Consider the plight of the underdog Dallas Cowboys opening the season in New York on the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy and facing a Super Bowl-caliber Jets team motivated to inspire a city and a fan base.
Now consider the same Cowboys having to do it at less than full strength because of a litany of injuries, including two new ones on Wednesday. Rookie tackle Tyron Smith, the ninth overall pick in the draft, and former Pro Bowl cornerback Mike Jenkins, suffered knee injuries in practice and are uncertain for the game.
Jenkins and Smith underwent MRI exams Wednesday evening. The results will be made available today.
The early word on Smith was that he suffered a hyperextended knee, which in general has a two-to-four-week recovery process. The Cowboys are waiting to see the extent of the hyperextension before determining a prognosis.
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If Smith can’t play, then Jermey Parnell will have to play right tackle, adding more intrigue to a revamped offensive line that already had first-year starters in Smith, rookie Bill Nagy at right guard and second-year player Phil Costa at center.
The situation was already acute at cornerback with starter Terence Newman all but ruled out of the season opener with a groin strain. Newman missed the entire preseason with the injury and was expected to be ready for the Jets game. However, owner Jerry Jones said Wednesday he would not be available.
If Jenkins, who also missed the preseason with a neck injury, is unable to play, the Cowboys will have just three healthy cornerbacks on Sunday — Orlando Scandrick, Alan Ball and Bryan McCann.
Costa is expected to play after missing the last two preseason games with a sprained knee.
He too was limited in practice along with linebacker Bradie James (knee) and receiver Miles Austin (hamstring). Backup tight end Martellus Bennett didn’t practice, but showed some improvement and could play Sunday.
All in all, it’s not the ideal way the Cowboys hoped to start the season health wise. Jones acknowledged the team could make additional roster moves by the end of the week for depth purposes.
There was no dejection in the Cowboys locker room about the injuries or the buzz saw they will face Sunday.
The players echoed coach Jason Garrett in saying there will be no excuses and acknowledging the opportunity for someone else to step up.
“You have to step up now,” linebacker Bradie James said. “That’s how it goes. We've got to go get it. Guys go down, you've got to keep rolling. The New York Jets are going to be waiting at 8:20 p.m. Eastern time.”
Garrett used the situation to preach to his team about taking advantage of its opportunities.
Using Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Miles Austin as an example, Garrett said “our team is littered with guys who got the opportunity to play because somebody got hurt. Hopefully, backups understand the value of their opportunity and come in and move right along.”
The Cowboys are taking the same attitude toward being the opponent in an emotionally charged stadium.
Defensive end Marcus Spears remembered how the nation embraced the New Orleans Saints and rooted against the Atlanta Falcons in the first game back at the Superdome following the Hurricane Katrina tragedy.
Although the Cowboys are known as America’s Team, he said they will be in the same situation against the Jets.
“Everybody is going to be rooting for New York,” Spears said. “It’s New York’s day. Our motivation is to win. We just go play the game. The team that plays the best is going to win.”
Jets coach Rex Ryan is certainly using the situation as motivation; saying he feels more pressure to win Sunday’s game than any other in his career because of what it means to the city and the fans.
“I certainly feel it,” Ryan said. “’Being in New York with the World Trade Center and all that, it was 2,253 perished obviously it is not going to bring people back winning this game. I feel we were chosen for this game to play in our stadium on this anniversary of this tragic event. I think it’s a way to bring people together and we think the New York Jets would want to put smiles on the faces of our fans and our community. That is what we plan on doing.”
Garrett and Jones however are saying the game is important to the Cowboys and their fans, just as it is to the Jets, because 9-11 was a national tragedy.
“I don’t think in any way it was a regional event.” Garrett said. “It was an international event. Obviously, it was like none other in our planet’s history, let alone our country’s history. I certainly feel like the responsibility that we have as members of the Dallas Cowboys to be at our best is no less than the responsibility that the Jets feel to be at their best.
"And it’s a responsibility that we have every week, but certainly there’s going to be heightened emotions with this event, so we’re going to try to calm our emotions to allow us to play and coach our best and represent ourselves as well as we can as a football team.”
Clarence E. Hill Jr. 817-390-7760