For any NFL team, the greatest fear in training camp and preseason games is to see a serious injury, the kind that ends a season (or worse). Players who are forced to miss several weeks, possibly on IR, are also dreaded. The Dallas Cowboys are no exception. So far, they have avoided the big problems. But any health problem has a negative impact, and right now the Cowboys have more than their share of more minor nicks and dings.
Tyron Smith (back)— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) August 20, 2019
Zack Martin (back)
Byron Jones hip)
Amari Cooper (heel)
Demarcus Lawrence (shoulder)
Tyrone Crawford (hip)
Sean Lee (knee) https://t.co/KiQIJIMKcG
It is easy to see why this is a concern. Those seven names are all projected starters. Three are All Pros. All but Crawford have been to at least one Pro Bowl. That is a ton of talent, most of it rather expensive, to be held out or limited in practice. They are hardly the only ones, as others such as Noah Brown and Cedrick Wilson have been unavailable for all or part of camp. Robert Quinn is also among the recovering players, but he gets an extra two weeks to recover because of his suspension. Still, there are indeed a high number of players who should be taking reps that are sitting out, working on the side or not fully participating.
But, to coin a phrase, we’re talking about practice. The Cowboys have been solidly in the recent trend among NFL teams to be hyper-cautious with their roster locks throughout camp and the preseason games. Lawrence, Crawford, and Jones all started camp on the PUP list. The first two of that trio have now been cleared to begin limited participation in practice, but you can take it to the bank that neither will sniff the field in the remaining two preseason games. You can probably extend that to all of these players, whether they are fully ready to go or not in the next week and a half. The target for any injured player on the team is the first regular season game.
And here’s the good news. Of those seven key names mentioned above, all but Byron Jones are now expected to be ready. Jones is the only one that is still questionable, and the team insists he is still on schedule to make it.
Missing practice time and preseason availability is more of a problem for players like Wilson and Brown, whose roster spots are not assured. But of that “big seven” listed, there is not one that really needs a lot of work to be ready to go at or near their top effectiveness. The biggest health concern coming into camp has already been largely resolved, as Travis Frederick has looked good in coming back from the illness that cost him all of 2018.
As mentioned earlier here at BTB, training camp no longer is needed as much as in the past for players to get back into football shape. And while the offense in particular has a lot of new stuff on its plate under Kellen Moore, the evidence to this point is that is going very well. It is true that there will still be some getting used to playing a full game once they start to count and the starters have to go the full length of things. But with all teams resting and protecting starters in preseason, particularly the last game, the field is level in that regard. Integrating themselves back into the scheme and lineup is not going to be a problem for experienced players. Having so many key contributors that are almost certain to be held out just increases the reasons for sitting other starters to make sure they don’t take the wrong hit in preseason.
There is also a silver lining to the injury cloud. When starters are out, the backups get more reps. Frankly, the depth players benefit far more from work in camp. They get to work on technique that the starters have down. More snaps helps them learn their assignments better. It helps them make their case to make the 53-man roster, and gives the coaches more data to evaluate them.
Injuries are never a good thing. But the depth for the Cowboys looks much better than it has in recent memory, perhaps as far back as the glory years of Jimmy Johnson. It is completely rational to keep an eye on these players when the regular season gets underway. It is also sensible to not be panicked. There is a good likelihood that they are all going to be ready to go.