FRISCO, Texas – La'el Collins missed all of last season recovering from hip surgery, and the various quarterbacks that took the field for the Cowboys in 2020 undoubtedly noticed his absence. The team was hoping for healthy returns from both their starting tackles, Collins and Tyron Smith, who missed nearly all of 2020 as well.
So, you wouldn't blame the fans, Dak Prescott, and especially Mike McCarthy if they felt a tinge of panic seeing La'el Collins battling a nagging injury before the start of the season. Collins experienced a stinger in his neck for the second time in training camp, and the Cowboys are not rushing him back this time around.
"LC is dealing with a neck issue," McCarthy said before Friday's practice. "We're in a holding pattern right now. He will not practice."
That would mean that Collins will have three more opportunities to practice before the Cowboys kick off the NFL season Thursday, Sept. 9 against the Buccaneers. His next chance will be this coming Sunday (which will effectively serve as a Wednesday practice if it were a normal NFL week with the Cowboys playing a Sunday game). McCarthy has recently said that he anticipates Collins being ready for Thursday's game.
In practice, and in the event that Collins is unable to suit up in a game, the Cowboys' options at right tackle would be either second-year tackle Terence Steele or Ty Nsekhe, a 35-year-old NFL journeyman who signed with the Cowboys in the offseason after a year with the Buffalo Bills.
"Ty and Terence will both work [in practice]," McCarthy said. "We'll be ready to go with both of those guys."
Due to the injuries to Collins and Smith last season, Steele was thrown into game action last year, starting 14 games as an undrafted rookie. He fared admirably at times given the circumstances, but it was an obvious step down from what the team had expected from the position prior to the injuries. The veteran experience of Nsekhe provides an extra option to mitigate the worst-case scenarios.
"I think Ty, where he is in his career, I think he's done a good job throughout camp," McCarthy said of Nsekhe. "I think he's been getting, not only better, but more and more comfortable with what we're asking him to do."
Because of thin depth at tackle last season, starting right guard Zack Martin moved out to right tackle for two games and played well. But McCarthy said Friday he hopes the team doesn't have to consider that scenario again.
The precautionary rest for Collins is understandable, but all eyes will be on whether he suits up for practice this Sunday, if only because the long-term success of the 2021 Dallas Cowboys depends in no small way on his ability to perform.