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Jason Garrett's Top Task is to Fix Broken Passing Game

Coach Jason Garrett knows the playoffs won't happen if he doesn't fix the Cowboys' passing game

The Cowboys completed Day Two of their second OTA session on Tuesday. Here are five things Cowboys Insider Jean-Jacques Taylor learned:

1) Dak Prescott passed for 188 yards a game with six touchdowns and nine interceptions in the last eight games.

That's the definition of a broken passing game.

Ultimately, it cost assistant coaches Derek Dooley (receivers) and Wade Wilson (quarterback) their jobs.

The same goes for receivers Dez Bryant and Brice Butler.

Coach Jason Garrett knows the playoffs won't happen if it doesn't get fixed.

"The quarterback, the pass protection, the wide receiver routes, the tight end routes, the running back routes, the timing, the anticipation, the location of the ball. Everything about it has to be better and we're focusing on that," said Garrett.

The receivers and the offensive line must be better; the quarterback also has to improve.

It starts with fundamentals: footwork and awareness.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said Prescott is focusing on where he is in the pocket depending on whether it's a three-, five- or seven-step droop and matching it with designed protections.

The key is not to compromise the offensive line by being too deep or too shallow in the pocket or drifting too far left or right.

We've done some subtle things footwork-wise that we think is going to help," Linehan said, "and you see those things out here. It kind of speeds up the game a little bit for him in a good way."

2) Jaylon Smith sheds brace

Jaylon Smith has no idea where the brace is that he's worn since surgery to repair the horrific knee injury he suffered in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.

He wore the brace because he not only tore his anterior cruciate ligament, but he also damaged the peroneal nerve, which meant he couldn't lift his foot toward his shin. Even when he regained the ability to partially flex his foot upward, he couldn't generate the force to run naturally.

The brace helped him; now he doesn't need it. Smith hasn't worn it during the Cowboys' OTA practices.

"Maybe more than anything else, I think he's moving more spontaneously now," Garrett said. "You see him maybe get in a compromising position and react his way out of it physically maybe better than he had before."

Right now, Smith has been practicing as the Cowboys' starting middle linebacker. The Cowboys have discussed moving him to strong side linebacker, and they drafted Leighton Vander Esch with the 19th pick to play middle linebacker.

3) David Irving not practicing

Defensive tackle David Irving isn't in good enough shape to practice.

That has to be disappointing to the Cowboys, who are counting on Irving to be a dominant player at defensive tackle next to DeMarcus Lawrence. Irving has a one-year contract worth nearly $3 million after getting seven sacks in eight games.

But he missed the first four games after being suspended for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, and he missed the last four games in concussion protocol.

Last month, he was investigated for domestic violence after his girlfriend said she hacked his Twitter account and lied about him hitting her.

No charges were filed and he was cleared of any involvement in the alleged incidents.

He's too big of a talent not to be on the field," Tyrone Crawford said. "Once all of that stuff is figured out, he'll be good to go."

"That's what they thought about David last year (when he was suspended) as well," Crawford said. "He came back in shape and some of the best shape of his life, I guess, according to him. It showed."

4) Filling the leadership void

Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott represent the face of today's Cowboys. And with Jason Witten and Dez Bryant gone, they understand it's up to them to take on a bigger leadership role.

But it must be authentic. They can't try to literally replace the players who have left.

For Elliott that means, being more vocal.

"That's definitely something I'm focusing in on this offseason," he said. "Not only leading by example, but coming out and encouraging guys."

Prescott, a captain last year, said it's important to understand Witten and Bryant were such big personalities, they can't be replaced.

"We can't say we need you to be the leader Dez was or be the leader Witten was," Prescott said. "We have a lot guys and lot of guys who have been in this league that lead, and sometimes they lead by just by example by going out there and not saying a word and giving all their energy, and it pays off and shows."

"Young guys can look and say that is the way you practice. That is the way you come in and handle your business. Sometimes you don't have to say anything to do it, and we have those guys. We have the rah-rah guys, the guys who are screaming, the guys who are getting everybody going to make sure the energy is there."

5) Youth will be served

Kicker Dan Bailey, linebacker Sean Lee and long snapper L.P. Ladouceur are the only players on the Cowboys' roster in their 30s.

Bailey is 30, Lee is 31 and Ladouceur is 37.

"You have to do great job laying out expectations, introducing schemes and holding them accountable for learning each and every day," said Garrett. "It goes quickly."

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