It's not time to panic for the Dallas Cowboys, but they are justifiably concerned.
The team mostly drives its success through two things: Ezekiel Elliott and the potency of the offensive line. Granted, the latter hasn't exactly been devouring worlds the past few seasons -- when you combine attrition with injury and, subsequently, the fact they've had to piecemeal the interior together on several occasions -- but the team had much to look forward to for the unit in 2019. Another offseason for former second-round pick Connor Williams saw him bulk up and level up his strength, and selecting rookie Connor McGovern in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft had the club wearing all smiles.
Then there's the prevailing headline, of course, that is the return of perennial All-Pro center Travis Frederick following a battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome that sidelined him all of 2018.
Things were looking up for the front five, and still are, but there may be an early hitch in their strut.
Less than two weeks away from the season opener against the New York Giants, the Cowboys' offensive line is already nursing injury. Back issues have kept left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin off of the field lately -- with neither All-Pro participating in the dress rehearsal or the practices leading into or out of it -- and the aforementioned McGovern missed most of training camp with a pectoral strain suffered earlier this offseason. He returned to the fold on Tuesday, but that was also the final practice of camp, which leads to questions about his readiness going into Week 1.
You can now add right tackle La'El Collins to the list of injured offensive lineman, with head coach Jason Garrett confirming the veteran is dealing with a shoulder injury that pushed him out of practice early on Monday and sidelined him altogether on Tuesday. It was initially reported Collins was dealing with a sore groin, but that doesn't appear to be the case. The good news is the expectation remains Collins, Smith and Martin will be available on Sept. 8, but the problem is nothing can be guaranteed yet.
For now, it's simply everyone's goal.
"The hardest part if just when you're feeling better knowing that you can't rush it because you can re-aggravate it and it can be a lot worse than where we're at now," Martin said from the final practice of camp, via Todd Archer of ESPN. "My goal is to be out there for every game this season. We've executed the plan well and we're putting ourselves in the best position to be out there each week."
Martin is usually an ironman for the Cowboys, but missed two games on the back end of last season with injury after having never missed one over the first four years of his stellar career. Not-so-arguably the best guard in the NFL, Martin's importance to the O-line is as paramount as Frederick in the middle and Smith on the left edge. And while Collins isn't in the same stratosphere as those three, he's still the best right tackle on the Cowboys' roster who also happens to be entering a contract season. Granted, when it comes to McGovern, if he does miss Week 1 or any amount of time, it'll be a case of "you can't miss what you never had"; but he is key for the depth that owner Jerry Jones is currently fawning over.
"We have as much depth as we've ever had since I've been in pro football," Jones said on Saturday when asked if the Cowboys have received calls for a possible trade of an offensive lineman, via Jon Machota of The Athletic.
Days later, the Cowboys are being reminded of why trading away any of the talent might be a mistake -- lest they're prepared to possibly repeat the mistake known as Parker Ehinger. The team was so desperate to secure depth across the O-line in 2018 following the news on Frederick that they traded away a high-ceiling young defensive back talent in Charvarius Ward to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for Ehinger, who went on injured reserve after going down with injury in his very first practice.
First-time offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has a heap of expectations on his plate, and would like to avoid that type of misstep in 2019. He'd also love to have all of his most potent weapons in tow against the Giants, because he's otherwise starting his career as a coordinator with a bit of a handicap.
Although Frederick has looked great in camp and in his minimal preseason snaps, the reality is he's still being monitored closely in his return to football. With three other OL starters also being managed by the team's training staff, Amari Cooper -- it's all the Cowboys can do to remain optimistic that everyone will be present and accounted for when the regular season kicks off in 11 days from now., and three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver
It's quite possible (and likely) everyone mentioned above will be, but the problem is -- right now -- no one can guarantee it.