If you had to rank the Dallas Cowboys’ top priorities at the start of training camp, keeping starting offensive tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins healthy would be right near the top of the list. After the two missed nearly all of the 2020 campaign, both are eager to get back on the field, and hopefully stay there throughout the entirety of the season.
Both Collins and Smith came into camp in excellent shape, and according to fellow linemen Connor Williams, they are “hungry for blood” as they return to the field.
It’s easy in training camp to envision a dream scenario where both tackles stay healthy for the entire 17-game slate, but in reality, there is always the chance they don’t. Of the two, Collins certainly seems to have a much better chance at playing the full schedule. Despite missing the entire 2020 season, Collins has played in 47 of the Cowboys last 48 games prior to his injury. Smith, on the other hand, has missed at least three games every season dating back to 2016.
The hope, and belief, is that both will be able to suit up and protect Dak Prescott through 17 regular-season games, and potentially deep into the postseason, but what if they can’t? Well, as much as some may not like to hear it, Dallas might have to turn to second-year tackle Terence Steele in their potential absence.
Steele had a rude awakening to the NFL in his rookie year. Due to injuries, the undrafted free agent was forced to start in Week 1 after going through one of the weirdest offseasons in NFL history. Steele was clearly in over his head the first nine weeks of the season, averaging a PFF blocking grade of 49.9
Thought Terence Steele performed adequately until DAL's final drive, where he struggled. IMO, he was the main reason DAL struggled to move the ball until the refs stole it from them.— John Owning (@JohnOwning) September 15, 2020
Undersets & poor punch placement/timing with outside hand provided a soft edge for Polite/Floyd pic.twitter.com/zOKQ06zkU0
The rookie also allowed a team-high 22 QB hurries and seven sacks during the team’s first nine games.
I'm actually optimistic that Terence Steele can develop into something down the line, but he was a complete liability - both in pass protection and as a run blocker - against CLE. Shouldn't have been out there. #Cowboys pic.twitter.com/8gXbyhRn8h— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 5, 2020
However, after being thrust into the spotlight early on, Steele started to find his footing as the season went on. In the final seven games of the season. Steele’s allowed just two sacks, and his average PFF blocking grade went up to 58.4.
Steele certainly was not playing close to the level of a Smith or Collins in the final seven games of the season, but he was able to make some progress towards becoming a viable option at the tackle spot.
Steele appears to have taken this progress and built upon it in the offseason. When speaking about the tackle this past week, Mike McCarthy called Steele a “great example” of a player taking a second-year jump, and even mentioned the tackle won a team award for his work in the weight room.
#Cowboys' Mike McCarthy says OT Terence Steele is a great example of a player taking a second-year jump. He won a team award for his work in the weight room.— Mark Lane (@therealmarklane) July 29, 2021
If the Cowboys are to lose one of their offensive tackles at any point this season, Steele, free agent-signee Ty Nsekhe and Brandon Knight are the current options on the roster to fill in during their absence. If Steele is able to continue his upward trajectory, could he leapfrog Nsekhe and become the number one option at backup tackle?
Even if the Cowboys get a gift from the football gods and their tackles both stay healthy this season, Steele continuing to progress and become a viable option at tackle could go a long way. Tyron Smith can’t play forever, and eventually, the Cowboys will need someone to step in and fill the future Hall of Famer’s shoes. It might be a long shot, but maybe Steele could be that guy.
If things go according to schedule, Terence Steele likely won’t see much of the field this upcoming season. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in recent years, things don’t always go according to plan. If he is forced into action yet again, Steele likely will be much more ready for the challenge ahead in year two.