Glancing over the Dallas Cowboys’ latest injury report, it’s appears the injury bug once again has a full stomach of blue and silver. A handful of key players remain sidelined, and most won’t play a remaining preseason game.
What we must keep in mind is these 1 to 4 week injuries are the nature of the beast during preseason. The rosters are much larger than the final 53, which in turn will increase the number of relatively minor injuries. 32 NFL teams deal with this every summer.
In reality, Dallas stands in solid position to begin the regular season close to full strength. The only true concern will be the conditioning of recovered players barely beating the deadline. Though the effects from this can be minimized through strategic player rotation.
Barring new developments, every planned starter should take the field for Week 1, giving the team their best chance for success. Several teams in the league only wish they had the superior health of Dallas’ starters and key subs come September.
AROUND THE NFC EAST
Take a look around the NFC East if you want to see real health issues. For the New York Giants, starting RT David Diehl is out for the Cowboys showdown.
Both starting C David Baas (sprained MCL) and star DE Jason Pierre-Paul (back surgery) are in recovery and highly questionable for Week 1.
The Philadelphia Eagles have it even worse, losing both star WR Jeremy Maclin and promising free agent WR Arrelious Benn early in camp. In 2011, those two combined for 1,300 receiving yards and 8 TD’s.
Benn was also sidelined in 2012, while Maclin went for 857 yards and 7 TD’s. Those key losses combined with the Riley Cooper meltdown, have significantly weakened the Philly passing attack.
The Washington Redskins are in a real wildcard situation. RG3 wants to play Week 1 yet no one knows his forecast yet. Tipping the hand, on an interview with ESPN last week, his lead WR Pierre Garcon firmly stated Griffin won’t be ready to start that soon.
The Redskins are surely suffering on defense. Both starting DE Jarvis Jenkins (Week 6) and starting LB Adam Carricker (December) will be out for quite a while.
Compared to Dallas’ 3 NFC East rivals, the Cowboys are sitting pretty for the time being in regards to healthy Week 1 starters.
Let’s further analyze the state of the Cowboys’ health (as of today) and see why I make this bold claim of fortunate health. Hopefully nothing significant piles on in the next few weeks.
OFFENSE – STARTERS
On the starting offense, LG Ronald Leary will remained sidelined until at least Week 1.
Both he and management claim he’ll be good to go from the first snap. I’ll take their unanimous forecast as fact, since they have the most accurate information.
The great news is LG currently holds the only threatening injury concerns within the first unit.
If nothing further happens, and Leary makes it back on time, the first unit will be at full strength hosting the visiting Giants.
OFFENSE – 2ND TEAM
The 2nd team offense is in the same duplicate position as the starters, with only LG Nate Livings being the true worry. His recovery timetable seems similar to Leary’s, yet I’m almost convinced Dallas will release him outright.
RB Lance Dunbar has the exact injury timetable as Leary, and both he and the team also predict a return for the Giants.
Other than Livings and Dunbar, the key back-up players are now good to go. There are lower guys like WR Cole Beasley who’s set to return this week.
Worrying over the deeper back-ups during camp does make for interesting debate. Yet true importance abruptly switches to core players once Week 1 begins. Missing guys that provide 5 plays won’t result in sleep loss.
DEFENSE – STARTERS
It gets a little more tricky on the defensive side of the ball. A few very key players are a real concern, though I believe they are being overprotected from preseason play after last year’s key injuries on defense.
DT Jay Ratliff and DE Anthony Spencer are both salty veterans, and are currently viewed as probable for Week 1. Even in new positions, I have little concern even starting them after only 3-4 days of practice.
All 4 starting defensive linemen will elevate their game due to new positions better matching their skillsets. Pair that with a masterful DL coach crafting their trade.
CB Morris Claiborne is the final injured member of the starting defense, his return takes place at the end of the week. That’s 3 of 11 starters sidelined at the moment, and all 3 are expected back for the opening game.
DEFENSE – 2ND TEAM
This is the area where the Cowboys took the biggest blow of camp. Losing Tyrone Crawford for the season was painful, I truly felt he was poised for a breakout season. After doing so, Crawford would have been the starting DE to replace Spencer in 2014.
Spencer, barring another Pro Bowl year, will likely slip away in free agency with Dallas moving aside.
Crawford still has a good shot of winning that spot, yet the team would be much more comfortable losing Spencer in a swap for a proven Crawford.
Let’s also not forget Tyrone has the flexibility and size to effectively sub for both the DE and DT positions. This would have been a great luxury for the DL, a 2 for 1 player.
Along with Crawford, the team took a small hit from losing LB Alex Albright to a back injury. Although he was a very versatile LB, he still was borderline 2nd / 3rd string and replaceable with little to no drop-off.
S Matt Johnson is scheduled to make his return this week. Now that J.J. Wilcox is back, Johnson re-joining the mix will give Dallas a full stable of healthy safeties. Eric Frampton is a question mark yet he is no higher than the 3rd team safety.
All systems are finally go for this group after much concern in 2012. K Dan Bailey, P Chris Jones, and LS L.P. Ladouceur will all begin 100% facing the Giants.
Dwayne Harris is healthy and prepared to field starting kickoff and punt returns. Harris’ back-ups, Beasley and Dunbar should both be back in the lineup.
Assuming continued good fortune to the health of starting players, the Cowboys will be firing on all cylinders come Sept. 8. If worrying over lack of practice time for a few accomplished vets is all we have to sweat, I’d say things are quite sunny these days.
Other than possible minor problems with the conditioning of a few guys (Spencer, Ratliff, Leary), Dallas is expected to have full starter attendance when facing the rival Giants.
So when exactly did the roof cave in? I didn’t see it, because it never happened. I won’t lose sleep over the unlikely chance Ratliff or Spencer will be ineffective due to lack of practice time.
22 of 22 Cowboys’ starters (knock on wood) should play vs New York, and 21 of 22 of their main back-ups will be ready to relieve them (Tyrone Crawford key loss).
Do we really have a problem hosting the New York Giants with 43 of 44 top players taking the field? Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer will play, I assure you. Leary and Dunbar firmly say the same.
This is a very healthy Cowboys team if we stop thinking in terms of preseason health, and slip into the regular season mindset. These guys know every game is crucial when they count, and injuries are rarely over-protected like we see so often in camp.
Be positive Cowboys fans, at the moment there are countless teams in much worse physical health than your 2013 Dallas Cowboys. Nothing is broken here. If the team stays healthy for the remaining 17 days, we are finally on track for a return to real Cowboys football.