Ezekiel Elliott goes one on one with linebacker Damien Wilson and comes up with the touchdown. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison) Rodger Mallison rmallison@star-telegram.com
Ezekiel Elliott goes one on one with linebacker Damien Wilson and comes up with the touchdown. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison) Rodger Mallison rmallison@star-telegram.com

Dallas Cowboys

Could improved Dak Prescott-Dez Bryant chemistry offset Elliott absence?

By Clarence E. Hill Jr.

chill@star-telegram.com

August 21, 2017 12:52 AM

UPDATED August 22, 2017 08:05 AM

FRISCO

Remember when the biggest criticism or question mark of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott during a sensational rookie season of a year ago was an alleged inability to throw the deep ball and a supposed lack of chemistry with star receiver Dez Bryant.

Never mind that Bryant missed much of training camp last year with injuries when Prescott was not yet named the starter. Or that Bryant was sidelined for three games early in with the season with a fracture in his knee.

His season-ending numbers of 50 catches for 796 and eight touchdowns were somehow linked to a shortcoming of Prescott's in what was otherwise considered the best rookie season of any quarterback in NFL history.

It took only one series against in the Cowboys 24-19 preseason victory against the Indianapolis Colts for those concerns to disappear.

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It was the first action of the preseason for Prescott and Bryant and they showed the world what close observers have been seeing for the last four weeks of training camp.

Bryant caught two passes for 55 yards, a 23-yarder to open the game and a 32-yard touchdown reception to cap the opening drive.

“Yeah, you know they’ve played a lot of football together in a short period of time,” coach Jason Garrett said. “They continue to grow. I think they have a very good relationship on the field and they have a very good relationship off the field and their communication is really good. I think it reflects in the execution.”

They have grown because they have do have a great relationship. Prescott is the leader and Bryant follows.

But there is an open line of communication in their second year together, born out of a friendship forged last season when Bryant was one Prescott's most vocal supporters during the brief talk of a quarterback controversy with supplanted starter Tony Romo.

What's also key is that Bryant had a healthy offseason and training camp for the first time since before the 2014 season so he’s also in the best shape he has been in a long time. He missed the offseason in a contract dispute before the 2015 season and was recovering from a foot surgery before the 2016 season.

“He has been healthy all offseason, so that chemistry has grown,” Prescott said. “He's been a guy that his ears are wide open, wanting to know what I'm thinking, and I want to know what he's thinking. It's just been back and forth of just talking and doing it out there on the field and it's only growing.”

“Dez is a guy that you just give him a chance one-on-one. Film study helps, but more importantly those reps we've had in practice all camp long probably have been more valuable to us.”

Prescott said Bryant is the most improved player on the team and is playing the best football of his career. That says a lot considering Bryant's had three straight seasons of over 1,000 yards receiving from 2012-2014 when he caught 273 passes and 41 touchdowns. He caught 81 passes and 11 touchdowns the past two injury-plagued seasons.

“To me, it's the best Dez has been," Prescott said. "Somebody asked me the other day who I think the most improved player is and I said Dez, just the way he's been taking care of his body, his effort, his attitude. Everything from last year to this year, it's just exciting to throw him the ball and watch what he can do after the catch.”

The Cowboys will remain a run-first attack even with the absence of star running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

But they also showed during a brief outing against the Colts they will rely on Prescott to make plays out of the hurry up offense.

If Bryant is the best he’s even been or even close to the player he was between 2012-2014, this improved chemistry will go a long way toward mitigating Elliott’s absence by keeping the big play threat in the offense, forcing double coverages and keeping the defenses honest to open holes for the running game.

Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr