It wasn't exactly the birthday Dak Prescott would've planned for himself -- nursing a slight muscle strain in his shoulder -- but considering he's clawed his way back from a season-ending compound ankle fracture to be 100 percent at the start of Dallas Cowboys training camp, he's also not complaining. The two-time Pro Bowler pulled himself from practice on Wednesday after feeling soreness in his throwing shoulder, and an MRI revealed the strain but also that it's not anything severe. As such, neither Prescott nor the Cowboys are concerned going forward, but he is getting time off from tossing the pigskin.
Well, at least with his right arm, because Prescott was back at practice on Thursday and going through drills, but tossed the ball back with his left arm instead.
"Just a little shoulder pain. A little shoulder soreness, I should say, and tightness," Prescott said in describing the injury to Joe Trahan of WFAA Channel 8. "I felt it a little bit [on Tuesday] and I came out [on Wednesday] and was gonna work through it, but just felt I should be smart. We've got a long time to go.
"I'll get a day of rest or so and then get back at it. I didn't want to push through something that would potentially make it worse.
That's the sentiment around the building as the team readies to turn the calendar to August, as opposed to September or later. In other words, Prescott has plenty of time to recover from what sources describe to CBS Sports as a "rust" injury, which is to say the 27-year-old is working his body back to prime form after having been sidelined for rehab since last October -- followed by not being unleashed in OTAs and minicamp. When Prescott took the field for 11-on-11 drills last week, it was the first time he'd done so in nine months, so soreness was bound to occur, but having yet to have any in his surgically repaired (and subsequently surgically strengthened) ankle is an absolute victory for all involved.
So when will Prescott be allowed to throw again? Well, head coach Mike McCarthy is labeling it as a matter of days -- not weeks.
"A few days," said McCarthy to media on Thursday. "Two, three days? Is that a couple of days? A few days?
"I'm trying to find a little flexibility here. So, give it to me please. ... I'm not a doctor. I don't get to talk about this stuff a lot.
"I think when you have a fatigue injury [and] it could be that you overanalyze it. But based on the location and the information that I have, it's not of high concern. I think it's smart that he pulled up when he did."
As for the Cowboys' plan to play Prescott in the preseason, it's still a go.
"Based on what [trainer Jim Maurer] has told me -- the medical report yesterday -- I don't see us getting away from our preliminary plan," added McCarthy.
This statement and the overall plan itself does warrant some clarity for those hoping to figure out when Prescott was originally scheduled to take the field this August.
The easy answer is the Cowboys hadn't yet decided, per sources, and were taking the approach of monitoring Prescott throughout camp to figure out when the best time would be to suit him up. So when McCarthy notes there's no change in the team's plan, he's correct, because they hadn't finalized it anyway -- prior to the mild shoulder strain. Logistically speaking, Prescott was never going to lace up to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday, Aug. 5, considering he would require more time to ramp back up to game speed after the aforementioned months-long absence from the football field.
The next opportunity would be on Aug. 13 when the Cowboys head to State Farm Stadium to face the Arizona Cardinals, but that was also a long shot. Realistically, the team was and continues to eye their Aug. 21 matchup against the Houston Texans at AT&T Stadium -- sources said this week -- which could be treated as the dress rehearsal in the Cowboys four-game slate of games.
That's also when the club, and that is no coincidence, especially in light of Prescott's shoulder issue. There are whispers that Prescott could miss weeks with the ailment but, as it stands, the plurality of the term "weeks" stands at around two (and not six or more), which points him at a possible return the week leading into the contest against the Cardinals; and allowing him both that and the next week of practice before Prescott returns to the field for the first time by doing it on his home field (a marketing wink by owner Jerry Jones).
He's currently listed as day-to-day and if he wakes up and feels fine when practice resumes on Saturday (there is no practice on Friday), then Prescott will be allowed to throw again. And if not, it'll be revisited for Sunday, and then Monday, so forth and so on.
But with six weeks remaining before the regular season kicks off against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there's more than enough time for the 27-year-old to get back on the practice field, to get live game reps in the preseason and then to ready himself for what's to come in 2021. Keeping in mind that, in 2019, Prescott had a much worse shoulder issue -- a sprained AC joint -- he was able to play through while throwing for a career-high 4,902 yards (two shy of breaking Tony Romo's single season franchise passing record) along with 30 touchdowns to only 11 interceptions.
So if there were a reason for him to push through right now (there isn't), he would, and likely perform at a high level while doing so, considering he's felt worse with no ill effect on his performance. Above all, Prescott's ankle is just fine and, barring a massive setback of some sort, his shoulder will soon be as well. Even if the plan for preseason snaps does soon change, the one for regular season reps on Sept. 9 remains full steam ahead.
Much like the one he took to the face on his birthday from teammates at practice, Prescott is looking to have his cake and eat it too as he challenges for NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2021, and maybe a championship to go along with it.