What are the Dallas Cowboys doing with Terence Steele and La’el Collins?

In one of the most head-scratchingest moves of the week, the Dallas Cowboys opted to start second year swing tackle Terence Steele over long-time starter La’el Collins at right tackle on Thanksgiving.

As an act of doubling-down on curious, Dallas followed this up by rotating in Collins over Steele three possessions in. Additionally, they decided to swap the Connors (Williams and McGovern) at the same time, essentially waving a giant middle finger at continuity gods they so often cite.

The Dallas Cowboys took a very untraditional approach to the offensive line this week and the experiment went poorly

With offensive line coach Joe Philbin out on Thursday for COVID, it made such experiments look opportunistic. Perhaps Philbin knew who he thought were the five best linemen and other Dallas Cowboys coaches thought differently? With no Philbin this was the perfect time to test a theory, perhaps?

We know a few things about this situation that muddies the waters in this seemingly simply competition: The Cowboys love Terence Steele.

The second year undrafted tackle from Texas Tech is a hard working player who responds great to coaching. He won the hearts of Dallas’ first year staff last season as rookie turnstile, and he won offseason awards for his dedication to the offseason program. He was even given team captain honors the other week.

La’el Collins, on the other hand, has started his relationship on rocky terms. Last year he showed up to camp out of shape and behind schedule. He immediately injured his hip that required season-ending surgery. The reputation of being occasionally lazy didn’t do him any favors heading into camp this year, yet he showed up in great shape and looking strong.

One bribed NFL official later, Collins found himself suspended for five games. While Steele was doing everything to endear himself to the Dallas Cowboys, Collins was basically a ghost. It’s perfectly understandable Mike McCarthy and staff prefer Steele over Collins – even if Collins is clearly the superior player.

Collins’ last season as the Dallas Cowboys RT he was elite. Graded as a top-5 OT in the NFL (out of 81 OTs) he was deserving of Pro Bowl honors – just lacked the name recognition. This year things haven’t been so neat and tidy, and last Sunday was probably Collins’ worst game in years.

Even with all the extra help thrown his way, Steele still leads the offensive line in pressures allowed this season

So Thursday could have been just punishment for a terrible outing in Kansas City. Or it could be a desire to develop a cheaper and more likeable player like Steele. That’s what we just don’t know. What are the Dallas Cowboys intentions because starting the best-5 offensive linemen each week clearly isn’t the top goal.

For as much as Steele has developed since his first disastrous start as a rookie, he’s still not at a level of play you want from your starting RT. With Steele in the lineup, Kellen Moore is forced to routinely keep TEs inside to chip and/or double – thus impacting their ability to make plays for the offense downfield. That slight adjustment hurts an entire layer of the Cowboys attack and cannot be understated.

Even with all the extra help thrown his way, Steele still leads the offensive line in pressures allowed this season. As you can see from yesterday’s scouting report on Terence Steele, he has a high ceiling for and NFL prospect and is someone scouts saw as a tantalizing project. But at the same time, he’s not exactly the first-round prospect La’el Collins was and will probably never reach Collins’ top level of play, no matter how well he develops.

It’s important to point out, Collins has been disappointing on all accounts since that brilliant 2019 season (by far his best as a pro). His conditioning, decision-making, and reliability have all been frustrating. If he stepped into the lineup last week and dominated, I’m not sure the Cowboys could have justified giving their favorite student a starting spot over him. Collins put himself in this position.

This is an interesting situation to watch and I wouldn’t trust much about what comes out of the coaching staff’s mouths concerning these two players. The real conversations are behind closed doors so we’ll have to let the Cowboys’ actions do the talking. Right now the actions say they want Steele to be a starter.

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I’m not sure how long this will last or if they will expand the rotation to more than a series or two but it’s certainly worth monitoring.