Dallas Cowboys right guard Zack Martin likely to miss opener after positive COVID-19 test
FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys open their 2021 season Thursday night against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but don’t expect six-time Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin to take the field.
Martin tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, and he’s extremely unlikely to clear league protocols in time for the game. He must be symptom-free for 48 hours and then test negative for COVID-19 twice, 24 hours apart. Head coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged how unlikely that is.
“I would say so, yes,” McCarthy said Sunday morning when asked if the positive test will knock Martin out of the game. “He’s frustrated obviously. But hey, this is the world we live in right now.”
It’s a severe blow to a Cowboys team facing one of the league’s most vaunted defensive lines.
Martin has participated in team activities only accessible to vaccinated players. But the Cowboys have had vaccinated players – and a coach, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn – test positive. Star receiver CeeDee Lamb missed practices last week before he was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list.
The Cowboys avoided COVID-19 issues for the first month of training camp, but nine players have gone on the reserve/COVID-19 list since Aug. 21. McCarthy said symptoms have mostly resembled a common cold.
Cowboys backup offensive lineman Brandon Knight, a high-risk close contact, joins Martin in protocol.
“The numbers are up in our society so I think we understand what we need to do and I think we’re more rehearsed in the protocols and the adjustments, like make an adjustment today with the team, it was pretty seamless,” McCarthy said. “Everybody came in, we tested from 5:30 to 8 and we started at 8:30 so we’re still going to get our work done.
“We’re actually in virtual meetings this morning. They’re just trying to contain, make sure that we’re doing our due diligence with the COVID protocol procedures. But the players are en route right now so we’ll have a normal practice and then we’ll be social distancing and have our afternoon meetings will be the same. And we’ll do the same process again tomorrow.”
The Cowboys' offensive line was decimated last year, with four of five starters missing significant time. The team was expecting a full-capacity line anchoring its talent-laden offense before Martin tested positive.
Now, instead 2019 draft pick Connor McGovern is expected to start at right guard in Martin’s place. McGovern, who missed all of his rookie season on injured reserve, started eight games for Dallas in 2020. He’ll step into the shoes of a player with 104 starts and four All-Pro seasons under his belt. McCarthy lauded McGovern’s diligence and work ethic.
“I think he’s definitely more comfortable on the right side than the left side,” McCarthy said. “The video would reflect that. ... He’ll definitely be ready for this opportunity.”
Quarterback Dak Prescott, who's returning to live play in the game 11 months after a gruesome ankle injury that required two surgeries, will face a nasty Tampa defensive front with less assured protection. Running back Ezekiel Elliott was counting on defined lanes integral to both yardage production and draining clock time in hopes of keeping seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady on the sidelines. Expect those lanes to be blurrier.
“It’d be great to come out of that game not touching the ground, but how realistic is that?” Prescott said Friday of getting hit again. “Obviously it doesn’t sound very realistic. But I’m just excited for that moment, just to get it out of the way, just after 11 months without getting hit. I’m just excited for everything this game entails.”
The Cowboys have said their coaching staff is 100% fully vaccinated while players’ vaccination rate hovers around 93%. The Buccaneers have said all players, coaches and staff are 100% fully vaccinated.
The Cowboys and Buccaneers kick off in Tampa at 8:20 p.m. ET Thursday night.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein