Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) gets past Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Brandon Facyson (35) as Pollard returns a kickoff for a touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Cowboys going virtual with COVID-19 infections on rise again

The Dallas Cowboys are going virtual with meetings leading into Thursday’s game at New Orleans with COVID-19 infections on the rise again within the team.

Right tackle Terence Steele was among the positive COVID-19 tests and won’t play against the Saints, coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday.

Offensive line coach Joe Philbin and assistant strength and conditioning coach Kendall Smith, who missed the Thanksgiving Day loss to Las Vegas after testing positive, won’t make the trip to New Orleans.

Three more members of the staff will be out against the Saints in strength and conditioning coordinator Harold Nash Jr., assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko and offensive assistant Scott Tolzien.

The Cowboys will be missing members of their staff because of the coronavirus for the third time in four games. Running backs coach Skip Peete was out against Atlanta on Nov. 14.

McCarthy said players were showing up at the facility Sunday for testing and to-go meals and to make sure their equipment was set for an in-person workout in the afternoon. He said there was a similar plan for Monday, the heaviest practice day before the trip to New Orleans.

The NFL implemented more stringent testing and other protocols for the days after Thanksgiving. McCarthy said the club had been testing daily since Saturday.

“We’re part of the new protocol and I’m not sure if this is exactly what the league had intended starting on Thanksgiving Day,” McCarthy said. “We’re in a cycle right now that we’re paying close attention to it.”

McCarthy said receiver Amari Cooper was expected to rejoin the team Monday after missing the past two games following a positive COVID-19 test. Cooper isn’t vaccinated and was required to be out at least 10 days.

This outbreak for the Cowboys is similar to one that hit in the preseason and early in the regular season. Right guard Zack Martin and defensive end Randy Gregory each missed a game after positive tests. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was out for a preseason game.

Coronavirus issues first resurfaced earlier this month when kicker Greg Zuerlein missed a game after entering the protocols.

Steele’s absence should mean La’el Collins returns to his starting job at right tackle. Collins didn’t get his job back after serving a five-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

Collins did start once after his reinstatement because of left tackle Tyron Smith’s ankle injury, but Smith returned against the Raiders. Steele, who took Smith’s spot, returned to the right side.