The Dallas Cowboys were hit by a tidal wave of injuries during their 2020 campaign. The most high-profile injury was to Dak Prescott who suffered a compound fracture and ankle dislocation in Week 5 and was lost for the rest of the season. However, the Cowboy’s offense was depleted in the trenches as well.
Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins missed 36 games combined which led to the Cowboys having to patch together offensive lines weekly. Although Prescott’s return is huge, he feels his three best offensive linemen are at the top of the list in terms of what they need to be successful.
“They’re the most important, if you ask me,” Prescott said, via ESPN. “From the time that I got drafted until now, this offense is built off of those guys. They’re the three most veteran guys on this team, and that’s for a reason. Those guys are walk-in Pro Bowl guys when they’re healthy, future Hall of Famers. Just to have those three guys lead the five guys up front, everything starts with them. The run game, that allows the pass game to open up. When you have those guys back healthy, energized, it’s special.”
Martin’s 10 games were the only significant snaps any of the three played last season. Smith suited up for just two games before having season-ending neck surgery, and Collins missed the entire year and had to have a hip procedure.
The Cowboys would trout 13 different offensive line combinations last season which didn’t allow the unit to have any continuity. Collins, the youngest of the Cowboys trio of seasoned veterans on the offensive line, talked about how not being on the field to protect Prescott wasn’t easy to deal with and was a spark for his return in 2021.
“You see somebody rough up your quarterback, and me not being able to step in and calm that out, that was tough,” Collins said. “Any time your team takes the field, and as a true competitor and you’re not out there, it’s always tough. But it really gave me something to look forward to when I came back. It just gave me a lot of motivation and everything that I need to just keep moving forward.”
The elder statesmen of the unit, Smith, spoke similar words.
“Honestly, it just pushed us to be better and just know what we have to get done,” said the seven-time Pro Bowl selection.
The Cowboys have been cautious with Smith, Martin, and Collins as they look to regain the top spot in the NFC East. They’ve been seen doing off-the-field work with the Cowboy’s strength and conditioning staff instead of taking part in competitive drills.
As he enters his second season as the Cowboys head coach, it’s not surprising that Mike McCarthy would take this kind of approach to make sure all hands are on deck in September. He’s loving what he’s seeing, especially from his two starting tackles.
“I’m loving the positive vibes. They look great out there,” McCarthy said. “Tyron, going off last year’s experience, I have never seen him smile as much. A big part of it is he is healthy. He is pain-free. He looks great. LC looks great and the big man can run.
“We definitely are a different line when those two guys line up. There is no question about that. It will be great to have them out there on an individual basis after what they have gone through last year. It definitely makes our line, our whole process up front, move a lot smoother.”
The Cowboys are expected by many to win the NFC East and return to the playoffs for the first time in three years. The healthy and availability of Smith, Martin, and Collins will go a long way in making that a reality.