Starting Right Tackle La'el Collins is currently missing practices with a neck stinger. While the thought of being without him in Week One is a bad one, no doubt triggering some PTSD from 2020, the Dallas Cowboys have resources which should allow them to handle a potential absence from Collins.
The pains of last season are still quite memorable; Collins missed all of 2020 with a hip injury and Tyron Smith joined him on injured reserve after just two games. Other injuries on the offensive line, most notably Zack Martin's, left the Cowboys scrambling to cobble together a front five far too many weeks.
Any notion of Collins being out again this year, and especially against the defending champs in Week One, is a negative. Dallas will certainly be less without him but it's a situation they should be able to overcome.
While not getting the same respect as the “blind side” protection gig at left tackle, right tackle is still a very difficult assignment. But if you had to be without one guy against Tampa Bay, Dallas is far better off with it being Collins than Tyron Smith.
I think back to 2019 when La'el exited against the Green Bay Packers. With Cam Fleming already playing on the left side due to a Smith injury, then-undrafted rookie Brandon Knight had to step in. His solid play that day and the following week in a start against the Jets were memorable and why he's still on the roster now.
Knight is just one option the Cowboys can use against Tampa Bay if needed. They currently have veteran Ty Nsekhe as the supposed swing tackle and 2nd-year prospect Terence Steele also on the 53-man roster.
Cowboys plan to hold La'el Collins (stinger) out of practice again today. Sunday's practice will be like a normal Wednesday during the season, so he could start to ramp up then. In the meantime, Mike McCarthy says Ty Nsekhe and Terence Steele will both get work at right tackle.
One of Knight, Nsekhe, or Steele may be released in the coming days as Guard Connor Williams comes off the COVID-19 list and a roster spot has to be opened. But even then, Dallas could move someone to the practice squad and still call them up for the game.
With the rest of the starting offensive line intact, and especially with Tyron Smith on the left side and Zack Martin back at right guard, whoever has to start at RT against the Bucs is in a position to succeed.
Nsekhe would seem the logical choice given his experience. His play at right tackle for the Buffalo Bills in recent years is what brought him to Dallas as a free agent. But with the veteran now close to 36 years old, there's always the chance that he's not the same player.
Steele has become a focal point for criticism after last year's struggles and some bad moments in 2021 preseason games. The thought of him going up against Tampa's Shaq Barrett, who's had 27.5 sacks the last two years, is reasonable nightmare fuel. But hopefully working with the first team in practice and on Thursday night would help Terence to step up his game.
Another option to consider, as we saw last year, is sliding Zack Martin over to RT and then using Connor McGovern at guard. While coaches are often adverse to making changes at two positions, there's also something to be said for getting your five best players on the field. If McGovern is the superior player to any of the OT backups, this could give the Cowboys their best chance to win.
One other factor; Dak Prescott is back and in a much better position to adapt and overcome any issues at right tackle than the quarterbacks we were working with from Weeks 6-17.
The point here is that a La'el Collins absence, while certainly not what we want, is a less dire issue than what we faced with the offensive line in 2020. With projected stability at the other four spots, experienced depth who are all better off playing right tackle than left, and our franchise QB back under center, Dallas should be able to get through this and remain competitive.
If not, then these Cowboys really aren't who we thought or hoped they were in 2021.