Dallas Cowboys OG Zack Martin tests positive for COVID-19, out for Thursday opener vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys will be without Zack Martin for Thursday's season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the six-time Pro Bowl right guard tested positive for the coronavirus and landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Because of the return-to-play protocols, Martin will not be cleared in time to play, although he is vaccinated. A fully vaccinated player can return to play in five days if he does not have symptoms following two negative tests separated by 24 hours. An unvaccinated player faces at least a 10-day quarantine.

"He's frustrated obviously," coach Mike McCarthy said. "But hey, this is the world we live in right now."

The loss of Martin is a huge blow for an offense that did not take a snap fully together in the preseason -- the Cowboys held out quarterback Dak Prescott because of a shoulder strain -- and will face a Buccaneers run defense that was the best in the NFL last season.

"Zack's our best player on our offense. I mean most runs, they coming back behind him," running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "It's disappointing but you can't harp on it, can't let it be more than what it is. I mean, definitely going to miss him, definitely wish he was out there, but we still have a game to go play and we got to try and get the job done."

The projected starting offensive line -- Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Tyler Biadasz, Martin and La'el Collins -- played just three series together in four preseason games.

With Martin out, Connor McGovern would start at right guard. He started eight games last season (six of which came when Martin was out because of injury). Collins is dealing with a stinger issue but has been cleared to return to practice Sunday, as will Williams, who has missed the past two weeks after a stint on the COVID-19 list as well.

Backup offensive lineman Brandon Knight has been classified as a high-risk close contact and has also been placed on the list, while wide receiver Noah Brown remains on the list.

The Cowboys have had nine players on the COVID-19 list so far, which is more than they had all of last season.

Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb came off the list last week. He said he lost taste and smell for about a week and to make up for the missed practices he ran around his neighborhood or a nearby field.

"I feel a lot better now," said Lamb, who will play Thursday.

He said he knew he was improving while brushing his teeth.

"I literally stopped and looked in the mirror and was like, 'Whoa. OK.' I could taste it again," he said. "It was mint. Imagine not tasting mint for a week and then just understanding like, wow, you really can't taste anything. It's real. Take it serious, bro. That's my message."

McCarthy said most players have had symptoms related to a "general cold," and added that as soon as players fear a symptom they have contacted the team to begin testing.

"I feel our process is in order," McCarthy said.

Players went through a testing period Sunday morning and held virtual meetings before arriving at The Star for practice. They will have virtual meetings after practice, and that will be the routine on Monday as well.

"It's definitely a tough situation we're going through in that we're battling, we're focusing on limiting those situations, the exposure was going on," Lamb said. "It's just kinda unfortunate on our end when we do everything right and not really understanding where it's coming from. But at this point, we've just got to play it safe."