Unless you managed to miss the entire 2015 season (lucky you if you did), you know how much of an impact the loss of several critical pieces had on the team's efforts to put a quality product on the playing field. Starters Orlando Scandrick, Tony Romo, and Dez Bryant combined for a total of 35 games missed during the season. Their positions; cornerback, quarterback, and wide receiver, are among the most crucial ones on the roster and ones that no team ever wants to find itself struggling to fill. Losing one of these positions during the course of a season can be the difference maker for a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations; losing three was fatal.
Orlando Scandrick has proven himself to be the Cowboys #1 corner, at least in most fans' opinions. He may not be the shut down guy that we would like to have out on an island, but he is one of the better guys at his position. In addition, there are few better when he moves inside to man the slot position. Losing his services before the season began was a devastating blow to a secondary that was already experiencing issues.
Scandrick tore both his ACL and MCL during a training camp collision with rookie teammate Lucky Whitehead. The injury to the starting corner elevated Morris Claiborne, whose struggles with adapting his game to the NFL are well documented, back into a starting role.
Given the time since Scandrick suffered the injury to his knee, he is well along in the rehabilitation process. The word coming out of Valley Ranch is that he could see work during organized team activities, but that the team is going to follow the same course that was followed last off-season with Sean Lee. Efforts will be made to limit the amount of work that he does in order to insure that the team can count on Orlando when it matters most; on Sundays this fall.
The strategy paid off for Dallas the first time. Lee was able to started 14 games for the team last season and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. The Cowboys need a similar comeback from Scandrick this year.
The next loss that had a dramatic impact on the Cowboys was the broken foot suffered by Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant in the season's opening contest. The surgery Bryant underwent to repair the damage took the most potent weapon out of the Dallas offensive arsenal almost from the start. Even when Bryant was able to make his return, he was not the receiver he was in 2014. It was clear that more needed to be done to get #88 back into top form. Eventually the Cowboys star would face a second procedure to finish the work that began in September.
Jerry Jones reports that Bryant is well on his way back to 100%. Recent scans of the effected area have shown that the bone grafts are healing as anticipated. Head coach Jason Garrett shares a similar assessment.
"He's around our building and he's had a lot of productive days. He's on schedule to come back and be ready to play." - Jason Garrett
It stands to reason that Dallas will also take a cautious approach to getting Bryant back into action. After all it is well known what a healthy Dez is capable of and limiting him will allow more time for the team to evaluate other talents at the wide receiver position.
As if losing two of their best players was not enough, the football gods continued to haunt the Cowboys. Quarterback Tony Romo, finally free of the issues with his back, was sidelined by another issue from his past. Romo suffered a broken collarbone for the second time in his career and then broke it again once he was cleared to return to action. He recently underwent a surgical procedure as well, one that is intended to be a step toward preventing further issues.
The Mumford Procedure that Romo underwent is anticipated to have a relatively short recovery time which will allow Romo the time needed to be able to get a full off-season of work in with his receivers.
"It's going to take him, what they've told me is a couple months to be back and ready to go, but we do anticipate him being involved in the off-season program and we feel like that was the right thing to do. He's rehabbing and we feel like it gives him a great chance to come back and play at a high level." - Jason Garrett
We know from past seasons that the Cowboys will keep their starting passer on a "pitch count" while trying to insure that the quarterback and receivers also get enough time together to develop or regain a feel for one another. Not only does this benefit the team by helping to have Romo at 100% it will also allow a potential new #2 passer more of an opportunity to acquaint himself with the Dallas offense.
One other Cowboys starter who underwent the knife during the off-season was right tackle Doug Free. The elder statesman of the Dallas offensive line has been experiencing issues with his foot over the past two years. Free had surgery for the second year in a row and the news is positive for him as well. Coach Garrett shared his prognosis with us as well.
"We think he's going to be healthy as we go here. He's been dealing with that foot for a little bit, but Doug's a tough guy and we feel like that's going to be behind him and he'll be ready to go."It's hard to get specific with that (timetables), but we don't anticipate him missing very much time."
I have often referred to the injury updates that come out of Valley Ranch as coming from the Ministry of Misinformation, but at this time of year there is little to be gained by secrecy. The outlook is good. Three starters who missed significant blocks of time in 2015 are well on their way to recovery as is the one who was able to tough it out all season long. The Cowboys seem to be well on their way toward addressing the biggest opportunity that Jerry Jones identified for improvement.
"I think our biggest improvement - and I'm not trying to be trite - will be a healthy [Tony] Romo and a healthy [Dez] Bryant and having [Orlando] Scandrick. That'll be our biggest improvement."
The next challenge will be in staying healthy.