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Depth at this Position Leaves Dallas Cowboys with Defensive Weakness

John Williams

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Eagles

The Dallas Cowboys defense--as a unit--is easily the group that needs to play better for the team to win its first Super Bowl in 22 seasons. But on the defense there's a position of particular concern, which seems odd, considering that position has an All-Pro player on the depth chart; linebacker.

The Cowboys linebacker group looked pretty solid during the offseason. Sean Lee is one of the best linebackers in the league and arguably the best 4-3 outside linebacker.

Anthony Hitchens is a solid contributor who has now been starting for the Cowboys for a majority of his career. He still has a ways to go for the team to feel really confident about his ability to be a full-time player for Dallas.

Going into his third season, many saw Damien Wilson as a key factor for Dallas' defense in 2017. His recent arrest and possible suspension could derail potential progression for Wilson. Missing practice reps and not playing in games can only hurt your ability to improve. See DeMarcus Lawrence.

Let's also not forget maybe the most hyped player to never have played a snap: Jaylon Smith. He's all but been penciled in as a future Hall of Famer (somewhat kidding), yet we still don't know exactly what kind of contribution he will offer the team in 2017.

Kyle Wilber is a depth guy and special teams contributor. He may be able to play some snaps for you on defense, but the team has shown they'd prefer not to overexpose him.

Mark Nzeocha hasn't been healthy enough for the team to really see what they have in him.

The rest of the linebacker depth chart is made up of undrafted rookie free agents and camp bodies. As things stand now, it's pretty much Lee and a bunch of guys.

Cowboys Headlines - Are Any Of The Cowboys Defensive Players Irreplaceable? 2

Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Sean Lee #50 (AP Photo/TUSP, Jay Biggerstaff)

It's not completely dire though.

Since the base defense in the NFL has become the nickel defense, you really only need two linebackers for the majority of your defensive snaps. With the way that Dallas likes to use their safeties to cover tight ends or play down in the box, and sub-packages allow you to mask a weakness at linebacker even more so.

The concern for me is that the team has zero depth. We all hope Jaylon Smith is the stud linebacker that he was in college, but again, we have zero idea what he's going to look like.

If we see an injury to the linebacker group, there isn't much depth to feel really good about replacing the injured player.

That isn't to say that training camp can't answer these questions. What looks like a weakness now, could very well be a strength in week one if:

  1. Jaylon Smith is healthy and ready to go
  2. Damien Wilson gets a slap on the wrist instead of a suspension
  3. and Anthony Hitchens continues to improve.

We're still more than six weeks away from football games that count, and while the team has weaknesses, that's more than enough time for the Dallas Cowboys to shore them up.



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Kevin Black

    July 18, 2017 at 11:35 am

    I’d only be concerned about Wilson if something happens to Lee. Many believe that Wilson would excel more on the weak-side. They are just putting him on the strong-side to get him on the field. Wilber plays an adequate strong-side backer and that position is only needed like 30% of the time.

    Jaylon Smith admitted this week that he can now lift his pinky toe. He now has complete feeling in his entire foot. He still needs to re-train it a bit to get full motion, but he says he’s full go for training came.

    If you have Smith and Lee all year, you will be just fine.

    • John Williams

      John Williams

      July 19, 2017 at 4:57 am

      No doubt, if we have Smith at the level he played at in College, we will be just find. If we don’t, it’s an issue. Lee and Hitchens are a decent starting tandem in your nickel base, but still not that great.

      • Kevin Black

        July 19, 2017 at 9:29 am

        I like Hitchens, but I thought there would be more growth than he’s shown. His floor isn’t too bad, but at this point you would have to say he’s a JAG. Good enough to keep on a rookie deal, but unless he’s willing to resign cheap, I could see the Cowboys moving on pretty easily.

        • John Williams

          John Williams

          July 20, 2017 at 2:00 am

          He’s a solid contributor to a winning team. That’s about it. He’s young enough to still show some growth, but i think he would best serve this team as a depth option, rotating at all three spots and playing special teams.

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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches
Smiley N. Pool / The Dallas Morning News

Lamentablemente, la temporada 2018 de los Dallas Cowboys ha llegado a su fin. Lo hizo cuando el equipo visitó Los Angeles para intentar sorprender a los Rams en su propio campo en la Ronda Divisional de los playoffs. Ni siquiera con una invasión exitosa de la afición de Dallas pudieron ganarse un pase al Campeonato de Conferencia. En vez de eso, los Cowboys estarán viendo desde casa y la afición estará preguntándose: ¿qué sigue para los Dallas Cowboys?

Parece ya una tradición anual que no podemos dejar pasar. Este momento en el que comenzamos a cuestionar, una vez más, que entrenador es digno de quedarse en la franquicia y cual debe irse. En esta edición de "Cowboys en Español," hablaremos específicamente de los tres principales coaches en el equipo.

Cowboys DC Rod Marinelli Should Be On The Hot Seat

Coordinador Defensivo Rod Marinelli

El futuro del coordinador defensivo de los Dallas Cowboys no se puede tratar sin mencionar a Kris Richard. Fue la defensiva la que llevó al equipo hasta la postemporada y fue la unidad que cargó al equipo en muchas de sus victorias. Incluso con la llegada de Amari Cooper a Dallas, la defensiva fue siempre el pilar de la franquicia esta temporada.

Jaylon Smith y Leighton Vander Esch sorprendentemente se perfilaron como uno de los mejores duos de linebackers en toda la liga, la línea defensiva fue muy exitosa con Randy Gregory y DeMarcus Lawrence en los extremos y con la grata sorpresa que fue Antwaun Woods en el centro. La secundaria vio la mejor temporada en la controversial carrera de Byron Jones e hizo un excelente trabajo con un talento decente, pero no genial.

Todo esto, y el haber terminado como la sexta mejor defensiva en puntos permitidos (20.2) y la quinta mejor contra la corrida (94.6), hace a Rod Marinelli merecedor de una ronda de aplausos. Sin embargo, Richard probablemente merezca más aplausos.

Fue Richard quien revolucionó la defensiva de los Cowboys y la convirtió en un grupo mucho más agresivo. Fue él quien implementó jugadas de "blitz" en el equipo (algo no común con Marinelli) y quien en un punto de la temporada, comenzó a seleccionar las jugadas desde la banda.

En esta posición, me parece que los Dallas Cowboys tienen que enfrentar la dura decisión de decirle a Marinelli que es tiempo de dejarle el puesto a Kris Richard. Si bien no se llevó un trabajo de head coach, es muy probable que le llovieran ofertas a Richard si no se hace con el título de coordinador defensivo en Dallas.

Scott Linehan Acknowledges Need for New "Wrinkles" in Cowboys Offense

Dallas Cowboys OC Scott Linehan (Tim Heitman / USA TODAY Sports)

Coordinador Ofensivo Scott Linehan

Con un equipo tan polémico como este, la afición de Dallas no concuerda en muchas cosas. Sin embargo, lo hacen al hablar del pésimo trabajo que Scott Linehan ha realizado mandando las jugadas en ofensiva. Realmente ha sido doloroso de ver y es en mi opinión, el mayor problema que tiene el equipo actualmente.

Semana tras semana, fuimos testigos de pésimas decisiones en la ofensiva de los Cowboys. Vimos como el equipo se aferraba a llenar la caja de defensivos antes de correr el balón con Ezekiel Elliott. Vimos incontables pases pantalla en tercera oportunidad y largo. Pero no solo es lo que vimos, sino lo que no vimos.

A pesar de la innegable habilidad para correr el balón de Dak Prescott, Linehan se rehusó a explotar esta versatilidad de su QB. Vimos pocos "QB sneaks," jugada donde el mariscal toma el balón bajo centro y consigue poco yardage detrás del empuje de su línea ofensiva.

Siendo honestos, los Cowboys llevan dos años sufriendo por este coordinador. Dejarlo volver en el 2019 sería una decisión ridícula. Los comentarios en la radio de Jason Garrett no lucen prometedores, pero realmente sería una sorpresa que fueran ciertos. Linehan no debe volver... punto.

Jerry Jones Delivers Vote of Confidence in "Real Deal" Jason Garrett

Head Coach Jason Garrett

El futuro en esta posición será muy debatido durante los próximos meses, pero de los tres que hemos mencionado es sin lugar a dudas el más seguro de todos. Nos guste o no, Jason Garrett estará al frente del equipo la próxima temporada.

Garrett está lejos de ser un gran coach y aún le hace falta demostrar que puede cumplir las aspiraciones de los Cowboys de traer un sexto Trofeo Lombardi a casa. Pero siendo honesto, este equipo debería tener suficiente con Garrett y un par de buenos coordinadores. ¿El problema? No hay un par de buenos coordinadores en el equipo.

Sin embargo, Garrett ha demostrado que cuenta con el amor y apoyo de sus jugadores. Ha demostrado que efectivamente, puede ganar la división (lo ha hecho en tres de los últimos cinco años). Este año el equipo le dio la vuelta a la temporada después de comenzar 3-5.

Lo más preocupante en mi opinión, es la falta de urgencia para despedir a Linehan, por ejemplo. Quizá a puerta cerrada Garrett quiere un cambio en su staff, pero nunca lo sabremos.

Jason Garrett no es un coach excelente, pero podría ser suficiente para llevar a los Cowboys a un Super Bowl si tiene un equipo adecuado. Todo parece indicar que su trabajo está seguro (incluso más de lo que pensamos) así que es tiempo de esperar que se arreglen sus coordinadores.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Star Blog

2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch

Kevin Brady

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Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL's Top 10 Rookies

As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.

It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.

Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.

No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.

Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.5 Studs and Duds From the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season

This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.

There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.

Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.

Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.



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Star Blog

What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?

Kevin Brady

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Can we Believe General Manager Jerry Jones?

Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.

Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.

They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?

Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.

Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.

Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.

Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.

Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.

This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.

The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.



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