The Dallas Cowboys cannot catch a break.
Already down several starters, the snakebitten club was forced to move primary weakside linebacker Keanu Neal to the Reserve/COVID-19 list, jeopardizing his status for Monday night’s home opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News reports Neal, who isn’t fully vaccinated, was deemed a high-risk close contact of an infected individual. He did not test positive for the coronavirus but nonetheless faces the NFL’s most stringent protocols.
“Since he’s not fully vaccinated, he becomes the 11th Cowboys player to enter protocol since Aug. 21. Will isolate from team and be tested daily,” Gehlken wrote on Twitter.
“Presuming Cowboys LB Keanu Neal can test negative for five days as a high-risk close contact, he will clear COVID-19 protocol in time for Monday night vs. Eagles, sources said,” Gehlken added. “But the starting nickel LB may be under a reduced workload, given he’ll miss the entire practice week.”
Assuming Neal fails to gain clearance, Dallas could head into its divisional grudge match sans its starting linebacker, wide receiver (Michael Gallup; injured reserve), right tackle (La’el Collins; suspended), defensive ends (DeMarcus Lawrence; injured reserve, Dorance Armstrong), and defensive tackle (Carlos Watkins).
ESPN’s Todd Archer reported Wednesday it’s “likely” that Armstrong, who has a high-ankle sprain, and Watkins, dealing with a sprained knee, will sit out in Week 3.
Somewhere, right now, Dan Quinn is punching air.
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Neal’s Absence Would Be Major Blow
He doesn’t garner the headlines of stud rookie LB Micah Parsons, but Neal quietly has been a solid addition to the Cowboys’ defense. The converted safety, who followed Quinn from Atlanta this offseason, ranks sixth on the team in tackles (9) while logging a combined 101 snaps across the first two games.
Neal’s absence would thrust forgotten veterans Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch into prominent roles against a speedy Eagles offense led by dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts. This, suffice to say, is not an ideal scenario.
“It would be a significant loss considering that he’s played the most linebacker snaps of anyone on the roster through the first two games,” The Athletic’s Jon Machota wrote of Neal. “The positive news is the linebacker is the deepest position on their defense.”
Machota speculates that fourth-round rookie Jabril Cox may receive a push up the proverbial pyramid if Neal weren’t able to play. Cox has yet to see a single defensive snap, relegated strictly to special teams.
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Gregory Expected to Go vs. Philly
In positive news, the Cowboys — barring another dramatic development — will activate star pass-rusher Randy Gregory off the COVID-19 list prior to Monday’s tilt. Gregory missed the club’s Week 2 upset victory over the Chargers after testing positive for the virus.
“We’ll have Randy back off the COVID list this week,” Cowboys VP Stephen Jones said Monday on 105.3 The Fan. “All the guys who covered our team here, you guys know what we think of Randy and the kind of off-season he had, the kind of training he had, the type of pre-season he had. Bring him back in the mix. I just think this defense should only improve as the season moves forward.”