FRISCO, Texas — Last Saturday, Dak Prescott took pictures as the quarterback for the scout team.
The Dallas Cowboys star progressed to 50 scripted shots before kickoff against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, then threw a shot count to wide receivers in Wednesday’s practice.
So on Thursday, as the medically cleared quarterback took on the Cowboys’ starting defense in two-minute drills during team time, linebacker Micah Parsons had no sympathy.
Forget the broken thumb that sidelined Prescott for five games.
Forget the swelling he needed to reduce and the grip strength that took him longer than he wanted.
Prescott would see no free play against the league’s eighth-best defense.
“Welcome to the s*** show,” Parsons told his quarterback. “Just because you’re coming back doesn’t mean nothing’s gonna change around this shit. It’s our shit here.
Prescott then guided his teammates to a touchdown.
On Sunday, as the Cowboys 4-2 host the Detroit Lions 1-4, expect Prescott to be the starter for the first time since the season opener Sept. 11.
“I am,” he confirmed Thursday afternoon.
Prescott jokingly added, “I think, anyway,” before detailing that he won’t be wearing a brace at the contest. He may wear medical tape which provides comfort, but not protection, for his thumb. But Prescott said he wasn’t limited or on a specific number of reps in Thursday’s workout. His surgeon does not need further follow-ups to examine the still healed thumb. Prescott will continue treatment for his thumb but will play as usual.
“I’m not going to act like I didn’t have a broken bone a few weeks ago,” he said of the ongoing interview. “But for the most part I’m healthy, feeling good, catching the ball in my hand, my grip is great.
“Put him behind me and focus on this game plan. I feel good.”
The key now, according to Prescott, according to coaches and teammates, is to restore the rhythm and the timing. Prescott’s arm strength dictates a slightly quicker release than backup quarterback Cooper Rush, who led the team to a 4-1 mark in Prescott’s absence. Receivers will and have already begun to adapt. Prescott, too, returns to a team he describes as more equipped to win than the unit he opened the season with.
“Feeling comfortable and establishing an identity in a way,” Prescott said.
In Prescott’s absence, the Cowboys’ harassing defense and relentless ground game propelled them to victories. Dallas held five of six opponents to a single touchdown while generating a league-best 24 sacks.
Rush didn’t turn the ball over in his four wins, before throwing three interceptions in Sunday’s 26-17 loss to the unbeaten Eagles. The Cowboys rushed for just 71 yards in the season opener when Prescott last played; they have since averaged 128.4 rushing yards behind the two-headed monster of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.
The Cowboys offensive line has improved dramatically since Week 1, with first-round rookie left tackle Tyler Smith settling into his quickly changed role. Dallas largely found Connor McGovern at left guard after an ankle injury also sidelined him for two games, with continuity causing penalties to drop and offensive pressure to drop. Rush has had four to six pressures each of the past three weeks, compared to the 11 Prescott has had in 3 1/2 quarters in Game 1.
Prescott also returns to new weapons in receiver Michael Gallup (returning from ACL) and a pair of rookie tight ends making a quick start in Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot.
The Lions allow a league-worst 428.6 yards and a league-worst 167.6 rushing yards on defense. Their pass defense is only marginally better, ranking 26th.
The Cowboys, who trail the Eagles 6-0 and New York Giants 5-1 in a competitive NFC East, have a chance to capitalize.
“We just suffered a loss,” Elliott said. “I think it’s a bit weird to suffer a prime-time loss to walk into a Sunday lunchtime game nonchalantly. We still have a lot to prove. We still have to win this division.
“At the moment it’s a bit of an uphill battle, but we’re going to have to scratch and get through it.”
Prescott, meanwhile, has a chance to silence a chorus of doubters that has occasionally grown in his absence.
He knows he opened the season completing just 48.3 percent of passes for 134 yards, no touchdowns and one interception in a 19-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rush then completed 57.7% of attempts for 1,020 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions in his absence, posting an 80.1 passer rating to Prescott’s 47.2.
Prescott, who became an immediate starter as a fourth-round rookie in 2016, can now restore the talent that guided him to a career-high 53-33 with 22,217 yards, 143 passing touchdowns and 51 interceptions.
He can show what receiver CeeDee Lamb said was apparent in practices.
“He looks like Dak. He’s back,” Lamb said of Prescott’s speed and accuracy in team drills. “He made throws, big throws, 1-on-1s and team periods. He feels confident.
“He has all the energy, emotion and buzz ready to play.”
Follow Yahoo Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein
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