*IRVING, Texas - *When the Cowboys signed La'el Collins immediately after the draft, it was expected the rookie guard would one day become a cornerstone piece to the offensive line.
Whether or not it happens this early in his rookie season is unclear, and despite Collins' solid performance in his first start last week, it's not even certain he'll remain in the starting lineup this week.
The incumbent starter, Ron Leary, has missed two straight games with a groin injury, but said Tuesday he is expecting to practice on Wednesday in full participation. Oftentimes, players themselves expect that, only to be more limited by the Cowboys' medical team.
While owner/GM Jerry Jones didn't exactly give a timetable for Leary's return, but was pretty firm on his answer when asked if Collins is now the Cowboys' starting left guard.
"No, he's not. Ron has just really played well, and he's played well all year," Jones said of Leary. "In my mind – now, the coaches will put him in there – but as you know, general we go with the starter when he returns after injury. He's the starter. Ron has really earned everything he's getting, and he's a great, great pick for us."
Leary, who started all last season at left guard, continued his role this year as the Week 1 starter against the Giants, but had to leave the game in the third quarter with the groin injury. He's been out for two straight games, but said he's feeling better this week.
"I'm going to take it day by day, but I'm practicing tomorrow," Leary said, referring to Wednesday. "It's the trainers' call - they make the final call. They said I wasn't ready to go, so I must not have been ready to go. I trust them 100 percent."
Meanwhile, Collins said he will continue to stay ready, regardless of the situation.
"I'm going to continue to prepare the same," Collins said. "I'm just trying to get better each week. Last week was fun to get out there and start my first game. But whatever they ask me to do, I'll be ready."
By playing at left guard, Collins is sandwiched in between a pair of Pro Bowlers – left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick.
"Those are the two best guys at their position at what they do," Collins said. "Those are All-Pro, Pro Bowler guys. They definitely know how to get the job done so you just go out there and follow their footsteps."
A former LSU standout, Collins returns home to Louisiana this week to face the Saints, one of the several times who tried to sign him after the draft. Collins' story is well-documented by now – a former first-round prospect who went undrafted after he was wrongfully linked to the murder of an ex-girlfriend.
But even though he's not a full-time starter just yet, Collins has never wavered on the fact the Cowboys were the best spot for him.
"It came down to where I wanted to spend my career," Collins said. "It wasn't an emotional decision just a business decision. They (Saints) contacted my agent, and I appreciated that opportunity just like I did from every team, but this was the best fit for me."
There's little doubt that Collins will end becoming a regular starter for the Cowboys. But for now, he hasn't wrestled the left guard spot away from Leary.
Nick Eatman is the author of the recently published ****If These Walls Could Talk: Dallas Cowboys***, a collection of stories from the Cowboys' locker room, sideline and press box, with a foreword written by Darren Woodson.*