For those of us who are good fans - or, as some might term us, completely and terminally obsessed with all things Dallas Cowboys - one of the most depressing things throughout the preseason was the list of players not participating due to injury, which seemed to grow daily. Without any official injury list from the team, all that we had to go on were these lists compiled by the writers who did a daily headcount of who was on the field and who was not.
It was obvious that the team was being cautious to the extreme with injuries, most clearly illustrated by the way in which Tony Romo's participation in practice, or just about anything else, was monitored and controlled by all concerned. There was a clear plan, referred to at times by the staff, to try and get as many players healthy for the start of the season as possible.
Now, with the first official injury report for 2014 out at DallasCowboys.com, we may be seeing this delicate approach pay off. Here is how it reads:
|Player||Position||Injury||Status on Wednesday|
|Terrell McClain||DT||Ankle||Limited Participation|
|Tony Romo||QB||Back||Full Participation|
|George Selvie||DE||Shoulder||Limited Participation|
|Anthony Spencer||DE||Knee||Did Not Practice|
|Darrion Weems||OT||Shoulder||Did Not Practice|
Five names, only two of which are certain to be out when the Cowboys host the San Francisco 49ers to open the season. That is so much better than what we were used to.
However (you knew there had to be a qualifier on the Dallas injury situation), this does not tell the whole picture. Sure, players like Henry Melton and Morris Claiborne are off the injury list and practicing. But there is a big difference between being able to participate fully in practice and being completely ready to play in an NFL game.
Melton and Claiborne missed all the preseason games. There are a lot of other Cowboys who missed a great deal of those games, and who had limited practice time. The staff made the decision to err on the side of caution with all injuries. The result is that gratifyingly short list of names, but it also means we don't know how ready many of the players are. Quite likely, neither does the staff. Practice does not really get you prepared for the stress of a game, at least as it is conducted under the aegis of the current CBA. Some of the veterans like Melton may have a very good instinctual feel for how ready they are, but a lot of the players who missed time during camp won't.
This is the other side of taking great caution to keep players healthy. You sacrifice conditioning, and the ability to evaluate your players. It is not something where there is a simple answer, of course. The staff has to make their best judgement and hope things work out.
It remains to be seen how this will work for the Cowboys. It is just one more of the unknowns this season. The 2014 edition of the team is simply impossible to have a good read on because so many players have not been on the field for long periods. Football teams are always fluid things as players get hurt and new faces join the team. This goes on throughout the season. But the situation is more pronounced this year in Dallas than in any time in recent history. We will be getting the first real look at the team when they take the field. That first look should have been more or less taken care of during the "dress rehearsal", or third preseason game. Especially for the defense, that just didn't happen this year.
Hopefully the short injury list is a good sign. But it is not as comforting as it should be with so many questions still to be answered.