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Retired NFL QB Alex Smith anticipates 'huge' comeback for Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

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Alex Smith wants to be clear: His road to recovery does not identically resemble Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s. But as the NFL's 2020 comeback player of the year, Smith thinks back to his own rehabilitation of tibia and fibula fractures further complicated by a life-threatening infection. Now, as he considers Prescott’s return from a compound fracture and dislocation of his ankle, Smith is eager to watch the two-time Pro Bowler retake the field. He believes NFL fans “should be excited.”

“Dak is, I think, one of the most unique athletes in the NFL – and I really think that from like a freakish perspective,” Smith told USA TODAY Sports this week over Zoom. “He is such a strong, powerful, such a good athlete. So I really expect him to come back and be rolling. Then you add that on to his fortitude and mental perspective?

“I think he’s going to have a huge, huge year.”

Prescott certainly hopes so.

Former Washington QB Alex Smith (11) and Cowboys star Dak Prescott only competed head-to-head as NFC East rivals once, a Dallas loss at FedEx Field on Oct. 21, 2018.
Former Washington QB Alex Smith (11) and Cowboys star Dak Prescott only competed head-to-head as NFC East rivals once, a Dallas loss at FedEx Field on Oct. 21, 2018.

More than eight months removed from a designed run gone awry, he’s not looking back at two surgeries, a crutch and a boot. Prescott no longer is focused on the incremental rehabilitation wins, like the days when he discovered he could jump a little farther or run a little faster. The adrenaline rush of again throwing the football while depending on both legs is a relic of spring. Aside from live pass-rush drills, he was ultimately cleared to participate in all OTA and mandatory minicamp activities. Prescott says he felt he had fully recovered the first week of May.

“That was the time that I said in my head, ‘The injury’s gone,’” Prescott said June 9 from Cowboys headquarters in Frisco, Texas. “I’ve buried the injury, honestly guys. You know me. From the point of practice, from the point of just moving forward and going about my life, I’ve buried it.

“I’ve buried it mentally.”

Smith, who retired in April after 16 NFL seasons, values Prescott’s emphasis on that focus.

“It’s funny he says that because I think it’s so true,” Smith said. “People think about the physical part, him doing his rehab. Is he going to be as fast, as strong, as agile? So much of that when you step on the field at that level is confidence, right? I think you do, in the process, have to break down those walls that you’ve built up through your injury. I think it’s important to do that before you step on the field. So it is good to hear him say that.”

The Cowboys gave Prescott a hefty vote of confidence in March. Assured he would fully recover – Prescott insists he’ll not just return to form, but come back better – Dallas signed him to a four-year, $160 million contract with $126 million guaranteed. Prescott played 2019 and 2020 on expiring contracts, playing out his rookie deal before settling for the franchise tag last year after he and the team failed to reach a long-term financial arrangement.

Before last October's season-ending injury, he completed 68% of his passes for 1,856 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He also ran for three scores, and produced a TD with his first NFL reception. Still, a Cowboys unit with a historically bad defense and battered offensive line opened the season 2-3 despite Prescott's efforts. Dallas went 4-7 without him. Add that to the reasons Smith believes in Prescott’s return power.

“Last year was such a great example for all of us when he left – the void that was left behind,” Smith said. “He’s such a good player and can do so many things and is so gifted. So excited to get him back on the field.”

After nearly two years away following his gruesome leg injury, Smith returned to live NFL action last season on Oct. 11 – ironically, the same day Prescott went down. Prior to that, Smith practiced football mechanics and determined the best leg brace to counter his permanent case of drop foot. But he hadn’t yet been tackled. That changed three snaps after he replaced injured Washington starter Kyle Allen, perennial All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald of the LA Rams doing the honors by sacking Smith.

But his leg held up. He says he knew then he was OK. Prescott drew on Smith, who will announce the courage award winners of the USA TODAY High School Sports Awards starting Monday, as inspiration in his return.

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“I have to thank Alex,” Prescott said March 10 at the press conference announcing his new deal. “To see somebody who has already done it and did it actually in worse circumstances? That allowed my mind to go straight to: ‘Hey, I can do this. I am going to beat this. It’s just a matter of time.’”

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy expects Prescott to be fully available for training camp, the quarterback already cycling through seven-on-seven and scrambling drills during offseason practices. By early June, Prescott was able to pivot and extend plays, changing directions without pain or lingering soreness.

The Cowboys open on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 9 in the league's regular-season kickoff showcase.

“I’m pumped, I hope he has an amazing year,” said Smith, who finished his career competing against the Cowboys in the NFC East.

“Obviously, though, just maybe doesn’t win the division.”

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Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alex Smith on Cowboys' Dak Prescott: Retired QB predicts huge comeback