The pandemic has already impacted the 2021 NFL season — and the first game is still four days off. The Dallas Cowboys will be without their best offensive lineman in Thursday’s season-opening game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Four-time All-Pro right guard Zack Martin tested positive for COVID-19 and will not play.
Who replaces Zack Martin in Cowboys’ opener?
Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy announced the news Sunday [September 5]. Connor McGovern, a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, will start in Martin’s place.
“He’ll definitely be ready for this opportunity,” McCarthy said of McGovern, according to the Dallas Morning News. “I like the way Connor goes about his business.”
McCarthy added that Martin is “frustrated, obviously. But this is the world we live in.”
McGovern should have a decent idea of what to expect. The Cowboys had a string of injuries on their offensive line in 2020, and McGovern filled in as a starter for eight of the 14 games in which he appeared.
McGovern can play both right guard and left but is more comfortable on the right side. Connor Williams will remain the Cowboys’ starting left guard.
McGovern did enough last year to prompt other teams to mull trading for him during training camp. But the Cowboys had no interest in dealing him because they wanted to keep the quality depth in the case of injury or illness. They probably never fathomed relying on that depth the first week of the season.
A few question marks surround the Cowboys’ offense vs. Buccaneers
Martin’s absence alone would have an impact on a Cowboys offense that wants to protect Dak Prescott and run the football. Yet, that damage would be compounded if right tackle La’el Collins is unavailable to play as well. He’s missed time recently with a stinger, although McCarthy stated that Collins has been cleared to practice.
Still, a backup right guard and an ailing right tackle starting against the defending Super Bowl champions is not an ideal way for Dallas to begin its season.
Nevertheless, the Cowboys should be used to it. They’ve dealt with adversity pretty much since the first day of camp.
Dak Prescott ready to go following shoulder injury early in camp
Prescott missed weeks with a shoulder injury, although the team insists he is “full-go” for Week 1. Wide receiver Amari Cooper (ankle) began camp on the PUP list but is also trending in the right direction. Additionally, CeeDee Lamb dealt with a stint on the COVID-19 list, although he has since been cleared.
The Cowboys learned of Martin’s positive test Saturday and moved quickly to mitigate any potential spread. They tested the entire team Sunday morning and conducted their meetings virtually.
The Cowboys’ locker room had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the league when they reported to camp, but owner Jerry Jones was determined to change that. Recently, on the Cowboys’ flagship radio station, he said that “our team is, for all practical purposes, totally vaccinated.”
“To me, this is a team game. We rely on each other to play. We rely on each other to win. And you certainly don’t want to be doing anything that causes your teammates to not be available. All of that comes to the same conclusion as far as what you agreed to be as far as a player, be part of a team. You check ‘I’ at the door so to speak.”