FRISCO, Texas – La'el Collins said back in September that his goal was to return to the field before the end of the season.
Thanks to the Cowboys' playoff push, the second-year guard will have that opportunity on Thursday.
"That was my goal from the jump, the minute I got injured," Collins said. "I told myself I wanted to be able to get myself back for this year. I think I've been able to put myself in that place."
It's been three months since Collins went to injured reserve with a severe toe injury, suffered in the Week 3 win against Chicago. He underwent surgery in early October and has gradually worked his way back – from using a scooter to get around, to working on his planting and footwork in recent weeks.
"I'd probably say, after I made two months out of surgery, I was able to run and just be able to do everything," he said. "Them kind of progressing me, adding little things here and there. Now I'm to the point where I feel like I can go."
To be clear, this doesn't mean Collins is back on the 53-man roster, or that he'll play in the Cowboys' next game. The team has a 21-day window to watch him practice and see how he responds. They can choose to move him back to the active roster, or they can shut him down for next season.
Collins said he doesn't know what his outlook is as far as game time.
"Really, for me the main thing is just being able to prepare myself and just focus on going out there and seeing how it feels every day – see how it responds – and just kind of go from there," he said.
If he can return, it would be a huge boost for an offensive line that already ranks among the league's best. Ron Leary has enjoyed an outstanding season in relief of Collins, but adding another blue chip talent could only help what has already been a strong unit, especially with Leary and Tyron Smith dealing with injuries in recent weeks.
That's all a bit premature, though. Given that he hasn't practiced since September, Collins said he's simply happy he achieved his goal of getting himself ready – and getting back onto the field.
"That's the best thing about it – just being able to put the pads on again and go out on the field and practice with my teammates," he said. "Just take this thing slow and see how it goes. Every day has just been putting good days on top of good days, and it's been going well for me."