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Cowboys hot topic: Injuries may already threaten the season

Depth is being tested right out of the gate on the Cowboys roster.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Injuries are sadly a part of the NFL. It is a violent sport built around violent collisions. While the league has taken many steps over the years to reduce the danger for its players, it is impossible to eliminate it completely. For the Dallas Cowboys, that has come crashing home after just one game.

Depth is often a major factor in teams’ chances at making the playoffs, and now Dallas will find out, only one game into the season, just how much they have after three significant injuries added to some already worrisome developments from training camp. Here are the significant ones, and their possible impact.

DT Gerald McCoy, released on injury waiver during training camp

He was penciled in as the starting 3-tech next to fellow free agent Dontari Poe. The early loss in camp was disheartening, but replacing him turned out to go better than most would have guessed. Trysten Hill earned that starting job, and his first game against the Los Angeles Rams was generally successful. He led all DTs in snaps and tackles, which is a very encouraging sign.

For depth at the position, the Cowboys seem to be in good shape, with Antwaun Woods and Neville Gallimore. Tyrone Crawford also can work at 3-tech. Of course, Woods might be busy elsewhere.

I mean, if you are only going to use a fullback maybe once or twice a game, why not have a 6-1, 318 lb. DT go bury somebody? No need to waste a roster spot for a FB who mostly rides the bench.

RT La’el Collins, IR out of training camp, expected back Week 4

The cause for Collins going on IR is still subject to a bit of debate. Officially, he is recovering from a hip injury. However, he was reportedly out of shape at the start of camp, and some contend that is the real issue. In any case, he is an example of the new IR rules giving the team more flexibility. Had the old six-week rule, with only two players allowed to return from IR, been in place, Collins likely would have been kept on the roster, but been inactive until the coaches felt he was ready to go. Instead, he went on IR, another player got a paycheck, and the Cowboys had Cameron Erving to fill in.

Imagine our surprise when, instead of Erving, the team went with UDFA Terence Steele to start the Rams game. It is a testament to how hard Steele worked in camp, but frankly you’d rather base those decisions on clearly observable talent. Steele had a rough first outing.

Offensive line coach Joe Philbin has his work cut out for him until Collins is back - and even after, as the entire offensive line had some struggles, with even Tyron Smith and Zack Martin looking like mere mortals. Oh, and there’s more depth problems now.

OT Cameron Erving, IR, sprained MCL

So maybe the staff was just prescient and knew Erving was going to get hurt. Now the swing tackle is out and wouldn’t be eligible to return until Week 5. That leaves the Cowboys with Brandon Knight and Alex Light, signed from the Arizona Cardinals’ PS as this was being written, on the roster, plus Eric Wilson who was just signed to the practice squad about a week ago. Isaac Alarcón is also on Dallas’ PS, but the rules on International Pathway players may preclude him from being called up.

Yikes. Steele better improve, and Collins and Erving need to get healthy as fast as they can. Philbin may be burning some midnight oil this week.

LB Sean Lee, IR, sports hernia

Lee is a warrior, but he, like everyone, is finding that Father Time is undefeated. He could also be back Week 4, which is another case where the unlimited number of IR returnees works in Dallas’ favor.

The Cowboys had hoped to hold down the fort with what they had at linebacker, but the best laid plans . . .

LB Leighton Vander Esch, IR, broken collarbone

Now there is a definite hole to fill at linebacker. Reports out of camp had us hoping that Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith were going to return to the high level of 2018, but that has been dashed, and Smith didn’t have a great game against the Rams. Once again, the team declined to call up Francis Bernard from the practice squad. Most of us thought he had made the roster out of camp. That might still happen, but the team just signed linebacker Rashad Smith from the Bears practice squad. Joe Thomas is likely to fill the starting role for now, verifying how valuable he is to the team.

TE Blake Jarwin, IR and out for the season, ACL

This one hurts. The team and the fans were eager to see what Jarwin could do without Jason Witten taking so many snaps at TE. Dalton Schultz took over for Jarwin after he went out. However, he was credited with two drops in the game, not a good sign. Blake Bell and Sean McKeon are also on the roster, and Cole Hikutini is on the PS.

It remains to be seen if the Cowboys will add another TE to the roster, or just roll with what they have. None are seen as the receiving threat Jarwin was. They have WR Noah Brown who can help in run blocking while still being a valid threat running routes. And if you want an inline blocker, did you see how Woods smashed that guy on Elliott’s touchdown plunge?

That is four starters, the SAM linebacker, and a key backup already out of the picture for this week. The game of football often involves the concept of “the next man up.” But for so early, that is a lot of next men the team is having to rely on.

It’s going to be tough.

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