It is no secret that the defensive unit for the Dallas Cowboys will be looking for play makers wherever they may come from in 2016. While Cowboys Nation will focus on the offense when it comes to replicating the winning ways of 2014 with rookie Ezekiel Elliott joining the established Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, the defense from that dominant season forced 31 turnovers – good for the second highest total in the league.
This “Cowboys Sophomores” series has already profiled a few young defenders that could help Dallas in this regard, such as pass rusher Ryan Russell and hybrid safety Byron Jones. Another player that hopes to add his name to this mix is linebacker Damien Wilson, who was selected in the fourth round by the Cowboys in the 2015 Draft.
When it comes to Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, you can never have enough depth along the front-seven of your defense. While the Cowboys' current front four is relatively thin when it comes to proven players, the depth chart across the board at linebacker is pretty promising.
Damien Wilson had a terrific summer with the Dallas Cowboys in 2015, standing out during training camp and the preseason. All of this hype led to the Minnesota product seeing action in just two regular season games though, following his “blown coverage” in New Orleans during a week 5 overtime loss that effectively ended his rookie campaign.
I wrote previously about Wilson finding a role for the 2016 season back in February, when the team was still very early on into its draft process.
The context here was that Wilson may have shown enough to make the linebacker position a lesser need come draft day for this team. Of course, the Dallas Cowboys did come away from the 2016 Draft with one player at this position, but it was Jaylon Smith – who's potentially major impact will likely not be felt this year.
With Rolando McClain skipping all of the team's optional practices, the door is open for players like Damien Wilson, Andrew Gachkar, and Anthony Hitchens to show the position flex that this team loves by stepping in at middle linebacker. While this defense is undoubtedly in a much better place with a focused McClain on the field, Wilson should embrace every chance he can get right now to step on the field and showcase his skills.
For Damien to take a big step up in 2016, I will be interested to see how he plays in pass coverage. As mentioned, if everything goes to plan for this team on Sundays, the defense will be on the field mainly to protect leads. When this is the case, the Cowboys' linebackers are asked to drop into coverage and be ready to break on routes.
Wilson has shown explosiveness against the run across the board as a WILL, MIKE, and SAM linebacker – but is unproven as a pass defender. If he can take this next step, it may be very hard to take him off the field this season. A lot more is going to be said and written about the ongoing competitions at Wilson's position prior to the start of the regular season, and if they are anything like last summer's training camp whispers, Damien is going to be near the center of a lot of these talks.