FRISCO, Texas – At long last, some light at the end of the tackle tunnel.
It feels like it's been much longer than two weeks since Tyron Smith first suffered his neck injury, but the Cowboys' All-Pro left tackle is expected to return to practice on Thursday.
"Tyron, he participated in practice in the early parts of practice yesterday and he's slated to practice today so he's right on course," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy.
There were some crossed wires about Smith's status on Wednesday, thanks to the team's injury report. McCarthy did say on Wednesday morning that Smith would work through the early periods of practice, but the report listed that he did not participate.
McCarthy was asked about the difference between the "limited" and "did not participate" categories on the team's practice reports, and he confessed he wasn't sure of the difference. He did clarify, though, that despite the "did not participate" designation, Smith did follow through with their game plan for his workload.
"I'm not exactly sure what's limited or where the threshold is for that," McCarthy said. "I just know based on the plan with trainers and coaches, the plan yesterday was for him to go through the individual segment of practice and we accomplished that."
If he's able to work through practice without problems, Smith's availability is obviously a big deal for a beleaguered Cowboys offensive line. Smith has missed the last two games with these stinger problems, and La'el Collins has been on injured reserve since the start of the season. The loss of both starting tackles has led to a lot of mixing and matching, compounded by the inexperience of replacements Brandon Knight and Terence Steele.
McCarthy said on Wednesday that Smith's return to the lineup would likely reduce the need for so many combinations. Though, if he is available this weekend, it would likely create a choice between Knight and Steele for the starting right tackle job.
It's too soon to speculate on Smith's own availability, so McCarthy wasn't ready to discuss that choice in depth. He said the coaching staff will likely work on different combinations with all three tackles as the week moves along.
"We'll take the week to figure that out, but you know I think both those guys have hit the mark as far as getting it done with their opportunities," he said. "I think we all have to be realistic and practical. We've got Tyron coming back off his situation. We'll see how he practices. With that, last week we worked two combinations mainly. This week we'll probably work three."
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