By SCHUYLER DIXON
AP Pro Football Writer
Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy checked into the team hotel the day after the Thanksgiving game as a precaution with COVID-19 infections spreading on his staff.
McCarthy ended up testing positive anyway, and isn’t the only one in his family dealing with the virus.
The second-year Dallas coach is out for Thursday night’s game in New Orleans, and will be among six coaches and staff members not making the trip because of positive tests. Right tackle Terence Steele also is out against the Saints after testing positive.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, in his first year with the Cowboys after getting fired during his sixth season as coach in Atlanta last year, will handle head coaching responsibilities in New Orleans. Quinn will move from the press box to the sideline.
McCarthy, who is vaccinated along with the entire staff, said he had a “scratchy” throat but mostly felt fine. He told players about the positive test during a virtual meeting Monday morning.
“Just stressed again, no different than I normally do, just stressed it from a personal perspective that this is real,” said McCarthy, who said family members had tested positive as well. “I’d like to think that I was super cautious. I just think it shows you the danger of the pandemic and the virus.”
The team is conducting meetings virtually while holding in-person practices. McCarthy said Tuesday’s activities also would be virtual, but he wasn’t sure about Wednesday. The team normally conducts a walkthrough-type practice the day before a game, also a travel day for road games.
The Cowboys had a COVID-19 outbreak in the preseason and early part of the regular season. There was a lull for about a month before cases ticked up again, starting with kicker Greg Zuerlein in early November.
Right tackle Terence Steele won’t play against the Saints after testing positive for COVID-19. Offensive line coach Joe Philbin and his assistant, Jeff Blasko, are out along with offensive assistant Scott Tolzien.
Two members of the strength and conditioning staff won’t make the trip: coordinator Harold Nash Jr. and assistant Kendall Smith. Another assistant in protocols, Cedric Smith, is expected to be cleared to return.
“Going through it last year and not really knowing, I definitely felt there was times that it affected the energy of our team,” McCarthy said. “But that’s something we’ll frankly talk about and acknowledge, and at the end of the day we’re going to have 48 guys with that star on their helmet and it will be their responsibility with all the support in the world to go out there and win that game Thursday night.”
Receiver Amari Cooper, who isn’t vaccinated, missed the past two games after testing positive for COVID-19. He returned to headquarters Monday but didn’t participate in practice. McCarthy said the concern with Cooper was conditioning, which might raise questions whether he plays against the Saints.
Steele would be the eighth Dallas player to miss a game because of the coronavirus. Four-time All-Pro right guard Zack Martin missed the opener, and starting defensive end Randy Gregory was out the second week.
“COVID is always something we’re going to have think about this year, and we’re having a little outbreak right now,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said Sunday, when the club announced positive tests for Steele, Blasko, Tolzien and Nash. “Guys just to make sure we’re taking that extra precaution and making sure we’re keeping ourselves, our families and our teammates safe.”
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