OXNARD, Calif. — Troy Aikman sat to Jerry Jones’ left as the two gestured animatedly from the observation tower overlooking the Cowboys practice field.
Three-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Famer conversed with franchise owner and general manager.
“It was good to catch up with him,” Aikman said afterward Sunday afternoon. “I hadn’t been able to talk to him in quite a while.”
The Cowboys icons traded takes on finance and football, including an outlook for the team running two-minute drills on repeat beneath them. Aikman’s expectations for the Cowboys' 2021 season?
“I think they’ve got a chance to be really good, I really do,” Aikman said. “Offensively, I expect them to be as explosive as anyone in the game.”
“I know last year’s defense was not that good and there’s some concerns there,” Fox’s lead NFL color analyst explained. “Until they show it on the field, there’s going to be those questions. But I believe the players they have—I hate to say if they stay healthy, that’s true for all teams—but if the players they have can play to the ability we know they can, then I think they should have plenty of defense to complement an explosive offense and win a lot of games.”
Cowboys situational work: 3rd and 10. Dak Prescott to Noah Brown. pic.twitter.com/jDsrDcFAAc
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) July 25, 2021
The Cowboys allowed 29.5 points (28th in league) and 386.4 yards (23rd) per game as they set historic lows for the franchise last season. But they’ve since drafted eight defenders and signed free-agent defensive linemen, emphasizing side, speed and playmaking ability. Dallas will look to additions including first round linebacker/pass rusher hybrid Micah Parsons to help support the league’s second-worst run defense in 2020 (158.8 yards per game).
Offensively, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott rejoins a cast of weapons including running back Ezekiel Elliott and receivers Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb. The Cowboys’ starting tackles played a combined two games last season due to surgeries (right tackle La’el Collins missed the full season recovering from hip surgery, left tackle Tyron Smith’s season ended in September for an overdue neck repair) but are now healthy and energized at camp. In five games last season before fracturing and dislocating his right ankle, Prescott coordinated an offense averaging 488 yards per contest.
Dak Prescott on Cowboys goal this year: “Be the best offense in the NFL. Stats, scoring…complementary football. Allow the defense to get rest.
“But first and foremost, be the best offense in the NFL.” pic.twitter.com/JBhaDkFaQU
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) July 23, 2021
Prescott rejoined 7-on-7 and scrambling drills during OTAs in the spring and he took part in 11-on-11 drills with a live pass rush for the first time last Thursday. The Cowboys will begin padded practices on Wednesday and compete in their first preseason game Aug. 5. Prescott and head coach Mike McCarthy anticipate he’ll receive preseason snaps at some point, the first hit one more step along his road to recovery. But Aikman doesn’t seek further proof to confirm Prescott’s ankle stability.
“He knows now, he absolutely does,” Aikman said. “He knows whether or not it’s 100% and it can hold up. Like I said, he’s got a lot in there: steel rods, a plate and everything else.
“He may break his leg, but it won’t be where the break was last year.”
Add in rare leadership qualities for the sixth-year pro, and Aikman was on board with the four-year, $160 million extension that the Cowboys awarded Prescott in March.
How much does seeing a healthy Dak Prescott at practice mean to Cowboys?
"Oh it means so much," Ezekiel Elliott tells us. "The dude’s a beast. He’s a machine. A hell of a leader. So blessed to play with him.
"Ain’t no other quarterback I’d want to go to war with."
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) July 22, 2021
“I put him in the category of a handful of players in the league as far as (leadership) goes, what he represents for this organization, for our league, the type of person he is, the type of teammate he is,” Aikman said. “I was telling Jerry when I was visiting with him that I really haven’t been around that many players either as a broadcaster or as a player myself who carry themselves the way he does. I think the Cowboys are really fortunate to have someone like him representing the team.
“I expect him to really have an outstanding season.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dallas Cowboys' offense can be 'as explosive as anyone,' Aikman says