FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Travis Frederick at first stayed engaged with his teammates because the Dallas Cowboys center wasn’t sure how long he would be out with a neurological disorder diagnosed during training camp.
By the time new offensive line coach Marc Colombo offered him a headset after Colombo was promoted as part of a midseason change, Frederick figured, “What the heck.” And by then, it had become increasingly clear the four-time Pro Bowler was unlikely to play this year.
Now Frederick has a completely different view of the sideline with the Cowboys on the verge of making the playoffs without the 2016 All-Pro, and an offseason plan to return to the field now that he’s mostly over the effects of Guillain-Barre syndrome.
“I feel like I have been at least able to lend some of my knowledge and experience for some of the guys that haven’t played nearly as much,” Frederick said. “It’s been good having another set of eyes. I didn’t realize how difficult it is to watch five guys play at the same time and be able to help.”
Frederick will have the headset again Sunday when the Cowboys (8-6) try to wrap up the NFC East title, which they can do by beating Tampa Bay (5-9) at home.
The 27-year-old’s immediate football future has been uncertain the past four months , since he finally got an answer to why he was experiencing what felt like football “stinger” injuries in his upper body during camp in California.
Guillain-Barre is an auto-immune disease that attacks nerves and leads to weakness in various parts of the body. Frederick said his case was detected early , which helped avoid some of the severe symptoms that can include paralysis and difficulty breathing.
Even with the expected full recovery, Frederick knew getting back in football shape would take weeks, at a minimum. All along, he wanted to do what he could in meetings and sideline chats.
Frederick has always been in charge of the line calls, pretty much from the moment he stepped in as a rookie starter in 2013 and went on to play the first 83 games of his career, playoffs included. Still, the view with the headset has surprised him.
“It was definitely an eye-opening experience trying to understand how much was happening during a game and how difficult it is for, like the coordinator to be able to call those plays that quickly,” Frederick said. “You don’t think about it when you’re watching the game. It just flows.”
The “quasi-coaching role,” as Frederick put it, hasn’t changed his long-range outlook much, with five years remaining on the contract he signed in 2016. But he did get something out of a season that easily could have been classified as a lost cause.
“He’s been with us every step of the way, doing everything he can to get himself back,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s also really engaged with our guys. You talk about the job Marc Colombo has done with some of the guys who are playing, Travis has been a big part of that.”
Injuries are hampering the Dallas line again late in the season, with 2014 All-Pro right guard Zack Martin missing the first game of his five-year career against Indianapolis after aggravating a preseason knee injury two weeks ago in a win over Philadelphia.
Rookie Connor Williams began the season as the starting left guard before a knee injury opened a spot that Xavier Su’a-Filo kept with a solid performance as his replacement.
Williams re-entered the lineup in Martin’s spot, and Su’a-Filo missed part of last week’s 23-0 loss to the Colts after getting poked in the eye by teammate La’el Collins. Su’a-Filo was a full practice participant Thursday.
During the first half of the season — before other ailments starting hitting the line — the Dallas offense was inconsistent at best. The addition of receiver Amari Cooper in a trade helped boost production during a five-game winning streak.
All along, running back Ezekiel Elliott stayed in contention for his second NFL rushing title in three seasons. He has a 98-yard lead over Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams with two games remaining.
Joe Looney has started all 14 games in Frederick’s place — one more start than the career backup had in his first six seasons combined. Looney said Frederick has been there with pointers on techniques and pass-blocking philosophies, among other things.
“It’s been good knowing that our goal always is to improve through the year,” Frederick said. “To see that this group is improving and has improved fairly steadily throughout the year, it’s sort of a proud moment, knowing that I couldn’t be out there but these guys are doing that and I’m doing what I can.”
Regardless, Frederick will happily trade the headset for a helmet in eight months.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL