Connect with us

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Linebacker Conundrum: Who’s In, and Who’s Out?

The Cowboys made the switch to the base 4-3 defense after their 2012 campaign produced a mild 8-8 record. Since the change in 2013, the team has only carried 6-7 linebackers on their opening day roster. As it stands right now, the team has 11 linebackers on the roster. That number may vary slightly as we near training camp, but because our base defense requires three stand up linebackers, I can’t imagine it to drop much before cuts to 75. This presents a relatively interesting situation to our personnel department as they’re going to have to figure out who makes the cut.



Cowboys Headlines -  41

The Cowboys made the switch to the base 4-3 defense after their 2012 campaign produced a mild 8-8 record. Since the change in 2013, the team has only carried 6-7 linebackers on their opening day roster. As it stands right now, the team has 11 linebackers on the roster. That number may vary slightly as we near training camp, but because our base defense requires three stand up linebackers, I can’t imagine it to drop much before cuts to 75.

This presents a relatively interesting situation to our personnel department as they’re going to have to figure out who makes the cut. It’s always interesting to see where the team feels they should go heavier or lighter. For example, because of the injury history of our quarterback, we’ve felt it necessary to carry three signal-callers in recent years. Because of decisions like this, we’ve needed to go lighter in other areas.

This is where versatility comes in.

What can a guy do for me besides play linebacker? Can he rush the passer in a pinch? Can he play special teams? Hell, can he play fullback? All of these questions factor into which guys make the team or not. So, because of the large amount of guys we currently have listed on the roster, I thought it might be a good idea to project which guys make the team if cuts were today.

Injured Reserve/Physically Unable To Perform

Let’s start with the injured reserve and physically unable to perform lists because they don’t count towards the 53 man roster. I think we can all agree that this is likely the target for Jaylon Smith. Until the nerve in his knee starts firing again, he’s not going to see the field. Having said that, his talent is too good to part with, and he’s a second round pick. All of this makes him a lock to start the season on PUP.

Now for your quick, friendly reminder that Keith Smith, a pet cat of some fans for the last couple years, has made a positional switch to fullback in hopes to make the team in a different role. This change was a little bit of a head scratcher for me, but if he thinks this is his best chance to make the squad, and the coaches see enough versatility in him to play both sides of the ball, I say go for it.

The reason I bring this situation up, is because it may allow the team to go a little lighter on linebackers, maybe even as little as five guys (though I think they would probably go heavier than that).

Locks To Make The Squad

Let’s talk about the locks to make this team. As far as I’m concerned, there is only one linebacker currently on the roster guaranteed to make the team: Sean Lee.

After finishing his first full season since 2011, Lee looks to extend upon his pro bowl play from 2015 and lead our defense this season.

All But Certain

Cowboys Headlines - The Linebacker Log Jam Conundrum 1Now for guys who are very likely going to make the squad in 2016: Rolando McClain, Kyle Wilber, Anthony Hitchens, and Damien Wilson.

With both McClain and Wilber coming into this season with new contracts, it’s tough to see them get waived before seeing a snap in 2016. Having said that, both players signed low, team friendly deals and wouldn’t cause a dramatic amount of dead money should the team want to go in different directions. Having said that, I just don’t see that happening with the combination of talent and versatility that McClain and Wilber can bring to the table.

Both Hitchens and Wilson are fourth round picks and are still on their rookie contracts. Both of those facts make it difficult to think either won’t make the team this season. Hitchens can also play SAM linebacker for you if necessary, giving him the versatility this coaching staff covets.

That gives us five guys (with Jaylon Smith on PUP as the sixth), with names like Andrew Gachkar and Mark Nzeocha still out there. IF Keith Smith makes the team, you could conceivably roll into week one without either of the aforementioned players on the team, especially since we tend to play a ton of Nickel defense which only requires two linebackers. Thus, you could go into the season with just Wilber as the SAM linebacker and flex Hitchens to that spot in a pinch.

I don’t think that’s the way it’s going to go. Without forecasting the rest of the 53-man roster, I think we roll into the season with six pure linebackers and I’ll tell you why.

I don’t think this team is going to carry a fullback, which leaves Keith Smith without a job.

The addition of both Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris gives us two solid zone running backs for 11 and 12 personnel formations. I think those guys are going to run more comfortably with cleaner holes and one less body in the way. This takes carrying only five linebackers off the table.

And The Final Spot Goes To…

Cowboys Headlines - The Linebacker Log Jam ConundrumOkay Ian, then who is the sixth linebacker to make the team? I think this coaching staff is really excited with what they’ve got in Mark Nzeocha. This is a player that a lot of personnel aficionados had graded as a mid-round prospect coming out last season. He fell to us in the seventh round due to both injury and limited position flex. He’s got an ideal build as an athletic SAM linebacker who some coaches think can push Wilber for starting time in base formations this season.

Now here’s something interesting to think about that furthers Nzeocha’s chances of making the squad. If we can get Jaylon Smith back at some point in the season, we would likely see one of these guys get knocked off the roster to make space, likely being Nzeocha. Having said that, because of his status on IR throughout last season, Nzeocha would be able to be put on the practice squad at any point in the season.

So that gives us Sean Lee, Rolando McClain, Kyle Wilber, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, and Mark Nzeocha as our linebacking corps this season. I think this is a solid group with some serious versatility.


Dallas Cowboys fan since the Drew Bledsoe “era.” I love Tony AND Dak. I like to think that I’m the most objective that a fan can get, while still being a diehard, which I truly believe is the 8th wonder of the world. Go Cowboys!!

Player News

Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

Sean Martin



Sean's Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

The Cowboys have just one more game to get through without their star running back Ezekiel Elliott, but Alfred Morris and Rod Smith deserve a ton of credit for the way they’ve been able to fill in out of the backfield for Zeke Elliott. Throughout the time Elliott has missed though, the Cowboys have lacked the explosive plays on offense that he can provide – until Rod Smith was given an opportunity last week at the Giants.

Smith complimented Morris exceptionally well, running with quickness and power to prove his case for more of a role on offense behind Elliott moving forward. It was the Ohio State product’s consecutive touchdowns of 81 yards through the air and 15 yards on the ground that sealed the game for the Cowboys in week 14.

Here is a closer look at Rod Smith’s performance from last week in this latest Sean’s Scout.

Smith3 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.


The Cowboys offensive line was dominant as always against a tough New York defensive front, and this first play is a great look at their execution in space and on the move. Rod Smith’s decisiveness when hitting the hole with speed and balance was the first thing I noticed on the game tape.

The best thing Smith does on this play comes at the second level, where running backs can truly make a difference in Dallas. As RG Zack Martin rides his man out of the play entirely, he gets in front of Smith who is seeing the play develop straight ahead. With his long strides, Smith is able to smoothly get through traffic and continue accelerating up field through arm tackles for a big gain.

Smith2 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.


These same traits are seen with Rod Smith as a pass catcher – something he does effortlessly to also help fill the void left by Elliott. Watch how quickly Smith commits to his angle up the field after catching this dump pass from Dak Prescott, attacking a defender that has the angle on him after the catch.

Rod subtly leans to the right just enough to make the defender hesitate long enough to allow his burst to evade him and gain extra yards falling forward.

Smith4 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.


Smith essentially does the same thing without the ball in his hands here, on his 81 yard catch and run for a touchdown. Setting up the safety out of the slot to be beat across his face, Smith separates from him at the stem and then does a great job getting depth on his route into the vacated middle of the field. With blockers to help him reach the end zone, Smith turns this busted coverage by the Giants into the game’s biggest play.

Smith1 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.


This last play I chose to show is probably the least well-blocked attempt for Smith out of the ones in this Sean’s Scout, but there is still a lot to like about what Rod does here with the ball in his hands.

The Giants might be a two-win football team, but they still have marquee players up front, particularly DE Olivier Vernon. Smith does well here to keep his feet moving as he cuts this play to the backside. Vernon does well to limit the potential gain on this play by staying away from the block of Jason Witten, as Smith is taken down by Darian Thompson.

The numbers the Giants had to commit to stopping the run was still a huge reason why Prescott had a career day throwing the football, and Rod Smith’s readiness to step in at RB was a deciding factor in getting Dallas to 7-6.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Proving to be one of the Dallas Cowboys most valuable players, considering his cost (under contract through 2018), and ability to contribute on special teams and offense, Rod Smith is the perfect RB3 for this team.

Smith is not elite in any one area, and is not a prototypical RB from a physical standpoint, but his contributions as a runner, pass catcher, and blocker could remain critical to the Cowboys’ hopes of reaching the playoffs behind this offense – even when Ezekiel Elliott is back in the fold.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat” in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


Continue Reading

Dallas Cowboys

Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who’s The Cowboys Real RB1?

Brian Martin



Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who's Cowboys' Real RB1?

The Dallas Cowboys are less than a week away from welcoming back their talented Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott, but until then they still have a game to play against the Oakland Raiders. That means we will have one more week of Alfred Morris and Rod Smith handling the workload, but which RB is sitting at the top of the Cowboys depth chart?

Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of decision that can end up winning or losing a game. Both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have had their moments during Ezekiel Elliott’s absence, but neither one of them have really distanced themselves from the other. So, should Rod Smith or Alfred Morris receive the majority of the workload against the Raiders Sunday?

A Case for Rod Smith

RB Rod Smith and QB Dak PrescottRod Smith might just have had is coming out party last week against the New York Giants. Against their divisional rival, in what was a must win game for the Cowboys, Smith rushed for 47 yards on six carries and added another 113 yards through the air on five catches. He also found himself in the end zone twice, once on a rushing touchdown and the other on a receiving touchdown.

You may or may not agree, but I believe that “Lightning” Rod Smith was largely responsible for igniting the Cowboys offense and helping them pull away from the Giants last Sunday. He accounted for over 160 total yards and two touchdowns by himself and didn’t receive the majority of his playing time until later in the game.

Rod Smith certainly has traits that make him a more desirable RB over Alfred Morris. First off, he is a more complete back. He is better in pass protection and at catching the ball out of the backfield. But, he is also starting to show up in the running game and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry this season. His size (6’3″, 235) also makes him a better short yardage back, although I wish he would deliver more of a blow at the end of his runs.

A Case for Alfred Morris

RB Alfred MorrisAlthough there’s nothing particularly special that stands out about Alfred Morris, he has proven time and time again he is more than capable of carrying the workload. He has received the majority of the workload during Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension and has performed pretty well. In fact, he is averaging 5 yards a carry this season, which is better than any other RB on the Cowboys roster, including Elliott.

Alfred Morris has looked pretty good this season and is playing with more of a spring in his step than I have seen from him in probably his entire career. Last Sunday against the Giants he received the the majority of the workload and finished the game with 19 carries for 62 yards. Not particularly spectacular, but the week prior he did rush for 127 yards on 27 carries in the victory over the Washington Redskins.

Like I mentioned earlier, Morris is a tried-and-true RB in the NFL and is at his best when he can continue to pound the rock and wear down opposing defenses. That is what he did against the Redskins, but he has his limitations as well. Despite his years in the league, he still struggles in pass protection and is limited in what he can do in the passing game. But, he does seem to have the trust of the Cowboys coaching staff.


Personally, I would like to see more of Rod Smith this coming Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. I really like what I’ve seen from him in both the running game and in the passing game. I just think he is a more dangerous and versatile weapon then Alfred Morris. His presence on the field really opens up what the Cowboys can do offensively.

I don’t mean any disrespect to Alfred Morris at all. I just think that Rod Smith has proven he is a more dangerous offensive weapon of the two. I don’t know if the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff will agree or not, but I truly believe Rod Smith could once again be the X factor against the Oakland Raiders.

Of course, both Rod Smith and Alfred Morris will have to take the back seat once Ezekiel Elliott returns. So, this discussion really only has any credibility for this week in yet another must win situation against the Oakland Raiders.

Who do you like better… Rod Smith or Alfred Morris?


Continue Reading

Player News

La’el Collins’ Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise

Brian Martin



La'el Collins' Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise 1

The decision by the Dallas Cowboys to move La’el Collins from left guard to right tackle was met by some skepticism by quite a few members of Cowboys Nation during the off-season. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was one of those skeptical of the move, but I’m not afraid to admit he has exceeded my expectations.

In all honesty, I always believed that La’el Collins’ best position in the NFL is on the interior of the offense of line as a guard. I thought he could use his strength and athleticism to his advantage when working in a phone booth against slower and less athletic defensive tackles. That’s not to say I didn’t think he would make a good right tackle, I just thought he had Pro Bowl potential as a guard.

Strangely enough, Collins has probably put together a Pro Bowl caliber season in his first season starting at the right tackle position for the Cowboys. He has become an upgrade over the previous starter Doug Free, and is really starting to earn high praise from the brass. Stephen Jones in particular has been impressed with Collins, especially considering how he has played after missing two full weeks of practice.

Mark Lane on Twitter

DallasCowboys COO Stephen Jones told @1053thefan La’el Collins has answered the bell after his contract extension.

I personally agree with everything Stephen Jones said about La’el Collins. I’ve really enjoyed watching his progression this season, but I have been really impressed how he played the last two weeks after missing so much practice.

You might not of known, but Collins has missed two full weeks of practice due to a herniated disc in his back. This is put his availability to play against the Washington Redskins and New York Giants in jeopardy, but somehow he has toughened up and played considerably well.

This unfortunately will be something he has to continue to battle through the rest of the season, but I’m not going to bet against him playing. He absolutely makes this offensive line better and I would hate to see Chaz Green or Byron Bell back on the field after the way they played as feel-ins.

La’el Collins has without a doubt earned my respect and I think it’s about time we all recognize the player he is turning into. I know the Dallas Cowboys appreciate all that he does and believe that his recent contract extension is money well spent.

What do you think about La’el Collins?


Continue Reading

Reader Survey

Want to help make Inside The Star better?

We’re collecting feedback from our readers about the site. It only takes <2 minutes to complete, and can be done from any device.

> Take the survey now

Don’t worry, your information will not be shared with anyone but me (Bryson T.).


From Our Partners

Enjoy 40% commissions on officially licensed products as a FanPrint affiliate. You can even make your own, fully licensed Cowboys and player designs! Get started here