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Cowboys offensive line shuffle: La’el Collins expected to play, Zack Martin reported out with COVID

The Cowboys get some bad news heading into the opener.

Buffalo Bills v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

After seeing 2020 fall apart due to offensive line issues that started with the first game, the Dallas Cowboys will seemingly to have to start things this season without one of their starters, and a significant worry about another. Zack Martin, arguably the best player on the team at any position, has reportedly tested positive for COVID and is not expected to be ready to play on Thursday. La’el Collins, who has missed practice with a neck stinger, is back at practice and hoped to be ready to go.

The first game for Dallas is hardly one where they want to be relying on backups on the offensive line. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers boast one of the most dangerous defensive fronts in Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vae, and William Gholston. Martin has been one of the few offensive guards who was able to stave Suh off. Now Dak Prescott and his surgically repaired ankle will be missing his protection.

It is good to see Collins expected to be ready for the game, but that is contingent on not re-aggravating his problem. Stingers are notorious for lingering and reoccurring. Having him back at practice is a great sign, but hardly definitive.

One small comfort is that Martin’s backup is Connor McGovern, who is generally regarded as being a starter-level player. During camp, some interpreted the long experiment with Connor Williams at center as an attempt to get McGovern on the starting line. That was almost certainly erroneous, but the latter does offer some hope that the dropoff in play when he replaces Martin will not be that great, even though Martin might be the best guard in the league.

The Cowboys do need to hope that Collins is able to play, because his backups are far less reassuring than McGovern. Neither Ty Nsekhe nor Terence Steele looked at all ready to step in during camp or preseason, especially facing a team like the Buccaneers.

This is a very concerning situation, and not at all what we were hoping for. However, if there is one silver lining, it is that the COVID issue should only affect Martin for one game, provided he does not have serious symptoms. There is no word yet on if he is vaccinated, but hopefully he was and will not have serious issues.

UPDATE:

Brandon Knight is also on the guard depth chart. Now the Cowboys are down to one backup for the interior line, seventh round draft pick and rookie Matt Farniok. They may have to activate Braylon Smith or Isaac Alarcon off the practice squad for insurance. However, Knight is reportedly just a close contact, not a positive test, so he should be ready for the Bucs game. This is apparently a case of the virus getting into the center/guard room. With the stringent rules the NFL has, this is probably something teams across the league will face at some point during the season.