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How Will the Loss of Anthony Hitchens Impact the Cowboys’ Season?

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- Anthony Hitchens, #59
AP Photo/Scott Boehm

Last season, the Dallas Cowboys defense was pretty impressive despite the uninspiring regular season record of 9-7. The unit may have seemed devoid of big playmakers, only scoring one touchdown and making just 10 interceptions, but they did well to stifle teams.

Ranking as the eighth-best in the NFL for net yards allowed per game at 318.1, 11th in net passing yards allowed per game at 214.1, and eighth in net rushing yards allowed per game at 104, the Cowboys defense was hard to conquer.

However, a big piece of that defensive effort was linebacker Anthony Hitchens.

Still only 25 years old, Hitchens put up strong numbers year after year and put up a career-best 84 combined tackles – a number only Sean Lee bested on the Cowboys roster – despite missing four games. The 6’0’’ 235 lbs linebacker ran out of contract over the summer, but the Cowboys didn’t really stand a chance of re-signing him.

Playing Free Agency

Sean's Scout: Linebacker Joe Thomas Brings Speed, Range to Dallas Cowboys Defense 1

Source: Patrik Walker, via Twitter

These days, teams pay good players great player money in the first phase of NFL free agency. With little wriggle room between them and the cap, the Cowboys were unlikely to match the other offers coming in for Hitchens.

The fifth-year linebacker eventually signed with the Kansas City Chiefs on a huge deal which some see as wildly overpriced. Hitchens gets a $14-million signing bonus as well as a fully guaranteed $21.5 million over the first two years of the deal.

Having been all but dormant in the early stages of free agency for some years now, the Dallas Cowboys were expected to try to patch the Anthony Hitchens-sized hole in their defense by signing a decent player. But, instead, the Cowboys opted to sign Joe Thomas. With eight starts over three years with the Green Bay Packers, the move wasn’t exactly inspiring.

Said to be a better version of Kyle Wilber – who was also lost in free agency – Thomas likely isn’t Hitchens’ replacement.

However, the Cowboys have long seen free agency as a way to complement their moves in the draft. The Cowboys like to pick and build their own players rather than bring in others.

That said, if they want to challenge for the NFC East and have a strong showing in the playoffs, they’ll need to bring in a big playmaker at linebacker.

As it stands, the Cowboys are a fair bit back in betting online for the NFC Conference at +900, but some shrewd free agency signings and a playmaker in the early rounds of the draft could change all of that. Replacing the productivity of Anthony Hitchens is a must if they are to build on last season.

On-Campus and Looking to the NFL Draft

In Season For Youth, Cowboys Must Make Tough Decision On Jaylon Smith 1

Source: Blue Star Brasil, via Twitter

Right now, Jaylon Smith seems to be the answer to the loss of Hitchens, but he’s still got some way to come before he’s at the level the Cowboys need. He continues to suffer from nerve damage in his foot following a knee injury sustained in his last game for Notre Dame, but it's said to be getting better continually. He has a very strong work ethic and can push for a starting spot, but he’s still somewhat of an unknown.

As the Cowboys have been looking at offensive tackles, guards, and wide receivers in the second phase of free agency, they may already be planning to fill their linebacker hole in the draft.

Picking at #19 overall this year, a stroke of luck may have placed an incredibly talented linebacker in the Cowboys’ lap.

Roquan Smith, standing 6’1’’ and 236 lbs, is a formidable inside linebacker and considered to be one of the very best of the class. However, he sustained a hamstring injury during the NFL scouting combine, which could see him drop just outside of the top 15 – into Dallas’ catch zone.

The Dallas Cowboys look set to fill the void left by Anthony Hitchens with a playmaker in the early rounds of the NFL draft. If they don't, however, it doesn’t look likely that the Cowboys will be as formidable on defense, nor will they properly challenge for the division.



This is the General Staff account for Inside The Star, a blog for Dallas Cowboys news, scores, schedule, rumors, and analysis. We are the official home for @CowboysNation on Twitter. Follow us today for new content updates straight from our timeline. To learn more about our staff, please visit our Staff listing.

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5 Comments
  • Will

    I like the depth at LB in this class. I’d be ok with one of the big names, Smith and Vander Esch are both safe picks imo. I’d be happier to see a guy Shaq Griffen later, then a lottery ticket like Nick DeLuca late

  • Tommy Davis

    You are vastly underrating Jaylon Smith, what he did last year while on the mend from his injury is just short of amazing, he, not Hitchens, was second on the team with 99 tackles. He steadily improved in what was really his rookie year on the field. The Cowboys played him extensively at middle linebacker when his natural position is outside linebacker. Injury wise he was at about 70% last year and now he says he’s at about 95%. With a year under his belt and the drop foot continuing to disappear, the sky is the limit for him. As far as adding another linebacker, Alabama’s Rashaan Evans is the best middle Linebacker in this draft class. Georgia’s Roshon Smith is an outside linebacker and his best attribute is his speed, he lacks the ferocity of Rashaan Evans who has great speed and is a ferocious hitter.

    • Reynaldo Laporte

      I like Jaylon but a lot of those tackles were him hitting guys already hitting the second level he wasn’t stopping guys in hole.

      I’m not worried about him because I know he’ll get there Sean on the other hand is a liability as he is great. He reminds me of a LB version of Bob Sanders

  • Tommy Davis

    I meant Roquan Smith, not Roshon Smith in my earlier post.

  • Chuck Wright

    Need at least 2-3 LBs this offseason in addition to Thomas. . .Dallas been doing well identifying LB talent, hope this trend continues

Game Notes

CIN 21, DAL 14: Dak Prescott Continues Strong Preseason in Loss

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Bengals

The games may not count yet, but Dak Prescott looks ready for the 2018 season. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback continued his strong preseason play in the team's 21-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Prescott played three series, going 10/15 for 86 yards and a touchdown. He got the offense out of trouble a few times with his feet, avoiding sacks and ultimately getting the scoring pass off on a redzone scramble.

Dak's strong play has coincided with shutdown performances from the starting defense. The Cowboys' first-team defenders have yet to allow a score in two preseason games. Tonight, the Bengals were forced into four punts and two turnovers on their first-half possessions.

Overall, the Cowboys are a combined 24-7 in the first halves of their first two preseason contests.

The second half has been the problem, and for two weeks now Dallas' reserves have squandered halftime leads and given up losses. Thankfully, most of the responsible players will not be on the final 53-man roster.

Other Notes

  • There were several concerning injuries for the Cowboys tonight. None was scarier than when All-Pro guard Zack Martin went out with a knee injury, but it does not appear to have been serious. Starting defensive backs Byron Jones and Xavier Woods also got banged up; Byron returned to the game but Woods did not. Defensive lineman Datone Jones also left with a knee injury.
  • Even more concerning was the play of the second-team offensive line. Chaz Green was typically awful, but we also saw swing tackle Cam Fleming struggling and just an overall lack of protection for the backups quarterbacks. Green got benched in the second half and may have finally played his way off the team.
  • Credit to Terrance Williams for getting open in the endzone to give Dak Prescott a receiver for the touchdown throw. Even with his warts, Williams' two years of experience playing with Dak can't be ignored in deciding who makes the team.
  • Tight end Blake Jarwin continues to run with the starters on offense and may have quietly taken the job away from Geoff Swaim.
  • Darius Jackson took advantage of some extra playing time tonight after Bo Scarbrough left with a hip injury. He broke off a few nice runs to amass 42 yards on just six carries, plus had four receptions.
  • We finally get to see Dan Bailey kick a field goal again, and it was an easy 35-yarder with no issues.
  • Shout out to Chidobe Awuzie for one of the pretty interceptions that a Cowboys DB has made in some time. Awuzie had to bend like Beckham (Odell, that is) to get a hand on the ball, then tipped it to himself for the pick.
  • Preseason fun continues for the Cowboys next Sunday when they host the Arizona Cardinals on NBC's Sunday Night Football.



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Game Notes

#DALvsCIN: Can WR Lance Lenoir Continue To Impress?

Kevin Brady

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Lance Lenoir

Entering training camp projecting who would make the final roster from the Dallas Cowboys wide receiving room was a crapshoot. The combination of misfits from other teams, unproven young guys, and a couple of Cowboys veterans makes this position group the most questioned across the entire roster.

But while Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, and Michael Gallup were stealing headlines, Lance Lenoir was making a name for himself among the Cowboys faithful.

After serving on the practice squad for the Cowboys a year ago, Lenoir seems to have entered 2018 with one goal in mind: to make the official game-day roster. And even if he falls short of this goal, it won't be due to any fault of his own.

Day in and day out Lance Lenoir has been a consistent wide out, catching nearly everything thrown his way and running some of the crisper routes on the team. Under new receivers coach Sanjay Lal, Lenoir has become a technical route runner and dangerous receiving threat.

Maybe most importantly for his future with the team, Lenoir has developed an obvious chemistry with starting quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has continued to compliment Lenoir throughout training camp, and you know that the Cowboys front office is well aware of Prescott's trust in Lenoir on the field.

During the preseason opener against the 49ers, Lance Lenoir caught his first touchdown of the season, dazzling with his toe-tap ability. If he is going to steal a roster spot away from one of the more seasoned wide outs, however, he will have to remain that consistent target.

This Saturday, Lenoir gets another shot to prove why he's not only deserving of a roster spot, but of a starting spot. Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch, but if he continues to play like he has during camp and preseason, Lenoir could find himself working with the 1's more frequently.

Look out for Lance Lenoir against the Bengals this week, as he makes it harder and harder for the Cowboys to cut him by the second.



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys en Español: ¿Es Tavon Austin Más Importante de lo que Creemos?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Tavon Austin, Cowboys Best Playmaker Not Named Ezekiel Elliott?

Cada vez más cerca de la verdadera acción en la NFL, tuvimos una oportunidad de ver a los Dallas Cowboys en el campo contra los San Francisco 49ers hace una semana. Francamente, a pesar de perder la ventaja en los últimos segundos del partido, la actuación del equipo dio una muy buena señal a los aficionados de la Estrella Solitaria.

Todavía quedan tres partidos por jugar, empezando por el enfrentamiento contra los Cincinnati Bengals este sábado. Hay muchas cosas que ver de parte de los Dallas Cowboys y quizá algunas de ellas las veamos este mismo fin de semana.

Una de las cosas más interesantes esta semana fue la conversación de los wide receivers (receptores abiertos). Lance Lenoir se ha mostrado como un candidato real al roster de 53 jugadores, pero esa es sólo una pequeña fracción de la conversación de receptores.

Hay muchos receptores de que hablar, y el día de hoy, eso haremos en Cowboys en Español.

¿Cole Beasley es realmente el receptor #1?

A lo largo de todo el offseason, se ha manejado la narrativa de que "los Cowboys no tienen un buen WR." A pesar de que Dez Bryant es un nombre difícil de olvidar, esta aseveración sobre los receptores en Dallas me parece errónea.

Si bien es cierto que Bryant es uno de los mejores WRs en la historia de los Cowboys, también es cierto que Jason Garrett y compañía tienen un mejor grupo de lo que la afición considera. Si somos sinceros, un trío titular de Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley y Michael Gallup no suena mal.

La pregunta será: ¿quién es el #1? Comentarios de Dak Prescott han hecho referencia a Cole Beasley como el dueño de dicho rol. ¿Realmente puede fungir como el receptor líder del equipo siendo un jugador de 1.73 metros?

Se ha hablado mucho de Beasley jugando fuera de los números e intentando vencer a los defensivos por fuera. Es intrigante, pero sin duda un poco difícil de creer.

Tavon Austin: ¿Es un arma más importante de lo que creemos?

Los Cowboys dejaron ir a Ryan Switzer y obtuvieron a su aparente remplazo con el ex-WR de los Rams por una selección de sexta ronda. Tavon Austin ha tenido un viaje extraño con el equipo. Fue listado en el roster como un corredor pero utilizado como un receptor.

Lleva poco tiempo en Dallas pero ha sorprendido en training camp y ha sido utilizado como más de lo que esperábamos. Desde que llegó al equipo, empezamos a compararlo con Lucky Whitehead y Ryan Switzer. Ambos talentosos, pero destinados a ser un jugador "gadget" que fueron utilizados casi exclusivamente en jugadas "en movimiento" o los famosos "jet sweeps."

Pero Austin puede ser más que eso y lo ha demostrado en training camp. No parece que Tavon vaya a tener el mismo destino que Switzer, sino que tendrá un rol mucho más involucrado en la ofensiva constantemente. Bien puede ser un factor sorpresa para la ofensiva en Dallas.

¿Puede Terrance Williams perder su trabajo?

A pesar de que el coraje puede llevar a los aficionados a criticar a Terrance Williams un poco más de lo que merece, la verdad es que Williams está en riesgo de ser cortado por los Cowboys antes de que inicie la temporada en septiembre.

Es uno de los WRs con más experiencia, sí. Pero durante su estadía en Dallas, cada vez que Dez Bryant ha caído lesionado, Williams ha tenido la oportunidad de surgir como un receptor #1 capaz y preparado. Y nunca lo ha logrado.

Con un roster lleno de talentos jóvenes como el de Lance Lenoir y Noah Brown, es probable que la administración y los coaches opten por el potencial joven en vez de Williams, quien ha tenido problemas para demostrar que puede ser un jugador constante.

✭✭✭

Los Dallas Cowboys tienen que conseguir que su ofensiva sobreviva las pérdidas de Jason Witten y Dez Bryant y tendrán que comenzar en la posición de WR. A pesar de que Williams esté en el equipo, Cole Beasley será el único en repetir titularidad del año pasado en Dallas esta temporada.

Dak Prescott tendrá un rol enorme cuando la ofensiva trate de emprender su marcha y definitivamente será responsable del éxito de esta. Es ahora o nunca para Dak.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: ¿Es Tavon Austin Más Importante de lo que Creemos?" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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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