Cowboys see season clouded by injuries, hope for brighter future than 2015

FRISCO, Texas -- At the start of Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith was a spectator because of back spasms. So was cornerback Orlando Scandrick because of hamstring strains to both legs.

Quarterback Tony Romo was on the sidelines, continuing his recovery from a compression fracture in his back.

On the second play of the game, wide receiver Dez Bryant suffered a right knee injury, the extent of which remains unknown as the Cowboys await results from an MRI. Bryant returned after six plays, but was on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter as the Cowboys ran out the clock. Later in the first half, left guard La’el Collins suffered a toe injury and watched the second half in flip-flops. On Monday, sources said he will need surgery that likely will knock him out for the rest of the season.

Add that to the brief absences of Cole Beasley, Morris Claiborne and Andrew Gachkar, and the Cowboys have found their depth being seriously tested.

Injuries are a way of life in the NFL. Every team has them. The best teams succeed in spite of the injuries. The Cowboys also are dealing with suspensions; two of them, to defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory.

Last year, the Cowboys didn’t have Romo for 12 games because of a left collarbone that was broken twice. They lost Bryant for seven games because of a broken right foot. They did not have Scandrick for the entire season because of torn ligaments in his knee. They did not have Claiborne for five games because of hamstring strains. They lost safety Barry Church to a broken arm in Week 16.

They suffered through a 4-12 season largely because of all that.

Now they are in position to see how they fare through the injuries in 2016.

“I think the most important thing you can do in the offseason is build the team the right way,” coach Jason Garrett said. “A 16-game season in the NFL, there are a lot of challenges that come week in and week out, and one of them is dealing with the injuries that are inevitable over the course of that time.

“The better you build your team, the better you’re able to handle and absorb the injuries that happen over the course of those 16 games. Every team deals with injuries. Everybody has a next-man-up philosophy and hopefully the guy you put in there is capable of doing what you’re going to ask him to do and you create an environment for him to be successful.”

Bryant’s status is the largest injury cloud over the Cowboys. There was a silence around Romo’s injury that turned out to be much more serious than anybody with the team thought on Aug. 25. There is a similar silence around Bryant’s knee.

“It looked a little bit to me like he could feel that, but Dez is a tough individual,” Garrett said. “I think we all know that. He was going to fight through it. He played a number of plays in the game. At the end of the ballgame made a big play for us, the touchdown on the slant, where he caught it and knocked over a couple of guys to get into the end zone. He looked a lot like himself on that particular play. But again, we’ll see how he feels.”

Romo will be back by the end of October or early November. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said there is nothing structurally wrong with Smith’s back. Scandrick could need another week to rest his hamstrings, but will be back. The Cowboys have Ronald Leary, a full-time starter in 2013 and ’14, ready to replace Collins. Lawrence will be back on Monday, which will help the defensive line.

The biggest test the Cowboys face will not be the remaining teams on their schedule. It will be how they deal with the adversity caused by injuries.

Last year, they failed at it miserably.

On Sunday against the Bears, they passed, but they will be tested plenty more times.