This week has brought the Dallas Cowboys back from their bye and it has also seen the return of a number of Cowboys players to the practice field. Dallas has been down some notable contributors for a little over a month now and among them was La’el Collins. While most of the Cowboys who have been out have been nursing various injuries, Collins was suspended for five games on the day after the team’s season-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The news was obviously troubling when it first landed and came just after Collins had played his first game for the team since the 2019 season ended as he missed all of the 2020 season with injury. Needless to say his time over the last two years - the entire time that Mike McCarthy has been the team’s head coach by the way - has been a bit turbulent.
When Collins went down many Cowboys fans were concerned about the state of the right tackle position. Thankfully second-year undrafted free agent Terence Steele rose to the occasion and actually played well enough that a small debate ran throughout Cowboys Nation as to whether or not Steele should remain the starter at right tackle.
Whether Mike McCarthy was a part of those debates remains to be seen, but either way he has seemingly made his choice.
Terence Steele was told he would remain the Cowboys starter at right tackle despite La’el Collins’ return
When the Cowboys held their first practice of the week on Wednesday, there was a minor uproar among fans as Mike McCarthy mentioned that La’el Collins would begin by working with the reserves at both right tackle and left guard. Collins played left guard during his first seasons with the team so this isn’t exactly a foreign concept, but again it was assumed by many that he would regain his post at right tackle upon his return.
Many viewed this overall procedure as more of a ceremonial one in that perhaps McCarthy and the coaching staff wanted to have Collins “earn” his starting right tackle job back given how unreliable he has been for the organization over the last year and change. We have now arrived at Thursday, though, and things are starting to get a little bit more serious, in fact they are starting to become a little bit more factual. Terence Steele said that he was told early in the week that he would remain the team’s starter at right tackle this week.
Cowboys RT Terence Steele said he learned early this week he would remain the starter despite La’el Collins’ return from suspension. Steele had no expectations. “Whatever helps the team succeed is what I want.” pic.twitter.com/jDRCkIxLFp— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) October 28, 2021
Clearly there was more than some sort of ceremonial purpose to McCarthy having Collins work with the reserves on Wednesday. Terence Steele is going to start at right tackle on Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings.
To be clear, this could potentially be explained by a number of different things or a combination of different ones. Firstly, it is possible that the Cowboys simply view Steele as the better player at this point. Plenty will scoff at this notion, but it obviously exists in the world of possibilities.
Secondly, it is possible that the Cowboys are bringing Collins back slowly and therefore don’t feel ready for him to start yet. Consider that he has played in just one of the team’s last 22 games so it’s not like this is an automatically given thing.
Of course there are other possibilities that we might not even be considering. This is a decision that will surely incite different thoughts and opinions, and for what it’s worth, we solicited a few from BTB staffers:
Tom Ryle: With how the team has handled everything so far this season, I’m trusting the coaches on this one.
Tony Catalina: The move is a bit of a head scratcher for me. Has Terence Steele been bad? No, he hasn’t. But is he the better football player than La’el Collins? Again, no, not in my mind. This team has been on the money when it has come to personnel decisions so far this year so who am I too question it, and I understand the “if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it” mentality, however some would argue that two of your five best offensive linemen are reserves at the moment. I wish nothing but the best for Terence Steele moving forward, but this move at least at the moment is a bit of a head scratcher for me.
Aidan Davis: Over their last five games Steele has allowed eight pressures and zero sacks. Over Collins last five games he is very similar at eight pressures and one sack. Steele has also taken a massive leap from last year, receiving his highest PFF grade of his career just two weeks ago. The Cowboys are 5-1, and granted nothing is guaranteed, but it is not a disastrous mistake to see what you have in a player that has shown incredible improvement this season. Especially with a team that has a very good chance to make the playoffs, it’s not a huge gamble. This is not to say that Steele is better than Collins, but if La’el isn’t ready to play, then it is reasonable to trust a lineman that has given up comparable pressure numbers over the last five games. Trust the coaching staff, because it seems like they have a plan with this.
Ultimately there does seem to be a consensus here that the Cowboys staff has earned the benefit of the doubt and the right to be trusted. They have made their decision here and will hopefully prove themselves right like they did with their initial belief in Terence Steele.