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Cowboys’ Linebackers Have Potential To Be Special In 2017

Brian Martin

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Cowboys' Linebackers Have Potential To Be Special In 2017 1

Unfortunately, the Dallas Cowboys don't report to training camp for nearly another month. That means there isn't much going on football wise, so all we can really do is speculate about certain topics right now. One such topic that hasn't really been discussed much is the how Cowboys' linebackers have the potential to be something special in 2017.

The Dallas Cowboys biggest area of weakness over the past several seasons has been their defense. That is why the main focus this off-season was finding the right players to improve the roster and depth on the defensive side of the ball.

Defense. Defense. Defense. This is the main area of focus Cowboys' fans will be paying attention to the most once the pads come on in training camp. Nearly every position on defense will be overhauled and will likely see at least one new face starting in 2017. And yes, that includes the Cowboys' linebackers as well.

Even though the Dallas Cowboys didn't really add anything new to the linebacker position this off-season, I think this unit could possibly be the best on the entire defense and turn into something special if things turn out right. This might just be the most talented group of linebackers the Cowboys have had in quite some time.

Jaylon SmithThe majority of the talk surrounding the Cowboys' linebackers has centered around second-year player, Jaylon Smith, and his still progressing recovery from his devastating knee injury. All Cowboys' fans are hoping Smith can return to his collegiate form, but unfortunately the jury is still out until he can prove he can stand up to contact when the pads come on in training camp.

Word is Smith has looked really good in noncontact drills throughout organized team activities (OTA's) and minicamp practices. This is certainly really good news for the second year LB, because the Cowboys' defense could certainly use his playmaking ability. But, Smith's return to the field is only partially why I believe the Cowboys' linebackers could be special in 2017.

The old man of the group, Sean Lee, has stated that this is probably the healthiest he has felt in his entire NFL career. To think that Lee could be even better than what we have seen from him in his career is scary. He is already one of the best LBs in the league and having him at 100% makes the defense better.

Sean Lee is without a doubt the Cowboys best defender. Keeping him on the field is in the best interest of the entire defense, because they simply aren't the same unit without him. He is the heart and soul on the defensive side of the ball.

But, Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith aren't the only Cowboys' linebackers who look to have improved since last season. Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson have also been reportedly playing really well in these off-season practices so far.

Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, Anthony HitchensAnthony Hitchens was thrust into the starting lineup after troubled linebacker Rolando McClain decided to call it quits. Hitchens has been a solid contributor for the Cowboys' defense since his rookie year and did a good job last season as a starter.

Hitchens has supposedly been flying around in practices and has looked like a man possessed. He has heard all the talk about Jaylon Smith coming in and taking his starting position, but it doesn't look as if he's going to give it up without a fight.

Then, you have Damien Wilson. Wilson's 2016 season didn't get off to a very good start due to an unfortunate eye injury because of a paintball accident. That injury caused him to miss time and much-needed practice, which hindered his development. He ended up finishing last season strong and looks to build upon that success in 2017.

Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, and Jaylon Smith are all athletically gifted linebackers. These four really give Rod Marinelli options about how he wants to deploy his LBs, because they are all crosstrained to play each LB position.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if the Cowboys' linebackers are able to stay healthy in 2017, they end up being one of the best LB units in the entire NFL. That in turn should help improve the overall play of the entire defense, which should be encouraging considering to all Cowboys' fans.

I know this is a bold statement to make and is all based on speculation at this point. But, I truly believe the Dallas Cowboys' linebackers have the potential to be something special this season. Now, all they have to do is get on the field and prove me right.

Do you think the Cowboys' linebackers will be special in 2017?



Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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8 Comments
  • Landon Sparkman

    This defense is going to be sooooo fast. Teams will be able to complete short passes but they will get lit up on the catch. Rod finally has his guys and can run what he wants. If the D line can play with quickness and force qbs to unload it quick, our suddenly athletic secondary/backers will make em pay. Think Seattle of 2013.

    • Brian Martin

      Landon, I’m sure there will be some growing pains. But, you’re right. The Cowboys’ defense has gotten more athletic and faster. I’m really excited to see how things turn out.

  • Assassin

    And the LBs will be much better if the DL comes through. The adds of Charlton and Tapper (off IR) will be huge.

  • http://dvqp.ru BeirutWedding

    From your keyboard to God’s screen…

    • Brian Martin

      If only it was that easy ha ha.

  • John Williams

    The defense will be better this year. The question is how much better will they be.

    I’ve always contended that with the offense that we have had over the last 6-7 years, if we could just get top 15 defense, the team as a whole will be competitive.

    If the team defense can improve to top 15 against the run and the pass (they were already top 5 against the pass), then they should be a contender by season’s end.

    With all the depth that is available to them, they should be as good as we’ve seen them since the Wade Phillips era.

    Exciting times for the Dallas Cowboys.

Star Blog

How Should The Cowboys, And The NFL, Value RBs?

Kevin Brady

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Will Cowboys' Offense Improve With Ezekiel Elliott's Return?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There is no one, stand-alone "best" strategy for winning in the NFL. There are, of course, common themes and ideals which run true year in and year out among the top teams.

Strategy in the NFL is dynamic, or at least it should be. Running in place for too long under the same leadership often breeds mediocrity, and refusing to move with current trends can put you at a severe disadvantage.

Succumbing to those trends without fully analyzing the confounding factors your situation presents, however, can also ruin a team building exercise.

With that being said, should teams pay elite running backs top dollar? Or are those running backs expendable, replaceable, and often forgettable within the NFL machine?

To be honest these aren't very fair ways to pose legitimately interesting questions. You can acknowledge that a running back is important to your offense while also acknowledging that you don't want to break the bank for a position with such injury risk and high turnover year-to-year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently facing this dilemma, as their star running back Le'Veon Bell asks to be paid like an elite "weapon," not as a normal running back. And when you examine how the Steelers deploy Bell within their offense, he clearly has a point.

Bell is not your traditional "running back." He lines up on the boundary, in the slot, and is a passing threat out of the backfield as well. On top of all of this versatility, Bell is an excellent pass protector, something which is often lost among other "versatile" backs.

Bell can quite literally do it all for an offense, but the idea of paying that position elite-level money makes teams cringe. As The Athletic's Marcus Mosher pointed out on Twitter, teams like the New England Patriots have been able to replicate Bell's production by using multiple speciality backs rather than one workhorse.

In theory, this takes away the injury risk component to a certain extent. Rather than giving one player 350-400 touches per season, you spread those touches out and allow for players to do what they do best.

Lately, the NFL has seemed to agree that this is the most efficient way to play offense. But when you have a player like Bell or Ezekiel Elliott, in what way is taking the ball out of their hands "efficient" at all? In addition, how is using three players to mimic the skill set of one efficient?

Yes, the NFL is a passing league, but when you have a playmaker who is of the caliber of a Bell or an Elliott, it is up to the offense to deploy in him ways that maximize his value. Teams should be using the Bells and Elliotts of the world as pass catching threats and as weapons all over the field. Force the entire defense to account for your running back rather than just jamming him between the tackles like it's 1975.

The movement towards "running back by committee" rather than the traditional one-back system can also be credited to the lack of workhorse-worthy backs entering the league.

Ezekiel Elliotts don't grow on trees, they are rare and special players. And when you have one, especially when you spend a premium pick on him, you should get the most out of him that you can. Playing winning offense in the NFL is about more than just "do you run or do you pass," and it often hinges on creating splash plays of 15-20 yards.

If you can get those plays through the use of an elite running back, that player becomes intrinsically valuable to your team. No matter what "position" he is labeled as. Of course you want to be able create mismatches in the passing game all over the field, so when you are able to do this with a running back, shouldn't that be deemed as highly valuable?

We can't say just yet if the Cowboys should re-sign Ezekiel Elliott once he enters free agency. After all, five seasons (and a franchise tag year) where he touches the ball more than most players in the league will almost certainly bring about some wear and tear.

But with the way the Cowboys have chosen to play offense, and the way in which they've built their roster, a workhorse back like Elliott is necessary for success.

Once again, at least it is for now.



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Star Blog

Is DE Kony Ealy At Risk Of Not Making Cowboys Final Roster?

Kevin Brady

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Sean's Scout: As Late FA Signing, New DE Kony Ealy Brings Value at DE

As training camp approaches and we draw closer to the 2018 NFL season, fans are beginning to get excited for new faces, old stars, and new beginnings for the Dallas Cowboys.

One player which has been a bit forgotten about over the last few months, and even overlooked when he was first signed back in April, is defensive end Kony Ealy. Of course, some of this overlooking is justified, as Ealy's career has been filled with more valleys than peaks thus far.

With a fresh start in Dallas, though, some expect Kony Ealy to rekindle his career, and look like the player he was during the Panthers' Super Bowl 50 loss just a few seasons ago. The problem is, that game looks like the outlier and not the norm over his professional career.

Originally drafted by the Carolina Panthers, Ealy has had a shaky start to his career. Now joining his third team in the same number of seasons, it's certainly fair to say he hasn't lived up to his second round draft selection.

At 6'4" and 275 pounds, however, Ealy fits the mold of a 4-3 defensive end in the Cowboys' scheme. While he isn't the explosive pass rusher that other players on the roster are (and can be), he could provide solid rotational depth across the defensive line.

With fellow former second round pick Randy Gregory gaining reinstatement to the NFL this week, Ealy could struggle to salvage any real playing time with the Cowboys at all. Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, and Taco Charlton all feel like locks to make the team.

Then there is 2018 day three pick Dorance Armstrong and former fourth round pick Charles Tapper providing competition as well.

Tapper and Armstrong are unproven, but have the athletic profiles to become solid edge rushers at the professional level. For both, especially Tapper, health is of the upmost concern going forward. If Tapper can remain healthy, he has a real shot of making the team and having his impact felt as early as 2018.

That "if" has been a serious one thus far, however.

When the Cowboys first signed Kony Ealy back in April, I really believed he could provide solid and cheap depth along their defensive line. Now in July, I still have those beliefs, but it's become fair to question if he will even find himself on the final 53-man roster based on the competition around him.



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Star Blog

Can Connor Williams Follow in Zack Martin’s Footsteps?

Brian Martin

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Can Connor Williams Follow in Zack Martin's Footsteps?

Connor Williams has yet to play a single snap the NFL, but there are already some pretty high expectations for the rookie Guard. That's because he will be sandwiched between two Pro Bowl players in Center Travis Frederick and Left Tackle Tyron Smith. But, it's the Dallas Cowboys third Pro Bowl offensive lineman Williams should try to emulate and follow in the footsteps of.

Yes, I'm talking about Zack Martin.

Zack Martin's career couldn't have gotten off to a better start coming out of Notre Dame. He hit the ground running as a rookie with the Cowboys and put together a dominating performance his first year in the NFL, earning his first Pro Bowl bid as well as being named to the All-Pro team. He continued to play at a high level ever since and has not only turned into the best player at his position, but continued his Pro Bowl streak every season since entering the league.

To ask, or even expect Connor Williams to have the same kind of immediate success as Zack Martin is probably a little unfair, if not impossible. The kind of success Martin has had already in his career is almost unheard of. But, that's not to say Williams isn't going to try to follow in Martin's footsteps and to become the best player he can.

Zack Martin

Dallas Cowboys OG Zack Martin

The footsteps I think Connor Williams should try to follow as it pertains to Zack Martin is how well he made the transition from a collegiate Offensive Tackle to an NFL Guard. I think that should be Williams' main focus right now with training camp coming up.

Williams will be inserted into the starting lineup as the Cowboys new Left Guard. It will be a new position for him after playing mainly Tackle at the University of Texas, that will require an entirely new mindset and technique. But, it's in transition I believe he can make rather smoothly.

Connor Williams should benefit from Zack Martin's similar transition from college OT to an NFL OG. I wouldn't be surprised if we see the rookie shadowing Martin throughout training camp to soak up as much knowledge as possible. It's probably the best way for him to jumpstart his career.

Now, I fully expect to see some growing pains from Williams throughout the 2018 season. It's to be expected from any rookie, especially one transitioning to a new position. But, I do believe he will not only be an upgrade at LG for the Cowboys, but will make the entire OL even better.

I don't know about you, but I'm excited to see what kind of player Connor Williams ends up being this season.

Do you think Connor Williams can follow in Zack Martin's footsteps?



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