The Dallas Cowboys were hit by the injury bug hard in 2020. One unit that suffered major damage was the offensive line and starting Right Tackle La’el Collins was hit the hardest after having to have hip surgery which kept him out for the entire season.
It couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Collins. Just before the 2019 season, he signed a five-year, $50 million dollar extension with $35 million in guarantees. He responded by looking like one of the best right tackles in the NFL, causing many to wonder why he didn’t make the Pro Bowl. Now, he’s returned to the practice field during OTAs as he gradually continues to progress during his rehab, and he mentioned recently how the grind to get back has him feeling like years past.
“To be honest with you, I’m just starting to feel like myself,” Collins said on Thursday. “And it feels good. I’m working overtime with treatment and physical therapy to make sure this goes right. All the hard work is definitely paying off.”
Coming off of the best season of his career, Collins was looking to further established himself as one of the best right tackles in the league in 2020. However, his hip had become a continuous nuisance and he had to do something about it.
“It was something that had been lingering for a while,” Collins said. “I couldn’t get down to what was going on. I kept working on it and it came down to the point where something had to be done.”
The decision to go under the knife wasn’t an easy one for Collins. Although the surgery would fix the ailment, he knew it meant his 2020 campaign would end before it even started so he waited until Week 3 in October to do so.
“It was tough,” Collins said. “I kept going back and forth with myself. If I had to get the surgery done I was going to have to miss the season. It wasn’t something I was looking forward to at all. But it was something that had to be done. Now, I feel good. And I’m ready to rock.”
Collins has been working around the clock to get back on the field and continue his momentum from two seasons ago. Of course, the actual rehab was the main focus, but Collins also worked on something else, getting leaner. At 313 he is currently 10 pounds under his last playing weight and he wants to slice off a few more pounds before the season starts.
“That’s definitely the mindset,” Collins said. “Stay as lean as possible and keep a lot of muscle. I learned a lot about nutrition and what I need to put in my body and what I don’t need to put in my body. You’re going to have to make those changes so you can get everything that you need out of your body.”
The process of coming back from an injury is a difficult one. Fortunately for Collins, he’s done most of his work this offseason with the Cowboy’s most important player beside him, Dak Prescott, who’s coming off of a gruesome ankle injury that cost him 11 games last season.
Collins and Prescott have worked diligently with Britt Brown who is the team’s Associate Athletic Trainer and Director of Rehabilitation, and the former mentioned how his quarterback has made great strides from where he started.
“Me and Dak have been at it with Britt all offseason,” Collins said. “Even when it was tough he pushed through. I remember him from the first day [of his rehab] to now, it’s like night and day.”
The Cowboys made eight selections on defense out of the 11 picks they had in the 2021 NFL Draft, and rightfully so after finishing 31st against the run and 28th in points allowed last season. That side of the ball should improve from a year ago, but the Cowboys will be led by their offense, meaning Prescott’s ability to stay upright is the biggest key.
The former LSU Tiger is ready to go full throttle to make sure that happens.
“I’ll protect him at all costs,” Collins said.
It all starts in the trenches in the game of football and the Cowboys have to be ecstatic to have Collins back as their offensive line looks to get back to being one of the league’s best.