Dallas Cowboys: Will this rookie linebacker earn a starting role?


After the Dallas Cowboys signed veteran linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Andrew Gachkar in free agency this offseason, the Cowboys linebacker corps looked fully reloaded for the upcoming season. With a starting trio of Sean Lee, Rolando McClain and second-year phenom Anthony Hitchens, Dallas was expected to bolster one of the stronger linebacker groupings in the league.

Then, the Cowboys dropped a bombshell in the fourth round of the NFL Draft this year, selecting Minnesota linebacker Damien Wilson. A passionate player who was a tackling machine for the Gophers for two seasons. The 6-0, 245 pound prospect lost 15 pounds before his senior year to take his game to the next level. And the numbers show he did. Wilson recorded 119 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble starting in just 12 games last year.

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The biggest knocks Wilson had coming out of college were his lack of size and the fact he was too aggressive at times. Although some believed the Cowboys reached to draft him in the fourth round, the young rookie is proving those naysayers wrong. In fact, many are comparing his performance this offseason to that of Hitchens from last year.

Selected in the fourth round in 2014, Hitchen’s play and versatility was a big reason for the Cowboys defensive resurgence last season. Filling the various voids injuries created along the linebacker corps, the former Iowa Hawkeye recorded 75 tackles, six defended passes and had one interception during his rookie campaign. Some believe Wilson could have a similar impact on this Cowboys defense in 2015. And according to Clarence Hill, a writer for the Star Telegram, his recent play has earned him consideration for the vacant starting strong side linebacker position.

"“Rookie Damien Wilson got a run with the starters at strong side linebacker in practice on Saturday. He had been playing primarily weak side linebacker behind Sean Lee. Wilson had a strong outing in the preseason opener against the Chargers and has seemingly been rewarded with a promotion ahead of Kyle Wilber and Andrew Gachkar.”"

The Cowboys will be without starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain for the first four games of the season due to a league suspension. Combine that with the injury history of starting weakside linebacker Sean Lee, and an opportunity has opened up for the young rookie. According to Cowboys linebackers coach, Matt Eberflus, Wilson’s work ethic has earned him this opportunity.

"“Damien has been working his tail off in the fundamentals and basics of football,’’ Eberflus told the Dallas Morning News. “I think he’s improved tremendously up to this point and he’s only going to get better with his work ethic…If you’ve got a player who’s willing to work extremely hard and be a good listener and be a good practice player, then the inevitable is going to happen. He’s going to improve.’’"

But Eberflus also stressed this recent move is all part of the team’s plans to teach the versatile linebacker multiple positions in their system.

"“We’ve had 11 practices, so he has a real good foundation for playing the weak side with OTAs and mini-camps and now the first part of the training camp,’’ Eberflus continued. “He’s now going to make the move over to SAM.’’"

Regardless if Wilson actually wins a starting role or not, it appears the Cowboys have found themselves a steal in the fourth round for the second year in a row.

Next: Dallas Cowboys: This undrafted free agent dominated the Chargers