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 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," 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 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 past four games.
"COVID is always something we have to think about this year," running back Ezekiel Elliott said, "and we're having a little outbreak right now so guys just got to be making sure we're taking the extra precautions, make sure we're keeping ourselves, our families and our teammates safe."
Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin said tight ends coach Lunda Well has done a good job stepping in for Philbin and Blasko. He was an assistant offensive line coach for the New York Giants from 2013-17 before moving to tight ends.
"Obviously you want everyone to be there, but it's kind of the day and age we live in now," Martin said. "The last couple years this is part of it. I think guys have gotten accustomed to kind of shifting on the fly and that's something we've got to be good at this week without our full room. We've got to be on point, help each other out because we're not going to have our two guys in there running the meetings all week."
The plan was for a lighter practice Sunday. After testing, players got breakfast to go and grabbed their iPads for meetings. 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.
"Going through the experience last year, it's just a matter of which plan we are going to be in," he said.