OXNARD, Calif. – You’ll have to forgive Xavier Su’a-Filo if he’s lost track of time.
Between the Groundhog Day effect of endless practices and the injuries along the Cowboys’ offensive line, he’s had his hands pretty full this past week.
“It’s camp. You know, it’s a grind, just a daily grind,” he said. “I played a lot of snaps on Saturday – was that Saturday? So you just get back into it.”
Few on this roster represent the challenges of training camp better than Su’a-Filo, along with fellow backup blocker Joe Looney. For a variety of reasons, the Cowboys’ offensive line finds itself depleted right now. Zack Martin is battling a sore back, while Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick are both working on veterans’ schedules. Couple that with injuries to Brandon Knight and Cody Wichmann, and there aren’t many bodies to handle the workload.
“I just tell Coach Colombo, especially when numbers are down, we’ve got to rally,” Su’a-Filo said. “I’ve been part of lines where we’ve had everybody healthy for camp, and I’ve been part of lines where we had nobody healthy for camp. Whatever we’ve got to do to get the job done.”
For Su’a-Filo, part of that job is learning an entirely new position. Martin has been missing in action for roughly two weeks while he rests an irritated disc in his back, which means Su’a-Filo – a longtime starter at left guard – has been playing on the right side.
“It’s just like flipping everything in your head,” he said. “Not necessarily with plays and stuff, but my post foot was my right leg for the longest time and now it’s my back foot. It’s just, technique-wise, it’s similar but it’s just really taking sets and reps.”
Fortunately, there are sets and reps to go around. Su’a-Filo played all 71 offensive snaps against the San Francisco 49ers, getting work with everyone from the starters to the back end of the depth chart. And while he wants to hold his level of play to the standard of a Tyron Smith or a Travis Frederick, he said the goal is to execute the same way – regardless of who he’s playing alongside.
“I’m making sure that whoever is there, no matter what, make sure they can trust me to get my job done,” he said.
Not surprisingly, that should be music to Cowboys coach Jason Garrett’s ears. Su’a-Filo and Looney have started a combined 27 games for him, but preseason provides a valuable opportunity to evaluate players in a number of different situations.
We talk a lot about, you're going to have a reel, a tape of you,” Garrett said. “Don't tell me what the circumstances are. We're going to watch you play and we're going to see how you play. And that's ultimately how you evaluate guys.”
Saturday promises to be another test. Martin is unlikely to even make the trip to Hawaii, while Knight and Wichmann are still unavailable. It’s looking likely to be another large snap count.
Su’a-Filo couldn’t ask for better circumstances, though. His father’s side of the family is originally from Hawaii, as is his wife’s. With something like 50 family members expected to attend, there could be worse ways to continue the grind.
“It’ll be really nice to see everybody,” he said. “It’ll be my first time playing an NFL game in Hawaii, in front of a lot of people who have never gotten the opportunity to see me play.”