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Cowboys ‘100% Healthy’ - But Make Final Decision on Starting LB vs. 49ers

Now comes some roster transition for a unit that closed the season playing at an elite level.

FRISCO - “I’m damn fired up,'' said Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. "You kidding me? I’m ready to go.”

And now Dallas just needs to get all of its defensive pieces as ready as it sounds like their coach is.

On Thursday, though, some transition for a unit that closed the season playing at an elite level. One concern comes in the form of starting linebacker Keanu Neal, who missed practice with what the team is describing as a "chest/elbow'' injury. Neal was injured last week in the regular-season finale 51-26 win at Philadelphia vs. the Eagles, and in fact on Wednesday was listed as "limited.'' So his DNP on Thursday merits monitoring.

And indeed, on Friday morning, coach Mike McCarthy said Neal is “obviously struggling” with his recovery and that his availability will come “down to the wire.''

And now the Friday afternoon update following Dallas “mock game” workout: Neal is out.

The NFC East Division champions Cowboys, who pulled off a rare sweep of the division that featured a new franchise record for quarterback Dak Prescott, who threw five touchdown passes to break Tony Romo’s 2007 single-season record for the most in franchise history, feel good about the health of the offense with left tackle Tyron Smith (knee and ankle) being limited on Wednesday but getting the upgrade to "full'' on Thursday. (See McCarthy's thoughts on Tyron here.)

And they feel good in the front office as well, thanks to newly extended VP Will McClay (the inside-The-Star breakdown here.) But as that front office prepares for the tough challenge of the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card round this Sunday, there is another decision or two to be made. Jayron Kearse, who missed the Week 18 win at Philly, is back at practice this week. Kearse - a key piece of this defense, in a way that surprises many - had missed Wednesday as he's coming out of COVID. The team is also being careful with him as he's recovering from a sore hamstring. And they have until Friday to officially make their roster move.

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Kearse’s hamstring “looks good,” McCarthy said. “I think the time away definitely helped him.”

And as rookie DB Israel Mukuamu has a lingering hamstring issue, he has moved to IR to make room for Kearse.

Otherwise? As of Friday, other names that have popped up on the injury/illness list, like Micah Parsons, Tony Pollard, Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown and Ezekiel Elliott, all seem good to go.

So, as Prescott put it, "The real s--- starts!" now. 

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