We try to determine what newly signed veteran linebacker Justin Durant’s role will be this season in the Dallas Cowboys suspension riddled defense.
Welcome back linebacker Justin Ryan Durant. It’s not personal but I’m hoping you have very little playing time this season. The 30-year old returning veteran brings ten years of experience back to this team. Durant could thrive in defensive coach Rod Marinelli’s system. It’s just that I’d prefer Durant assume the role of a player/coach…with the emphasis on coach.
There are two opinions on Durant. He could be the savior of our defense or just a signing for additional linebacker depth. Durant joins eleven other linebackers currently on the Cowboys roster. Ten of the linebackers will have six-years of experience or less. Rolando McClain, Kyle Wilber and Andrew Gachkar are six-year veterans.
Jaylen Smith, Deon King and Derek Akunne are rookies. Anthony Hitchens, Brandon Hepburn, Mark Nzeocha & Damien Wilson are second and third-year players. Sean Lee is the proven veteran of the group. I’m not sure that Durant qualifies as a depth signing but eight linebackers played last year. And Smith may not play this season.
Let’s focus on Hitchens, Nzeocha and Wilson. I’m a believer in the younger, stronger, faster, smarter, healthier movement. I’d like to see these three players on the field more. They could benefit from the additional experience provided by reps during practice. These players will soon reach contract years and only Hitchens has had quality playing time. Doesn’t that make it hard to conduct contract negotiations?
What happened to our “player development”? Our front office seems to believe that unless a player is drafted in the first two rounds, they are unable to contribute on the field. Why is there such a considerable drop in skill and talent after the starter positions? If a player isn’t trusted to take the field, why are they on the team? They’re being paid to play football and have had on the job training. When is it the proper time to unleash the youngsters?
It’s been proven that people learn differently. Let’s take golf for example: I could tell you how to make the ball fly down the fairway with a slight right to left curve. I could write down guidelines to describe the golf swing in a step by step manner. I could show you videos of different golfers in slow motion. Finally, I could give you a golf club and maybe you’ll get better with each swing.
That’s the equivalent of Matt Eberflus, our linebackers coach giving verbal instructions for a play; writing down the players assignment; having a film study session of a play being executed and putting a player on the field during practice until they figure it out. Positional coaching is where I feel Sean Lee, McClain and Durant can benefit our younger players this offseason.
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There’s always competition, but our leaders and front office should be more pro-active in preparing to pass the torch. Cowboy Nation is understanding that the goal is to win now, but it’s asinine to ignore the future by not giving our younger players opportunities. Ignore the preseason win / loss record and allow our youth the opportunity to make plays. Give them a chance to gain the coaches’ confidence. If we lose a linebacker, I’m sure my in-box will be flooded with – “What if the Cowboys signed Ray Lewis or Joey Porter?”
Of course, no article is complete without expressing the severe disappointment in McClain for his selfish actions which led to a ten game suspension. The middle linebacker is a position of leadership, so decisions considered detrimental to the team should not be taken lightly. I would not be a fan of McClain joining the team after 10 weeks and receiving a Super Bowl ring. I want to reward the players following the rules during the offseason.
Reward the dedicated players that spend their offseason perfecting their craft. Reward the players chasing that sixth Lombardi like it’s a rare Pokemon. McClain doesn’t have that dedication and shouldn’t reap the rewards. It’s hard to believe that a player on a one year contract would be so difficult to cut. They didn’t have a problem getting rid of Joseph Randle last season.
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