Chris Canty had to sit out most of his senior year at Virginia with a knee injury. He's been through it, and he knows it's even more unforgiving in the NFL.
"It's a numbers game," Canty observed in the Valley Ranch locker room Monday. "Because of the system we have in the NFL, you're not allowed to keep all the backups you want to keep. Sometimes you're gonna be thin somewhere, but that's our league. We don't allow for contingencies."
But Canty also is part of the defense going out practicing every day without Newman and Ellis. "Any time you don't have players of that caliber, it affects you," he says. "But we believe they'll be back."
And anyway, as Parcells often reminded us, they're not going to cancel the season.
A part of the injury picture few think about is the impact on the injured player. He's trying to get back on the field, and in the meantime it's hard to feel a part of the team, no matter who you are.
"There's a detached feeling, no question," Canty said. "T-New (Newman) texted a lot of us before the game in Houston Saturday. It was hard on him not being there."
Running back Tyson Thompson went through it last year. After suffering a broken ankle at Carolina on a kickoff return two days before Halloween, Thompson went on injured reserve.
"You're part of the team," he recalled, "but you're on different schedules. Rehab is hard in itself, and you're doing it when they're practicing and in meetings. It gives you an awful lot of time to sit and think."
Thompson was one of the lucky ones. He missed a half season and has come back bigger and stronger. His team was able to stay competitive without him because it found Miles Austin to return kickoffs. If Ellis is out for a long time, maybe rookie Anthony Spencer and second-year man Bobby Carpenter can keep the fort from being completely overrun. Maybe.
If Newman is out for an extended period, it may be a different story.
And that's really the point.
Newman suffered his plantar fascia injury in a practice session against Denver. He wasn't carried off the field screaming in pain. He landed hard and strained the tendon and it started to hurt. It took a couple of days to realize how tricky a situation this could be.
And every team in the NFL is in the same boat. There are a lot of good teams. There are few if any great ones anymore. The system, particularly the salary cap, precludes it. The Cowboys are a good team. Like most good teams, they are one wrong injury away from being ordinary. Right now, they are hoping mightily they haven't already suffered it.
Want to know who's going to win? Tell me who's going to play.