DALLAS — La'el Collins' 2020 went much like everyone else's: disappointing and ready to ring in 2021.
The former 2015 undrafted free agent from LSU struggled with a nagging hip injury throughout training camp and ultimately decided to have surgery on his hip on Oct. 6, 2020, to give him a shot at having a successful 2021.
"It was tough," Collins told reporters on Thursday after organized team activities. "I just kept going back and forth with myself. I knew that I had to get the surgery out of the way and miss the season. It was something that I wasn't looking forward to at all. And just getting surgery period, but it was something that needed to be done. So, I went ahead and got it done. I'm happy we got it done when we did, and I feel good and ready to rock."
The right tackle from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, says he weighs 313 pounds and has played at 323. Collins' goal is to get in the 308-pound range and let his weight fluctuate between that and 315.
"It was kind of my idea just coming from running and working out a lot," said Collins. "I shed a lot of weight. So, for me, it just feels good to be light and my strength is still there. So, I'm just going to continue to lean out and just keep my strength, keep building."
Collins, who has played 62 games for the Cowboys since 2015 and started in all but one of them, admits he feels "a lot lighter" and that he is able to use more of his athleticism during OTAs.
Said Collins: "They're kind of limiting me on going up against guys right now. Really just getting my feet right under me, getting used to being in a huddle again, which is awesome, getting in my stance, and just being able to go in different directions: run, change directions, cut, just doing all those types of things. And it feels good to be able to do those types of things. When we get to training camp, I'll be able to go full speed."
The Cowboys were hit early with availability issues along the offensive line. Prior to the COVID lockdowns and their impact on the NFL's offseason program, center Travis Frederick announced his retirement.
Collins' injury forced him to go on injured reserve before the Sept. 13, 2020 opener at the Los Angeles Rams. All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith played in just two games, which left the Cowboys grasping for answers at their bookend positions with Brandon Knight starting nine games at left tackle and undrafted free agent Terence Steele starting 14 in place of Collins.
"It was tough to watch that, especially having so many young guys in there," Collins said. "It was hard watching it for me. It was tough just not being able to be out there with my team."
The Cowboys have mandatory minicamp June 8-10 before starting training camp in late July. Collins figures to take it easy for the rest of the team's offseason program, but seeks to be a full go during training camp.
Do you think Collins will be able to bounce back in his return for the 2021 season? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.