The Dallas Cowboys have so far avoided any injuries in training camp that would likely keep a key player off the field for the first game of the regular season against the New York Giants. But the list of minor bumps and bruises has, as it always does, grown to around two dozen players. And that now includes four of the starting offensive linemen. Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Ronald Leary and Zack Martin have now all missed some practice time. Martin was the latest addition to this list with a neck stinger. He is expected to be out for about a week, which means that the the line cannot be back to full strength until at least the third preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. Given the extreme caution that Dallas is taking with all the injuries so far, it is conceivable that the team will never see an intact starting line during the preseason, and if it does, it will most likely be in the last game, when starters often see little if any playing time at all as the team gives the down-roster players one last shot at trying to make the team.
And that raises a concern for quarterback Tony Romo and his surgically repaired back. While he is healthier than he has been in years, he and the coaching staff have to be mindful that they need to minimize the chances of him taking hits to keep him as functional as possible. If he were to miss any appreciable time, it puts the whole season in jeopardy. In 2014, when he was still very much still in the recovery stage from one of his surgeries, he was not really in regular season form until at least the second game. This year, with a very strong slate of opponents in the first half of the schedule, the Cowboys need to come out of the gate strong. If the starting offensive line in the remaining preseason games still is relying on players like Darrion Weems, Mackenzy Bernadeau and La'el Collins, is it wise to even put Romo out there in games that don't mean anything at all in the long run?
I have already seen some comments from Dallas beat writers that it might be wisest to just keep the field general on the sidelines and let the backup quarterbacks benefit from some additional snaps against other NFL teams. Let Brandon Weeden, Dustin Vaughan and Jameill Showers take any hits that might come from having a missed assignment or just being physically beaten by a pass rusher. Losing any of them for a while is far, far less significant than Romo.
There is no doubt that Romo could step on the field for the first time in a game against the Giants and perform well. He has been outstanding throughout camp. I believe it was Landon McCool or Rabblerousr that used the phrase "Vulcan mind-meld" to refer to the uncanny connection that Romo is showing with Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley. He has also been mostly on the same page with Terrance Williams and Devin Street, and even the newest player to be added to the mix, David Porter, came in and just started catching touchdowns, which has to help with the willingness of the passer to target him.
With a mix and match situation on the line, backup quarterbacks taking all the snaps, and a group of other starters like Bryant and Sean Lee also going to be very limited as the team looks to protect them, there is a very real possibility that the Cowboys may go 0-4 again this preseason. However, that would not create the angst it did last year, thanks to the benefit of hindsight after seeing just how meaningless that was for the team in 2014. Romo probably would not like it, given how competitive he is, but that is not relevant. This is a decision that has to be made from a big picture viewpoint. And Jason Garrett is always looking at that global perspective. There is plenty for the team to learn about their other players with Romo wearing a ballcap on the sidelines. And that is possibly exactly where the Cowboys need him to be for the remainder of the preseason.