Mac Engel

Don’t panic but worry about this Cowboys’ bad back

Jason Garrett after Cowboys’ win over Texans in the preseason

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett discusses his team's dominant performance in a 34-0 win over the Houston Texans in the preseason.
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Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett discusses his team's dominant performance in a 34-0 win over the Houston Texans in the preseason.

There are a handful of candidate’s whose physical status should be a point of concern for every single Jones, Garrett and Dallas Cowboys fan.

Put Tyron Smith’s back at the top of the list, above Amari Cooper’s foot, Jaylon Smith’s knee, or Tank Lawrence’s lousy labrum.

Smith has been limited, again, thus far this preseason and will not play in the last fake game of this exhibition nonsense on Thursday night when the Cowboys host ... some team. I don’t even know what team they play, nor do I care ... which is no different than the Cowboys themselves.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he thinks he will have the regular starting lineup by Sept. 8, when the Dallas Cowboys host the New York Giants in the first game of the NFL’s regular season.

That means Tyrone Crawford, Amari, Tank and, yes, Zeke. This assumes running back Ezekiel Elliott will have reported to the team by that date.

So while the Cowboys All-Pro left tackle figures to start in Week 1, the concern is if he is right with ball.

Smith was held out of practice again on Monday, and chances are good we won’t see him until next week.

TYRON SMITH’S BACK

The concern is a back which has given him troubles off and on for the last few seasons; how much longer can he endure and deal with it?

As the NFL witnessed with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, players have a breaking point. An increasing number of them are quitting earlier because they are sick of dealing with the pain.

No one is suggesting that Tyron Smith will pull a Luck and just quit any time soon. The more likely scenario is the pain will linger and continue, and it will simply impair him.

Rather than play in the unofficial dress rehearsal game on Saturday, Smith sat out to have his back examined.

“I think we feel good about where he is. We’re treating it the right way and he’s responding to treatment so we’ll see,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Time is important, a little bit of rest is important and hopefully over the next few days he’ll be back on the practice field.”

This is simultaneously nothing and alarming.

Smith not playing in the preseason does not mean much. He is 28, and a six-time Pro Bowl selection. He doesn’t need to do anything more than what he feels necessary to prepare for Week 1.

The fact that he has not played a game since January and already his back needs evaluating is the concern.

Smith started every game he played in since his rookie year in 2011 through 2015; he missed one game and start in 2012.

He has missed three games in each of the last three years. A hamstring here, a stinger there, and a back thing that is quietly mentioned.

The trouble with “bad thingy” is they never quite go away. Ask Tony Romo about a back thingy.

Visibly, Smith looks like the same player. The concern is whether he can bend adequately, and move laterally, to play the position.

I asked Garrett if Smith can bend the same way.

“He’s a dominant player. He’s a great football player,” Garrett said.

That’s not an answer.

“He’s just dealing with this issue right now. We don’t think it’s a long term issue,” he said. “Hopefully he’ll be ready to practice in the next week or so and certainly be ready for the Giants. That’s what we think. Whenever he’s been out on the practice field or played for us, he’s played at a very high level.”

Quarterback Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times last season, but Smith was not anchored with a single one of those sacks. A number that big is more apt to be on the quarterback; Dak has to get the ball out of his hand quicker.

Smith was also called for 10 penalties last season, seven of which were holding calls. That’s a high number for a player this good.

Any left tackle worth a bleep is going to be one of the most important players on a team with a high dollar quarterback.

Smith is that, and when he has missed games his absence has been noticeable. Sometimes to a pathetic depths.

Few people will ever forget the Chaz Green Game in November of 2017. With Smith out because of injury in Atlanta, Green allowed six sacks to Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

The Cowboys have done a better job of addressing their backup linemen; Cameron Fleming is an upgrade at backup tackle, and perhaps 2018 rookie guard Connor Williams can move over when the time comes.

Neither is as good as Smith at left tackle.

There is no reason to panic today, but worrying is appropriate.

Once a back goes bad, it never comes back.

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