconds remaining in a game the Steelers won 24-19.

Now he has an offseason and training camp and presumably a couple of preseason games with the Cowboys to possibly take on the No. 2 role.

"That's going to make them better, make this team better," Dak says of the increased training camp reps for those three quarterbacks. "And this is going to make this team better when those guys have to get in there and get some good quality reps."

The Cowboys certainly must hope so. Because if not, then McCarthy et al must start scouring the waiver wire in hopes of some team with an excess of backup QBs cut an experienced backup type toward the end of training camp.

"(Gilbert) just has a great presence, a great command. He does a great job at the line of scrimmage so you feel very fortunate to have guys like him," offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said.

OK, we'll see. But in the meantime, we'll just keep an eye on Dak, who seems to be in a good place with all this.

"I'm thankful to turn 28 yesterday. I'm thankful to be able to be out here at training camp and doing what I love most, playing with my teammates, something I've been doing for a long time, a long part of my life," Daks said. "It's just a blessing, it's something that I will never take for granted. Having fans screaming to me happy birthday and singing it time and time again, it's something that will never get old. I'm just blessed to spend my birthdays like this, just getting to do what I love."

And sure not sounding like a man in distress.

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