After finishing the positional preview of the Dallas Cowboys’ offense, last week allowed us to move to the defensive side of the ball, previewing the defensive line as Dallas looks to improve on the worst season in the history of the franchise. Today it’s time to look at the linebackers on this team and see what the coaching staff has to work with. As always, I will make one bold prediction about the position, describe what the team needs from each player, offer my guess as to who makes the final fifty-three man cut and rank where each starter ranks in comparison to others at his position across the entire NFL.
No unit on the entire team has more question marks surrounding it than this group. Prior to May 27th, the linebacker corps would have featured a budding Pro-Bowler and one of the best young defenders in the game. Then Sean Lee tore his left ACL along with the meniscus in that same knee. Now, it’s anyone’s guess as to what to expect here. Can Kyle Wilber continue to build on the final four games of last season or will he revert back to the relative obscurity that defined the first year and a half of his career? Will Justin Durant, the only veteran with any real experience as a middle linebacker, be able to be the anchor of the group or will he lose the opportunity to do so before the season even starts? Which Bruce Carter will we get? Will it be the Bruce Carter who looked like a deserved second round choice the last time Lee went down with a significant injury? Will it be the Bruce Carter who lost his starting job to a journeyman in Ernie Sims who is currently on his couch awaiting a call from a NFL team? So many questions and no real answers to be had.
DeVonte Holloman, 23
Anthony Hitchens, 22
Holloman improved as the year progressed, making the team as a sixth round draft choice and showing a lot of promise by season’s end registering eleven tackles and two sacks against the Eagles. Hitchens was drafted in the fourth round of this year’s draft as a backup option to Lee but could find himself in the mix with Holloman to push Durant hard for his spot as a starter. If the Cowboys can get the same production out of Hitchens that they did from Holloman, it would have to be considered a success to obtain two guys in back to back drafts chosen in the fourth round or later that contribute. That task has always seemed difficult for Dallas but both of these guys have the ability to do so.
Lawrence is the special teams ace of the group which should help solidify a roster spot for him. Lemon has been around the Cowboys both as a practice squad player and a roster call up when injuries devastated this unit two years ago but he never seems to stick as a full-time option. Sapp and Smith are both rookies and while the team did use a draft selection on Smith, it will be hard for either of them to make this team, especially now that Dallas has signed McClain. The move to bring in McClain is in line with the way Garrett likes to churn the roster. It really feels like Dallas will leave no stone unturned in an effort to find whatever talent they possibly can. McClain has been in and out of football over the last year, mostly due to personal issues but if he can ever get his head right, he does have a sizable amount of talent, compared to the rest of the options on the roster.
Rolando McClain does not give up on football, nor does he have any off the field transgressions and makes the final 53 man roster.
WHO MAKES THE ROSTER?
With Lee on IR for the year and Wilber, Durant and Carter penciled in as starters, I believe the Cowboys also keep Holloman, Hitchens, Lawrence and McClain
POSITIONAL STRENGTH RELATED TO THE REST OF THE LEAGUE
If you thought the defensive line was bad, compare them to this group and re-think that notion. Even the Cowboy fan with the most rosiest color of sunglasses on would very hard-pressed to rate the unit anywhere outside of the bottom five in the roster. There are just too many questions. No one on this roster has started an entire season at any linebacker spot in their NFL career. There are three rookies and two second year guys. The most talented guy available to play may not even make the team or he may just up and retire (again) depending on how he feels on any given day. At the end of the day, this unit will require a lot of patience and faith.