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Against Rams in 2016, Dak Prescott showed he was more than a backup – Dallas Cowboys Blog

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FRISCO, Texas — On Aug. 13, 2016, when Dak Prescott walked into the Los Angeles Coliseum for the first time, he was already envisioning what’s coming on Saturday.

Prescott was a fourth-round pick then, trying to show the Dallas Cowboys he could be Tony Romo’s backup, but the big picture was always on his mind. He was confident he would be a starting quarterback in the NFL. He was confident he would be in a position to take a team to a playoff game, as he will Saturday (8:15 p.m. ET, Fox) against the Los Angeles Rams.

It wasn’t something he dreamed; it was something be believed.

“I guess I couldn’t imagine it being back in the Coliseum against the team I started off my career,” Prescott said, “but I’ve always talked about the confidence I’ve had in myself and this team. Nothing has changed.”

The Coliseum was abuzz on that warm August day. It was the Rams’ first game back in Los Angeles. The stadium was full of fans and the game was nationally televised, with ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew calling the action.

Prescott was starting because Kellen Moore, who is now the Cowboys quarterbacks coach, had suffered a broken ankle 10 days earlier and, as a veteran, Tony Romo was not going to play in the first preseason game.

Jason Witten didn’t play, but Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams did. Tyron Smith didn’t play, but Travis Frederick and Zack Martin did. Ezekiel Elliott was kept out because of a hamstring strain, but three-time 1,000-yard runner Alfred Morris played.

“We were playing that game with the idea that we wanted to see what we had,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “It really was probably everybody’s first glimpse of what Dak’s about.”

Prescott had only a couple of practices with the first-team offense during training camp in Oxnard, California, with Romo resting every third day. He did not take first-team snaps during organized team activities and the minicamp in the spring. Back then, the Cowboys just wanted him to get better at taking a snap from center.

When he joined the first-team huddle in camp, a future Hall of Fame tight end (Witten), three All-Pro offensive linemen (Smith, Frederick and Martin) and the franchise’s all-time leader in touchdown catches (Bryant) were staring at him.

“Immediately off the bat, you could tell he was born to be a leader,” Frederick said. “And knew exactly what he was doing and what he wanted to be doing. He never struggled with calling the plays or you never saw him feel like the game was too big for him, even when you looked around the huddle and saw those guys that were there.”

So maybe it was not surprising to many that Prescott flourished against the Rams. He completed 10 of 12 passes in the first half for 139 yards and had touchdown throws of 10 yards to Bryant and 32 yards to Williams. He had a 14-yard run, too, and completely outperformed the No. 1 pick of the 2016 draft and his counterpart Saturday, Jared Goff.

After Moore’s injury, the Cowboys had considered trading for Josh McCown and had talks with free agent Nick Foles to be Romo’s backup. Prescott’s performance ended those discussions.

“At the end of the day, it was so much better than we thought it would be,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

Twelve days after his debut against the Rams, Prescott became the Cowboys starting quarterback when Romo suffered a compression fracture in his back.

Prescott has started every game since, winning 33 games, including his first postseason game against the Seattle Seahawks last Saturday in the wild-card round. He has a Rookie of the Year award on his résumé as well as a Pro Bowl appearance.

“I’m not saying I always knew he was going to be where he is now,” Linehan said, “but I think we all had a gut feeling that he was going to be a hell of a player in this league.”

Now he has the Cowboys in position to advance to their first NFC Championship Game since 1995.

When he walks out on to the Coliseum turf on Saturday, his mindset will not be too different from the one he had when he took the field on Aug. 13, 2016.

“I don’t ever just go out to play the game,” Prescott said. “When I go out, I go out to play the game, I go out with the mindset to win, like I’m the No. 1, like I’m the guy whether I was then or not. It’s just kind of the way I have to approach it all. It all worked out.”

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers hire former USC Trojans running backs coach Todd McNair who sued NCAA

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TAMPA, Fla. — Former USC running-backs coach Todd McNair, who spent the past seven years fighting the NCAA over the Reggie Bush scandal and lost, will return to coaching in 2018 as the running backs coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a source confirmed to ESPN on Friday.

McNair’s hiring was first reported by Pewter Report.

In a high-profile defamation lawsuit, McNair accused the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions of destroying his coaching career when it found him guilty of unethical conduct when Bush accepted improper benefits at USC, where McNair coached for six seasons and helped guide Bush to a Heisman Trophy in 2005.

McNair has not coached at the college or NFL level since 2010, but has been coaching high school football in Sun Valley, California.

A four-year NCAA investigation concluded that McNair knew or should have known that Bush had accepted $280,000 worth of improper benefits. McNair claimed he had no knowledge of Bush or his family accepting those benefits.

McNair’s attorneys argued that the NCAA tried to make an example out of him. He testified that after he lost his job at USC, his wife, Lynette, took a job as a parking-lot attendant. He said he was also forced to use his retirement funds and had to live off of food stamps.

In May, the jury ruled in favor of the NCAA. McNair’s attorneys filed a motion for a new trial in December, with a hearing scheduled for January.

This isn’t the first time that Bucs new head coach Bruce Arians has hired a staff member who struggled to find work after being subjected to harsh and controversial punishment from the NCAA. Arians offered an internship with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015 to David Kelly, a former University of Central Florida assistant who was forced to resign from the school in 2011, despite the fact that the school appealed its sanctions and won. Kelly has since landed on his feet as Florida State’s wide receivers/recruiting coordinator.

McNair played for Arians at Temple University and with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1989-1993, before coaching with him on the Cleveland Browns staff from 2001 to 2003.

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Steve Wilks firing ‘hurt a little bit’ amid lack of black hires

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TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers new assistant head coach and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin didn’t mince words Friday when asked about his disappointment over the firing of Steve Wilks by the Arizona Cardinals after one season and the lack of minority hires.

“That hurt a little bit,” Goodwin said. “He’s a friend of mine. We worked together back in the day with the Bears. It’s hard to build something from the ground up with one year. It’s like, ‘Hey, I want you to start this Fortune 500 company, but you’ve got one year. That’s impossible. And that’s what he was tasked with. But God will look after him. He’ll be OK in the long run and hopefully he’ll get another opportunity.”

This offseason was particularly difficult for minority coaches. Five of the eight coaches fired either during or after the 2018 season — Wilks, Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns, Todd Bowles of the New York Jets, Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals and Vance Joseph of the Denver Broncos — are black. That has left just Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers and Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers as the only black head coaches in the NFL.

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Miami Dolphins zeroing in on Brian Flores

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The Miami Dolphins concluded their interview process for a new head coach Friday — and the candidate they intend and hope to hire is Brian Flores, ESPN’s Jeff Darlington reports.

Flores, currently linebackers coach of the New England Patriots, was the first person Miami interviewed (on Jan. 4) in the wake of its Dec. 31 firing of Adam Gase.

The Dolphins chose Flores, most notably, for his impressive leadership skills. They did not look for somebody who was specific to offense or defense — but rather someone who would serve as the best head coach they could find.

Flores’ long-standing relationship with general manager Chris Grier made him a favorable candidate from the start, and his interview solidified their early impressions.

No deal has been agreed upon, and no negotiations on a contract have taken place, Darlington reports. The Patriots host the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC divisional round Sunday.

The Dolphins stayed in-house and interviewed special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains on Friday. They’ve interviewed six candidates total, with Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and Dallas Cowboys defensive play-caller Kris Richard the others.

Flores, the 37-year-old Patriots de facto defensive coordinator, started his career the same way as Grier — as a New England scout.

Flores has coached offense, defense and special teams along with the stint as a scout in New England. He has spent his entire coaching career – since 2004 – with the Patriots.

If hired, Flores would be the first African-American coach in Dolphins history and their 10th head coach (including interims) overall since 2004.

Miami has finished between 6-10 and 10-6 in each of the last 10 seasons, the only team in the NFL to do that. It went 7-9 in 2018, losing its last three games by a score of 100-41.

The Dolphins allowed 6,257 yards this past season, 29th in the NFL and the most in franchise history. The offense, which finished 31st, wasn’t much better.

Information from ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe was used in this report.

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