FRISCO, Texas – La'el Collins has spent nearly four months learning a new position on the Cowboys' powerful offensive line.
He's waited nearly a year to play a regular-season game again.
The wait ends Sunday night against the New York Giants' vaunted defensive line.
Collins missed all but the first three games last season due to a toe injury. When he returned healthy for OTA's this past May, he moved from left guard to right tackle in place of retired veteran Doug Free.
Collins played left tackle in his final college season at LSU, but he acknowledged there was an adjustment working out of a right-handed stance after he started at left guard his first two seasons in Dallas.
"I feel pretty good. It's been a work in progress," he said Wednesday. "It'll continue to be a work in progress. I'm just excited to go out there and play football. This game is what I love to do. It's what I'm very passionate about. I'm a competitor and I'm going to give it everything I've got come Sunday."
Collins' primary matchup will likely be Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, one of the league's most productive pass rushers over the last two years. Recovered from a 2015 fireworks accident that seriously injured his right hand, Pierre-Paul ranked second on the Giants' defense with seven sacks last season. He and Olivier Vernon have formed one of the NFL's most formidable pass-rushing combos.
Conversely, Cowboys All-Pro Tyron Smith is arguably the league's best left tackle. And Collins believes he's scratching the surface of his own potential.
"I just think he's gotten better and better," head coach Jason Garrett said. "He's one of those guys who comes to work every day. He really loves to play football. He's improved technically at that position. He's been out there for a little while. We really didn't move him around at all this offseason and I think he's benefited from that. I think he's really embraced it."
Collins said he spent the offseason studying film of the pass rushers he'll be facing this season. He credits offensive line coaches Frank Pollack and Marc Colombo for helping him make the transition to the right side.
He also enjoys learning from his teammates, including All-Pros Smith, center Travis Frederick and left guard Zack Martin.
"Physically he's very gifted," Martin said. "To see his growth over the last three years being here, of understanding the game, knowing how to play the game better, he's been awesome to play next to and I think he's going to show everyone that he's a very talented player."
Collins' development was clear in a handful of snaps opposite Raiders star pass rusher Khalil Mack in the Cowboys' Aug. 26 preseason game against Oakland.
But he says every rep, from practice to preseason, has prepared him for the regular season.
"Every time I get in that stance, just really focusing on what I have to do to get the job done," he said.