If Dallas Cowboys fans know one thing about Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, it is that he specializes in taking unproven players with desirable traits and molding them into contributors to his defense.
One player that fits this mold is second-year linebacker Mark Nzeocha, who’s rookie season was unfortunately cut down due to an injury suffered during his final collegiate season. The 2015 seventh round pick was forced to practically “red shirt” the season, only participating in the off season walkthroughs and the other mental aspects of the game.
Now ready to contribute on the field this season, Nzeocha finds himself being thrown into the fire when it comes to competition at the linebacker position. The Cowboys are deep across the board here, with Sean Lee being the only true locked-in starter. Where Nzeocha can find a role for himself is at the SAM linebacker spot, where versatile players like Anthony Hitchens have seen snaps in the past seasons.
I’d watch out for Nzeocha at SLB https://t.co/tuuRufUpA1
While Nzeocha playing in the strong side spot will limit his overall time on the field due to how often Dallas plays in nickel packages, his impact as a fast and tall body in coverage and against the run can still be felt from that spot. Additionally, Nzeocha has had his name thrown in the hat at middle linebacker, as the Cowboys worked through OTAs and mini camp in the absence of presumed MIKE starter Rolando McClain.
If Mark Nzeocha can prove himself against the run while showing some always appreciated versatility for the Cowboys’ defense this season, it is only going to make the entirety of the team’s front seven deeper and stronger.
As training camp approaches, we will undoubtedly revisit this position to talk more about who can emerge out of the current Cowboys’ linebackers. For now, look for Mark Nzeocha to fight for his role with this team in 2016, and stand out to Matt Eberflus, the rest of the staff, and Cowboys Nation while doing so.