One week ago, the Dallas Cowboys were desperately seeking a win while welcoming back All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence to aid them in taking down the New Orleans Saints in Week 13, and that's exactly what he did. Despite having not played a regular season snap since Week 1, Lawrence showed zero signs of rust and impacted the game from the outset and throughout. Now, as they ready to visit the Washington Football Team, they're hoping for equal or greater impact from Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore, both being on track to return for the Cowboys first 2021 clash with their bitter NFC East rival -- a team that will likely be due to a potentially severe knee injury.
Gallimore has already been designated to return from injured reserve and simply awaits activation to the 53-man roster, and while Gregory has not yet been designated to return, the team appears ready to pull his two transaction triggers in rapid succession this week -- the goal being to have him in uniform at FedEx Field on Sunday, alongside Gallimore and Lawrence, as was initially noted by CBS Sports in November.
"We're getting a lot of great players back off the designated to return list," team exec Stephen Jones told 105.3FM the Fan on Monday. "... This week we should get back, barring a surprise, certainly Randy Gregory and [Neville] Gallimore. So, we're getting our guys back. We just got to continue to work at this, and hopefully these guys will start to play well and play fast together."
So, there you have it.
As long as there aren't any unexpected setbacks in practice this week, the Cowboys expect to get the defensive band back together on Sunday, and for the first time in 2021. For while Lawrence hadn't played since Week 1, Gallimore hasn't played a down all season after he suffered a severely hyperextended elbow in preseason play. In all, Gregory has been on the field with Lawrence only once this season (the opener) and neither have taken the field with Gallimore in 2021, evidence as to just how ravaged the Cowboys defense has been by injury along with how impressive it is to see them ranked in the top five in the league in several categories -- despite such adversity.
The latter is a testament to breakout seasons by players like rookie phenom Micah Parsons and interception-machine Trevon Diggs, but also to Dan Quinn, who has managed to make it all succeed in only his first year of inheriting what was one of the worst defenses in franchise history last season.
He's already getting images of sugarplums dancing in his head as he thinks about his defense finally being healthy, and at the perfect time, as the Cowboys try to mount momentum in December they hope can carry them through January and into February.
"It does make me think about the whole crew and where we were [in] our third block of the season," Quinn said on Monday. "There's excitement with that. And I think we've had 33 defensive players who have had meaningful snaps so far. If you had told me that back on Sept. 1, that we would play 33 guys, I might have said, 'Oh sh-t.'
"Now that it's happened, I was more like, 'Oh, shit, that's pretty cool.' There is some cool trust built and some confidence that happens when sometimes what you think might be the worst thing, losing guys for an extended time, winds up being the best thing because now we've got a big crew that is ready to roll in hard for this block of the regular season."
It's a valid point made by Quinn, the emergence of safety Jayron Kearse as a playmaker in the absence of an injured Donovan Wilson, as one example. And there's another, bigger one, that has seen one player in particular take the NFL by storm with his added opportunities.
"Maybe we don't have that moment where we put Micah into some different spots," said Quinn. "Now that we have that part of his game, it does allow the package to extend more. I'll certainly be looking forward to getting Randy and Micah and Law all together. I think if you had told me the three of those would have been together on the field for only 28 snaps heading into whatever it is, Week 13 or 14, that's not going to go good.
"But at the end of it, having guys play multiple roles and doing different things, I think that only adds value to what you're doing. We'll continue to add to the package with those guys.
Sitting at 8-4 on the season and in first place in the NFC East with the No. 1 seed in the conference still in reach, the Cowboys defensive unit went from having depth concerns prior to the season to welcoming back star players to tandem with backups who have often proven themselves capable of being starters themselves. It's a potent concoction being mixed in Dallas following a forgettable