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Tom Pennington / Staff

There's some bitter mixed with the sweet when it comes to the latest injury news for the Dallas Cowboys, but the good news for the team is the sweet is a warehouse full of sugar cane -- far outweighing the vinegary attributes. Dak Prescott, having pulled himself from practice in late July after suffering what was later diagnosed as a strained latissimus dorsi muscle, will return to "competitive throwing" on Wednesday and lead the offense in 7-on-7 drills for the first time in four weeks, announced Mike McCarthy. Prescott, however, ended up throwing in 11-on-11 drills, to the tune of nearly 20 tosses to solidify one singular fact:

He's back.

And on the same day Prescott will get back to officially throwing in practice, Greg Zuerlein will return from his back injury, with the Cowboys activating the veteran kicker from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. While both events were expected (and often reported by CBS Sports to be the plan for Prescott and Zuerlein), it doesn't underscore the importance of Dallas seeing its starting quarterback and kicker ramping up with plenty of time to knock off rust before the battle on Sept. 9 against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Although Prescott will not take the field in the preseason finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Zuerlein is expected to, hence the Cowboys opting to release kicker Lirim Hajrullahu on Tuesday, one week after signing him to have a viable kicker against the Houston Texans (after releasing Hunter Niswander with injured designation). 

OK, now pinch your nose shut because here comes the vinegar.

Having already moved CeeDee Lamb, Malik Hooker, Israel Mukuamu and Carlos Watkins to the COVID/Reserve list in the past few days, the Cowboys are having more issues on that front, also placing Damontae Kazee and Connor Williams to the list on Wednesday. An initial concern on Donovan Wilson -- who was escorted from practice on Tuesday by a trainer -- did turn out to not be COVID-related, but he is battling what's being described as a sore groin, as two sources describe it. So with Hooker, Kazee and Wilson sidelined for the moment, the Cowboys are extremely thin at the safety position going into the preseason finale. 

Mukuamu, who is vaccinated, returned to practice on Wednesday from the COVID-19 list.

They still have the bodies to throw at the Jaguars, however, putting the onus on bubble players to take full advantage of what might be their final shot at earning the trust of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn (who is waiting to be cleared from COVID-19 quarantine). Additionally, Rico Dowdle, the promising running back talent whose stock has gone up mightily in training camp and the 2021 preseason, has been moved to injured reserve ahead of final roster cutdowns with a hip injury, per source. 

And per NFL rules, the move effectively ends his 2021 season before it begins. Dowdle had proven himself a fantastic complement to Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, to the point he was all but assured the role of RB3. But in an instant, the door has flown open for undrafted rookie JaQuan Hardy, assuming he can continue to get yards after contact without losing his contact [lens]. Hardy led the team in rushing against the Arizona Cardinals in the second preseason game -- rushing for 32 yards on eight carries -- but he'll need to begin showing more consistency going forward.

The absence of Dowdle will also make it easier for another undrafted rookie to grab a seat on the 53-man roster, namely Nick Ralston, who is opening some eyes on the Cowboys coaching staff. If Ralston can use his exceptional athletic ability to become a target on offense, it'll go a long way to challenging for a role in September and beyond.

It's a lot to take in for Dallas, considering they now have five players on the COVID/Reserve list (Mukuamu is back) along with the loss of Dowdle, but with a 93 percent vaccination rate and vaccinated players allowed to return once they're symptom-free and produce two negative tests that are 24 hours apart, there's no concern that any mentioned will be absent in Week 1. And any who are unvaccinated are still in the green zone, considering they'd have to stay away for 10 days in a situation wherein the regular season opener is 15 days away.

There's never a good time to battle an outbreak in the locker room, but there are worse times -- i.e., during the season. Instead, they'll sort through all of this in late August as they also begin stretching their smile from ear to ear after uncaging "the lion" that is their franchise quarterback for the first time since July.

That alone is sweet enough to give them a cavity. 

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