After three weeks sidelined, Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton returned to practice Monday.
Dalton had entered the NFL's concussion protocol Oct. 25 and was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Nov. 3.
“He's cleared for practice and had a good day today,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said Monday afternoon. “We had a mock game-type practice for us, and he was a full participant.”
The Cowboys have started four quarterbacks in their last five games. Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury Oct. 11. Dalton sustained a concussion when absorbing a helmet-to-helmet hit followed by his unprotected head hitting the FedEx Field grass. On Nov. 1 at Philadelphia, the Cowboys started seventh-round rookie Ben DiNucci in a 23-9 loss. DiNucci was benched in favor of veteran journeyman Garrett Gilbert ahead of a Week 9 Steelers matchup in which Dallas fell 24-19.
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Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (14) passes the ball as Washington Football Team nose tackle Daron Payne (94) defends in the second quarter at FedEx Field. (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports)
Last week, McCarthy and Cowboys management praised Gilbert’s performance while voicing their support for Dalton as the starter once healthy. McCarthy declined Monday afternoon to give Dalton the nod ahead of 2-7 Dallas’ trip to Minnesota.
“Realistically, we have to get through the whole week in practice,” McCarthy said. “He hasn't been involved for a couple of weeks now. He looked good today. We're taking it one day at a time.”
Gilbert completed 21 of 38 pass attempts for 243 yards, a touchdown and an interception against the Steelers. He also carried the ball three times for 28 yards in his first professional start since the Rams selected him in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL draft. The Cowboys scored their first touchdown in three games on a 20-yard pass from Gilbert to receiver CeeDee Lamb.
The Cowboys consider a healthy Dalton their best option to take advantage of weapons including running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, tight end Dalton Schultz, and a receiving corps featuring Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Lamb. McCarthy acknowledged Dalton’s limitations in conditioning while under concussion and COVID-19 protocols, but said the nine-year Bengals starter “really hit” his workouts over this weekend while the Cowboys had their bye.
“Stating the obvious, Andy is a pro,” McCarthy said. “He’s in tune with where he needs to be. It was great to have him in there today. He's off to a good start.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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