Fans of NFL teams spend an excessive amount of time pondering the what if. Most recently, fans of the Dallas Cowboys ignited their synapses trying to figure out exactly how the club will be able to add the litany of players who missed games during the first half of the season, back to the 53-man roster. Having depth is a nice thing and it certainly served the 6-1 Cowboys well in 2021.
However there is one true edict when it comes to football, things have a way of working out. It doesn’t make sense to try to figure out which players can be released to make room for guys coming out of IR or PUP weeks in advance because when the situation demands it, there will definitely be a solution presented. A similar occasion is happening now, as fans have been wondering since La’el Collins ’return from a five-match suspension, which would happen at the right deal with Terence Steele playing so well. It only took one game, really half, for the solution to come up.
This happened with the high ankle sprain aggravation of left tackle Tyron Smith. He will miss at least the Week 9 game against the Denver Broncos and with that, the only decision that had to be made was which of the other two starting calibers would play on the left side. The answer, according to quarterback Dak Prescott, is that Steele will move from the right side and land on the left.
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott said Terence Steele plays left tackle and Lael Collins plays right tackle on Sunday. #DallasCowboys
– Clarence Hill Jr. (@clarencehilljr) November 4, 2021
Both Steele and Collins have experience playing left gear, but Steele’s is much more recent. Steele is the team’s swing, which means he exercises on both the left and the right side during training, to be able to fill in wherever is needed. He ran the right flank almost exclusively in games, playing 969 out of 970 clicks there in 2020 and all 436 in 2021.
Meanwhile, although he played on the left side for the first two years of his career, those snaps came on the inside as a guard. Collins has not had any experience at left tackle since his days at LSU, last seen in 2014. Steele played on both sides at Texas Tech from 2016 to 2020, although in his later years he played more on the right than on the left.
Collins saw snaps as a defense last Sunday in his return from the ban, but will return in the starting lineup for the first time since Week 1 this Sunday against the Broncos.
The decision challenges Mike McCarthy’s lip service from trying to maintain continuity at all costs in the group, something he threw out last week as the reason why Collins didn’t return to the starting lineup right away. Most people feel that the organization’s frustration with Collins coming to 2020 camp out of form before missing the season followed by his suspension going from two to five games thanks to his appeal was the reason he didn’t return to the lineup.
But things tend to work out and now without Smith the Cowboys are forced to bring Collins back inside the organizing kennel.
He might have been there if Ty Nsekhe hadn’t failed miserably as the in-game replacement for Smith. Nsekhe will serve as the swing backup for Week 9.
Steele has performed very well, as Pro Football Focus ranks him the ninth best tackle in blocking notes for those with more than 250 clicks in the season. For reference purposes, Smith is ranked second.
If extended to players who have lined up for at least one full game, Smith is third, Steele drops to 12th and Collins fits in the middle at No. 6.
But Steele played with the advantage of lining up alongside All-Pro Zack Martin throughout the season. He pairing up with left guard Connor Williams will be a completely different animal and it will be another test of offensive line coach Joe Philbin who has done a remarkable job in developing Steele from where he was as an unrecruited rookie pushed into an initial role after Collins. hip injury wiped out the campaign.
Playing the Broncos can be the perfect opportunity for the transition. PFF ranks Denver 20th overall in defensive grade, 23rd in pass driving and that was before they traded away Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams. Miller missed time with an injury, but the eight-time Pro Bowler would have been available to challenge the bookends if he had not been dispatched to the NFC.
Dallas may have to deal with that upcoming playoff, and hopefully Smith will return for those potentially epic matchups. Currently, they will be working on their business in the Week 9 regular season match while Collins and Steele reclaim.