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Rams-Cowboys preview: Dallas places 2 starters on IR ahead of Week 1

Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy inherited a talented team, but two key players will be out to start 2020

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys may be known for a few things headed into the 2020 season, but their offensive line and linebacker corps do stand out as having exceptional starters. New Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy will be a little shorthanded in those units to open the season however as Dallas placed starting right tackle La’El Collins and starting weakside linebacker Sean Lee on injured reserve — meaning they’ll be out at least three weeks under the current rules.

The Los Angeles Rams host the Cowboys in six days, debuting SoFi Stadium on Sunday Night Football at 5:20 PM PT.

Sean Lee, 34, has had a long career and has remained productive, playing in all 16 games last season and finishing with 86 tackles, one sack and one interception. Lee was named to the Pro Bowl in 2015 and 2016, also getting recognition as a first team all-pro in the latter year. Lee surprisingly led the NFL in interception return yards in 2013, then tore his ACL and missed all of 2014.

Lee has missed at least five games five times during his 10-year career.

La’El Collins started 11 games at left guard as a rookie, then missed all but three games in year two. He has started 47 of a possible 48 games at right tackle over the last three seasons and last season was described as “elite” by the SB Nation Cowboys blog off the back of his 86.4 grade from PFF.

For the time being, it seems that Collins could be replaced by Cam Erving, the disappointing former first round pick of the Cleveland Browns who has spent the last three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Erving started eight games at left tackle last season for the Super Bowl champions but the 28-year-old didn’t play well enough to garner much interest on the free agent market. He signed a one-year deal with Dallas in May.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys still have all-pros Tyron Smith and Zack Martin to block for the offense in addition to left guard Connor Williams and center Joe Looney, who is taking over for retired all-pro Travis Frederick.

Defensively, Dallas returns star linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch but there aren’t any strong options to replace Lee. The Cowboys depth at linebacker right now includes Luke Gifford, Joe Thomas and Justin March, all of whom are former undrafted free agents with little experience; Thomas started seven games for the Green Bay Packers in 2016 and two games with Dallas last season; March started five games for the Chiefs in 2016.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan — who has spent the last four seasons as a linebackers coach and hasn’t been a DC since 2014 with the Atlanta Falcons — may just switch around his personnel and may have already been planning a heavy dose of nickel.