When any offense struggles in the trenches it sets up the unit as a whole to fail. That was the case in 2020 for the Dallas Cowboys. Zack Martin and Tyron Smith missed six and 14 games respectively, but La'el Collins missed the entire season after hip surgery last October.
That type of injury can be a tricky thing to recover from, and back in February, there was a rumor that Collins was contemplating retirement. His agent Deryk Gilmore quickly fanned the flames on any suggestions of the sort, and the Cowboy's top right tackle did so as well over the weekend.
“I've got too much left in the tank,” Collins said.
As is the case with any player after an injury, there's a process he must go through to get back to the level that he's accustomed to playing at. Collins has had plenty of help over the last nine months from the Cowboys training staff, and in particular, the team's Director of Rehabilitation Britt Brown.
“He really helped me build that confidence back so that when I got out here I felt like there was no limits,” Collins said. “I feel like I can get right into it now . The biggest thing now is getting back into that football shape: breaking the huddle, getting to the line, breaking the huddle, getting to the line, running plays going left, going right. That type of stuff.”
Collins signed a five-year, $50 million deal with $35 million in guaranteed money just before the start of the 2019 season. He followed it up with his best season as a pro which many thought should have garnered a Pro Bowl nod. He didn't just maul left defensive ends, he did so with plenty of discipline, only committing three penalties (fewest in any full season) in 1,001 snaps.
Heading into the 2020 season, the expectation was for Collins to take another leap forward and firmly establish himself as one of the top right tackles in the NFL. His hip injury derailed all of that momentum and the former LSU Tiger mentioned it was a struggle to get through.
“It was tough mentally, physically, just laying there not being able to be around the guys and go to battle with the guys,” Collins said. “That was one of the hardest things.”
Dak Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle after he torched NFL defenses weekly through the first month of the 2020 season. Also, Ezekiel Elliott is looking to regain his status as one of the NFL's best running backs after career lows in multiple categories. With Collins back in the lineup, the chances of both having bounce-back campaigns in 2021 increase tremendously.
It hasn't been an easy journey for Collins to get back to this point as one of the cornerstones of the Cowboy's offensive line, as he explained in detail recently.
“Took a lot of just … taking it one day at a time, just a lot of focus mentally, and just trying to stay positive throughout the whole process,” Collins said. “Going from a walker to being on crutches for 18 weeks, that was the hardest thing not being able to bathe yourself. All of that. It was hard. There was a lot that went into it.”
All the hard work has paid off for Collins and he's back to feeling like himself again. Now, the hope is that he stays off of the injury report and gets back to being a shield for the aforementioned Prescott.