It sounds as if you can count both Johnathan Hankins and Tyler Biadasz in when the Cowboys visit Tom Brady and the Bucs, joining LVE as another starter returning for the playoffs
FRISCO, TX — It's all hands on deck for the Dallas Cowboys to avoid a second consecutive first-round playoff exit, squaring up against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in this year's NFL Super Wild Card Weekend. The good news for Dallas is they have a bit of a cavalry on the way by way of Tyler Biadasz, Johnathan Hankins and Leighton Vander Esch.
All three were expected to return for the start of the playoffs when they went down with injury at varying points in December — high ankle sprain, pectoral injury and pinched nerve, respectively — and that plan is materializing in real time this week.
"I feel great, I do," Biadasz said. "I'll be ready to go."
Things looked dicey in the Week 18 loss to the Washington Commanders without Biadasz quarterbacking the offensive line in front of Dak Prescott, and his return allows Connor McGovern to return to left guard and rookie first-round pick to pop back over to left tackle to present a much more recognizable and productive front for the team's offense.
Biadasz noted he has full mobility in his ankle, and can take a full workload.
For Hankins, the starting nose tackle who became an impact player in Dallas fairly quickly after being acquired via trade from the Raiders in late October, there can be little doubt he's physically prepared for the task at-hand.
That's because he was ready to return before this week.
"I feel good. I feel like I could've been back sooner but, with the [IR] rules, I had to be out four weeks," said Hankins on Wednesday. "But I'm not mad about it, it just gave me more time to get my body right and ready for the playoffs.
"The time is now."
His 21-day practice window was opened on Wednesday, and the decision to waive offensive lineman Dakoda Shepley clears a seat for the expected return of Hankins.
You can also count Vander Esch in feeling the same as both Biadasz and Hankins, though the former made it known last week he was champing at the bit to get back on the field while understanding completely the importance of not risking a setback against the Commanders with the playoffs up next on the menu.
"I'll say it 100x, I feel good," said Vander Esch in the days ahead of the regular season finale at Fedex Field. "... Just working out and trying to stay in shape for the playoffs. [Keeping] my body up to playing speed and getting ready to go back out there and make this [playoff] run."
That's exactly what the Cowboys have in mind, a playoff run, but that must first begin with trying to use Brady and Co. as a launchpad for what they hope will be the most unforgettable season in franchise history since the mid-1990s — the last time they hoisted the Lombardi trophy.
Having three starters return for this year's tournament greatly increases their odds of blasting off into orbit.