The Cowboys learned just how valuable a couple of key players were last season when they spent time trying to fill the shoes of injured left tackle Tyron Smith and linebacker Sean Lee.
Jason Garrett has given details about how the team is taking a deliberate pace with some veterans in an effort to keep them healthy, not just in training camp but throughout the season. Lee, for example, was expected to up his participation in practice on Saturday afternoon.
Earlier this week, Smith, who missed three games last season, talked with the media about his efforts to stay healthy throughout this season.
“They’re pretty much taking care of me,” Smith told the Cowboys official website. “They don’t really need to, but they feel like they need to. I’m going along with the plan they have for me, and I’m coming out here to work as much as I can.”
With Lee and Smith in mind, here are the five Cowboys players they can least afford to have out of the lineup this season.
DE Demarcus Lawrence – Lawrence was a difference-maker last season when he racked up 14.5 sacks. The Cowboys could have a solid defensive line spearheaded by Lawrence this season. But if Tank isn’t in there, Dallas has a lack of proven production and suddenly the D-line would be a big question mark.
RB Ezekiel Elliott – The guessing game about whether or not Elliott would be available from week-to-week last season, as his fight against the NFL’s personal-conduct policy dragged on, wasn’t fun. The best thing this time around would be for Elliott to stay in the game and drive the offense like he did in 2016.
LT Tyron Smith – Smith only missed three games last season, it just seemed like more. The Cowboys lost the two starts he missed in November, falling to the Falcons and Eagles and giving up 12 sacks while scoring just one touchdown in the process.
LB Sean Lee – Dallas went 8-3 in the games Lee started last season. He missed five games, but still led the team in tackles. With tight end Jason Witten’s retirement in April, Lee becomes one of the team’s prime leaders and the Cowboys need him to stay on the field, making plays.
QB Dak Prescott – No big surprise, the QB spot is important. Prescott had a breakout rookie season in 2016 and Cowboys fans are looking for him to be a franchise quarterback. His backup, Cooper Rush, played in two games as a rookie last season and attempted three passes. Bottom line, Dallas needs Prescott running the show on offense.