FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys‘ preparation for Thursday’s game against the New Orleans Saints has been greatly affected by a COVID-19 outbreak that will knock out starting right tackle Terence Steele, three offensive coaches and two of their three strength coaches.
Offensive line coach Joe Philbin, who has been in the COVID-19 protocol since Thanksgiving, assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko, who handled the main duties in Thursday’s overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, and offensive assistant Scott Tolzien will also miss the game. Strength and conditioning coordinator Harold Nash was also placed in the COVID-19 protocol with his two assistants, Kendall Smith and Cedric Smith. Smith, however, could be cleared to return in time for the game.
“I think the biggest thing is just to make sure that the job description and responsibility is always tight,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “We feel really good about our game-plan process. How we’ll do the group meetings, we’ll spend a little more time together as a group. Yeah, so this is something that I think is an opportunity for young coaches to take advantage of. Definitely, I’ll be where I need to be this week. We have some moving parts.”
The Cowboys are doing daily testing for players, coaches and staff and will continue through Tuesday. The league imposed stricter protocols this week, but the Cowboys were in that mode before Thanksgiving. They will have virtual meetings on Sunday and Monday and could continue to do so on Tuesday as well, but McCarthy kept open the possibility of a “normal” practice two days before kickoff.
“We’re in a cycle right now that we’re paying close attention to it,” McCarthy said.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper missed the past two games while on the reserve/COVID-19 list but is expected back in the building Monday. Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb is expected to practice Sunday and be available against the Saints after not playing against the Raiders because of a concussion.
“I talked to [head athletic trainer] Jim Maurer this morning about Amari particularly and he just felt the conditioning was going to be something that we’re going to have to get a hold of tomorrow obviously for any player coming off of a 10-day stretch [without practice],” McCarthy said. “So we’ll know more tomorrow with a chance to work.”
All of this comes at an inopportune time for the Cowboys, who have lost three of their last four games. The plan was for a lighter practice on Sunday. After testing, players got breakfast to go and grabbed their iPads for meetings Sunday. The players will arrive at The Star for on-field work that will last about 75 minutes and then have virtual meetings following practice.
McCarthy said the Cowboys could move to a meeting plan they used last year in which the team was spaced out inside Ford Center for meetings.
“Going through the experience last year, it’s just a matter of which plan we are going to be in,” he said.