The Dallas Cowboys are suddenly so thin on the offensive line, they grabbed a player who lives 10 minutes from training camp in California.
Good thing they at least had James Nelson in rookie camp in May, even if they decided not to sign him then. Funny what a little personnel emergency can do for someone who went to high school in nearby Ventura after finishing his college career at Texas-El Paso.
”They called and asked, `Hey, are you in Oxnard,”’ said Nelson. ”I said, `Yeah.”’
Nelson will be in Canton, Ohio, on Sunday night, and should play in the preseason-opening Hall of Fame game against Miami – three days after he signed. He says coaches told him to expect to play in the fourth quarter.
It would probably be even earlier if Nelson played guard. The Cowboys don’t have many healthy ones after starter Nate Livings underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee for the second time in six months on Friday.
Livings had recurring problems with the knee about the same time Kevin Kowalski, a backup, was sidelined with a bruised knee.
Dallas even lost a guard they signed along with Nelson on Thursday. Jeff Olson, a rookie from TCU, sustained a possible concussion in his first workout and his return was uncertain.
It’s unlikely Kowalski will return before the end of camp. Livings, who missed the first week of camp with a cut on his foot, may not be ready for the season opener Sept. 8 against the New York Giants.
”We don’t think it was too severe,” coach Jason Garrett said. ”We just want to clear that thing up. It’s very early. Better to address those things right now and give those guys a chance to be ready for the start of the season.”
There was a bit of good news Friday with the return of Mackenzy Bernadeau, the other starting guard. He has missed all of camp after straining a hamstring in the pre-camp conditioning test.
Garrett and Bernadeau said the guard’s return had nothing to do with the dire circumstances at his position.
”We play it safe,” Bernadeau said. ”It’s unfortunate that we have had a lot of injuries along the interior line. But I am at a comfort level where I feel all right and I will take some days off afterwards.”
Bernadeau won’t play in the opener, but Garrett still hasn’t officially said whether quarterback Tony Romo will play. He suggested to the team’s flagship radio station a week ago that Romo would sit because the Cowboys have an extra preseason game.
He offered some of the same reasoning Friday when asked whether injuries on the offensive line would keep Romo from playing.
”Typically (starters) don’t play a lot in the first preseason game of the four-game preseason schedule,” Garrett said. ”Certainly the environment you have for any of the players you are playing, you want it to be favorable.”
First-round draft pick Travis Frederick is one of the projected starters who will play. He’s been the No. 1 center in every workout with the Cowboys, but he played guard at Wisconsin.
Even with the injuries at guard, Garrett says the plan isn’t changing for Frederick, who has been getting work at guard in training camp.
”We anticipate him playing much more center but again we’re a little depleted up front,” Garrett said. ”He does need to get some work at guard at some point.”
There’s one other good thing at guard for the Cowboys. Ron Leary, who signed as an undrafted free agent last year despite chronic knee problems, returned to practice this week after dealing with a back issue.
Leary has been working with the first team and might be for a while. And he doesn’t care if injuries keep him on the field in the preseason opener longer than normal for a starter.
”If coach says, `Leary you’ve got the play the whole game,’ I’m going to strap it up,” Leary said. ”I’m going to play the whole game.”
It’s not quite that dire for the Cowboys at guard, but it’s close.