FRISCO, Texas – When things go down like this, you can save the rookies with a few sessions this week, and it might be a good time for a little history.
This comes compliments of Brian Shottenheimer, the Cowboys’ adviser last year turned offensive coordinator this year to become head coach Mike McCarthy’s right-hand man on offense.
The subject of Dak Prescott’s interceptions came up Thursday, the final day of the Cowboys’ mandatory minicamp, during Shottenheimer’s post-practice interview. He explained that nothing “needs to be fixed, no question about it. He’s a great player, you know that. He’s a competitor and he’s going to go out there and compete: ‘I can throw it.’
“So just having to understand situations in the game, downs and distance and all that, and clean up some of the decisions he knows he kind of missed.”
Without saying it, Shottenheimer is probably referring to the playoff interception in San Francisco. We can probably all remember that.
Tied game, 6-6, second-and-2 from the San Francisco 18, one minute, 24 seconds left in the first half. The Cowboys had already lost running back Tony Pollard for the game. San Francisco’s six points came on two Robbie Gould field goals of 47 and 50 yards. The Cowboys’ six came on Dak’s 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dalton Schultz. Brett Maher blocked extra point prevented a seventh.
The Cowboys called a pass game, hoping to take advantage of the 49ers expecting the more conservative run call. Plus, the Cowboys probably had a clear target in the pocket. Uh, we think, since Maher’s extra point had already been blocked from 33 and had missed four extra points in the earlier 31-14 playoff win over Tampa Bay from 33 yards out. This would have been a 36-yarder if the Cowboys didn’t pick up another yard.
With the pocket collapsing and easy first downs available to Ezekiel Elliott or Dalton Schultz to either side, Dak opts to throw over the middle to CeeDee Lamb. But Lamb doesn’t settle at the 14-yard line. He breaks away from linebacker Fred Warner, but right into the coverage of nickel back Jimmie Ward, who tips the ball.
Uh, right into the hands of Warner for that interception that not only killed the potential touchdown drive with 1:15 left in the half of a tied game or a safe field goal attempt, but also gave the 49ers the opportunity to kick Gould with a second left another 50-yard field goal as time expired in the half for the Niners to take a 9-6 lead.
A big oops, and an even bigger no-no, regardless of who was at fault for the costly wiretapping.
Schottenheimer, who never mentioned this game while talking about how competitive quarterbacks can be, took us back to 2008 when he was the New York Jets offensive coordinator, with the uber-competitive Brett Favre as his quarterback.
“You’ve seen Brett play. He’d force the ball into traffic — there’d be like three guys waiting for it and one of those three would catch it. And he’d come over and I’m going, ‘Dude what are you doing you?’
“And he goes, ‘yeah, yeah, my bad, my bad,’ and we’d go on.
“And then I would get up to go and he said, “Hey Schottie, I can make that throw though. I can make that throw.” And I’m like, “Dude, that’s not the point. Yes, you can make that throw…sometimes.”
“It’s a bit of that competitive spirit with these guys. They all have that.”
Just wanting and wanting and believing they can take it shot.
· Coach Joe: Welcome back, Joe Whitt Jr., back to coaching. The Cowboys secondary coach and defensive pass coordinator worked out back on the field during OTAs and minicamp practices after personal health issues last year caused him to take a leave of absence during training camp and back from any potential accidental contact on the field. And while he admits he’s still “processing some things”, he’s happy to be back coaching. “I’m a real active trainer, like to run around, get my hands on it, but right now I still can’t do that much. But it’s good to be with the guys, man. That’s what you miss , being around the guys, being around the other coaches, seeing the team grow into a common goal and go out there and win games. We only have one goal and that’s to win the next game and I didn’t feel like I was a total part of it (last year) because when they hit the field, I wasn’t on the field the whole time. I feel like I’m all the way back now.”
· Mazen: Very hard for a defensive tackle to make much of an impression during the powder puff OTA and minicamp practices, so hard to make much of an impression on first-round draft pick Mazi Smith. Can tell you he’s big. He is broad. He looks pretty strong and understands, while at 6-3, 325, will be hard to move out of the way. But defensive line coach Aden Durde claims of Mazi, “He’s done great so far.” Again, it’s important to remember that the Cowboys finished 22 against the run last year, giving up an average of 129.3 yards a game while giving up more than 100 yards in 11 of 17 games.
· Off Shots: Let’s keep an eye on the return of KaVontae Turpin. Last summer’s late arrival, after playing one season in the USFL and concentrating only on returns for the Cowboys, is now getting reps at wide receiver with the offense, the position helping him earn USFL MVP honors … This past season, the Cowboys played in eight games against teams that finished with a winning record, at 6-2, just one game behind the Eagles, leading the league at 7-1 – their one loss coming to the Cowboys … Again, let’s take it easy on this move that Dak needs to be “fixed ,” given that he had the NFL’s third-highest third-down conversion percentage at 47.6 percent, behind only Patrick Mahomes (50.0 percent) and Josh Allen (50 percent) … One last nifty Micah Parsons stat that became the only Cowboys player who recorded double-digit sacks in each of his first two seasons and just the third player in the NFL since sacks became an official stat in 1982 to record 13-plus sacks in each of his first two seasons, joining Reggie White and Aldon Smith.
And let’s go to head coach Mike McCarthy talking about what the rookies would be doing this week but still here at The Star doing a few more workouts before going on break like the rest of the team has been doing since the end of last week’s minicamp.
“The biggest thing is really staying after the weight room if that and really taking the mornings for the coaches to just — it’s more about where they are, what they need,” McCarthy said. “Because we have three days of meetings just to make sure we can get in front of them and keep coaching them and then it doesn’t stop. We make sure they have everything they need when they leave here . And part of the message today was to make sure they have everything they need over the course of the five weeks. And then Dak’s going to have a group, these guys are going to do things away from the facility over the course of the five weeks, just make sure they are engaged in it.
“And then the afternoons are more about their personal space, their skill development with Bryan Wansley (director of player development), life skills is the focal point there in the afternoon. Something we’ve always done, just always called it rookie school. We’ve gone five days, four days, this year based on the speakers and the things Bryan wants to hit because we coordinate this rookie school with the league mandated sessions in the season, so this is kind of seen as a kind of bonus. The timing is important to hit these life skills topics before they’re going on a five-week break.”
Yep, good timing before the youngsters have all this free time on their hands.