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Should Linebacker Be Among Cowboys’ Top Needs?

Mauricio Rodriguez



Last offseason, while trying to find Dallas’ next “War Daddy” and future secondary, the Cowboys might have overlooked one important need they had on defense. With Sean Lee and promising Jaylon Smith on the team, it seemed liked everything was fine at the linebacker position.

11 weeks into the regular season, things are starting to look different.

Just like every year, it’s a fact that the Cowboys will need to continue their search for a right defensive end. And if we’re being real, this team has a larger list of needs than what we all like to think. When April comes around, we’ll be talking about a lot of positions being a need. Even on offense, this team might be looking at the wide receiver and the guard position closely.

Sean Lee's Absence Leaves Huge Hole

Obviously, when it comes down to the linebacker corp, Sean Lee is the man in D-Town. When healthy, he’s one of the best there is in the NFL. Although it’s very frustrating to see how much difference there is when he’s off the field, it also shows you just how amazing Lee is at what he does.

It’s not only about his skills as a player, but the way he leads his defense into battle.

Sadly, there’s always a but. In this case, the “but” is about health. Recently, fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer Brian Martin wrote about Lee’s injuries:

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think he’s played an entire season in his NFL career. He has sustained multiple concussions, an ACL tear, a neck injury where there was ligament damage, plantar fascia tear in his foot, a fractured wrist, and a smorgasbord of hamstring injuries.”

Sean Lee is 31-years old. The Cowboys have to start thinking about life without Lee, especially considering that the veteran is injury-prone. Dallas has failed to attend the depth of this position, and I’d be surprised if they don’t do something about it next offseason.

Is it possible that the front office had higher expectations for Jaylon Smith? At least fans did. Including myself. While I didn’t expect him to be 100% ready to open the season, I certainly  thought that by now he’d be starting.

But we all know he’s had a lot of struggles when he has spent most of the time on the field. However, on limited snaps, Jaylon has shown pretty impressive flashes. Even still, I think his situation will remain a question mark for a bit longer.

Anthony Hitchens 1

Dalllas Cowboys LB Anthony Hitchens. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Anthony Hitchens is a guy who tends to be underrated by Cowboys Nation. He may not be anywhere close to what Sean Lee is, but the guy is a pretty solid linebacker. I even believe that if Hitchens isn’t ready to go this Thursday, the Cowboys might lose what looks like a simple game versus the Chargers.

Those are the biggest names at the position in Dallas right now, but there are a few others who should be mentioned, too.

Justin Durant and Damien Wilson have been this team’s rotational linebackers, who’ve seen more playing time because of injuries throughout the season.

Wilson is another guy who some members of Cowboys Nation thought would have a bigger role. Through 11 games, Wilson has only been on the field for a bit more than 31% of the defensive snaps, per Pro Football Reference.

As for Durant, although he’s contributed as a back-up, we don’t even know if he’ll play football after 2017.

Of course, these are not the only LBs on the team, but they are the main ones.

There’s a long way to go before next offseason comes around, but the Cowboys can’t make the same mistake they made this season. It’s fair to say that the front office underestimated the need for depth in the linebacker position.

Cowboys en Español: LB Damien Wilson Arrestado ¿Ahora Qué? 1

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Damien Wilson. (James D. Smith via AP)

If the Dallas Cowboys are to bring both David Irving and DeMarcus Lawrence back next year, they might just be willing to take a chance on a linebacker high in the Draft. Who knows, they may even go for it with a first-round pick.

For now, let’s hope Hitchens and Lee get back healthy soon enough to try and save this season and do their best to make this defense work.

Tell me what you think about “Should Linebacker Be Among Cowboys’ Top Needs?” 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!


I love to write, I love football and I love the Dallas Cowboys. I've been rooting for America's team all the way from Mexico ever since I can remember. If you want to talk football, I'm in... You'll find me at @PepoR99.

  • Randy Martin

    I absolutely think LB is a big need as well as WR, and G/OT, depending on how they plan the O-Line for next season. If they don’t take a LB in the first 3 rounds I would be shocked, and maybe disappointed.

    • Mauricio Rodriguez

      I would be too. I wouldn’t like it if they miss on this need once again. Thanks for reading, Randy!

  • Zu

    LB/Receiver/RB in that order of need. I think it’s a toss up between LB/WR. BOTH positions are incredibly bad. LBs don’t have a clue & receivers I could go on for hours. Lack speed, body catchers, poor route running, etc. I don’t like any of our RBs other than Zeke. Didn’t understand their plan all along.

    • Mauricio Rodriguez

      It will be an interesting offseason.

  • Ethan Chazin

    yes. Lee unreliable, Hitchens is a gamer but Wilson is a wildcard whos looks like a head case most o f the time. Jaylon is not a full time player, so that means LB is a draft day need, to go along with DT/NT, OT, WR, RB.

    • Mauricio Rodriguez

      I agree, thanks for reading, Ethan! I’d say RB is a third day need. Maybe a second.

    • washinma2424

      I agree with everything you said but if you watch closely. Jaylon is starting to look like a player. Meaning reacting more quickly to plays

  • Gill Elliott

    We need receivers first trade Dez or cut him second we need CBs please get rid of Brown next we need DT if we are able to keep Lawrence bottom line we need alot PS don’t forget TE!! Written is done

    • Mauricio Rodriguez

      We definitely need a TE for the future.

  • Jonathan McGhee

    Jonathan M

    • Mauricio Rodriguez

      This team has more needs than what we normally think.

  • Joe Mendoza

    They had one in Watt but reached for a rotten Taco. Team tries to justify that he is not a 4-3 guy. Supposed to pick the best available player. Opted to draft for need and “Needs” to step up. A 1st rounder is supposed to be able to play immediately and this guy looks average. This bad choice now impacts is more as we need a play making receiver. Dez needs to guy too much money tied up for low production he simply is not elite only his ego.

    • Mauricio Rodriguez

      Yeah, Taco was a very questionable pick.

      • David Castle

        Taco Charlton will be a very good player if you give him time to develop . He was taken with the 28th pick of the draft . I can see people being disappointed if he had been taken in the top 10 , those players are usually NFL ready . Think David Irving when you think Charlton . Irving was on KC’s practice squad when we claimed him . Why ? Because he wasn’t ready yet and needed a little time to develop . It costs a boatload of cash to get a pass rusher in the NFL . Jerry is now trying to develop our pass rushers to save money elsewhere . Hopefully to keep our OL intact . JJ Watt didn’t fit the scheme we run , it’s not worth changing the whole defensive scheme for 1 player . Our CB’s are young and will be fine now we are getting pressure on the QB .

        • Joe Mendoza

          Irving was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2015 NFL Draft . Either you conveniently left out this fact or are not as football savy as you would like us to to think. So your post is flawed when compared to a team using a 1st round pick. So there was no risk for KC and there was time to develop him. Also referring to TJ not JJ Watt now a starting linebacker for the Steelers with 24 solo tackles, 4 sacks and 1 interception. Avery Moss of the Giants has identical rookie stats and he was drafted in the 5th round. Vikings UDFA Tashawn Bower 1 game played 1 sack same sack total as Taco for the year. Patriots UDFA Adam Butler 7 solo 4 assisted 1 sack. Saints 3rd Rd pick Trey Hendrickson 6 solo 6 assisted 2 sacks. Raiders 7th Rd pick Treyvon Hester 6 solo 3 assisted. Jahuars 3rd Rd pick Dawuane Smoot 7 solo 4 assisted. Lions UDFA Jeremiah Valoaga 5 solo 1 assisted. Bengals 3rd round pick Jordan Willis 10 solo 7 assisted 1 sack. Patriots 4th round pick Deatrich Wise 12 solo 4 assisted 3 sacks. All these DE’s play in 4-3 schemes and highlight Taco’s miserable performance to date. His 1st round pick status also includes more guaranteed money and years against the the cap so please stop being a Cowboy Cheerleader and be a real Cowboy fan with brains.

  • Hector Espindola

    Totally agree, the FO is urged to find a reasonable replacement for Lee or next season anything would work -again- and that kind of player won’t come cheap in FA. What scares me is that Dallas has never won a game without Lee, so it’s clear what the major problem is, between the many problems popping out. Since years ago, this team is about to be a couple of players distance of the SB and I must insist that there are core positions which need more than roster depth or having the defense the least time in the field, till young players pan out. Hitchens is alone there.

    • Mauricio Rodriguez

      Agreed. Thanks for reading!

  • David Castle

    first off , i consider round 1-4 in the draft our Premium picks , so with that being said i think that OT (swing tackle) LB , and S as our biggest needs as of right now . Hopefully with our 1st round pick , 1 of those 3 positions will match up with our current needs . Just don’t see us taking a WR unless one will slide to us in the 1st that was rated higher then we pick and would be considered a value at that draft position . I would love to see us get a BIG middle linebacker with the first round pick . But if a pass rusher falls to us then it’s always hard to pass on that . I love Taco Charlton and believe that he will be a 10 sack guy in this league but it will take a couple of years for him to develop like it did David Irving . That being said , during the offseason i would tag DeMarcus Lawrence (i like the guy , but want him to prove himself 1 more time before i throw big money at him) . I resign OG Martin , and i resign David Irving .
    I am not as happy at our Safety position as most people seem to be . Jeff Heath is a great special teams player but in no way should be in the starting lineup . I don’t think Byron Jones is as good as people think . Maybe Kevon Frazier or Zavier Woods can replace Heath as a starter next season with some experience under their belt . But i think we have to throw a premium draft pick at that position to improve it maybe a 1st if the right guy falls to us . I want a Landon Collins type of player back there . At MLB , we need a big guy that can take the hits that comes with playing that position . We are having to play Sean Lee there and his body cannot take the damage . I love Sean Lee but don’t LOVE how many games he has to miss due to injury . Move him to strong or weak side and free him up more . Draft a Burfict sized player with a premium pick at that position . And Chaz Greene should NOT be on this team . He cannot stay healthy and when he does get to play is a detriment to the offensive line . We have to upgrade the swing tackle position by drafting an OT to groom to start because Tyron Smith is starting to get hit by injuries and we have to run the ball to give this team a chance to win .

    • Jorge Gonzalez

      Leo lo que muchos escriben sobre las diferentes pocisiones que necesita el equipo, estoy de acuerdo con todos pero quien menciona lo desastroso que son los HC y JG que no tienen un plan de cambio en los juegos si hemos perdido es por ellos por la falta de planes para solventar esas carencias es ahi donde deberiamos reclutar nuevos coordinadores, si eso no pasa esperemos otra temporada ganadora y otra perdedora como la de ahora, dallas es un equipo de promedio a malo y no es por falta de buenos jugadores si no por que no tenemos un Bilk Bellichik de jefe dandole una identidad a este equipo.
      el equipo juega con la misma actitud de JG un mediocre… saludos de un fan enojado que se da cuenta que tenemos material humano pra estar mejor..

    • Jorge Gonzalez

      I read what many write about the different positions that the team needs, I agree with everyone but who mentions how disastrous the HC and JG are that they do not have a change plan in the games if we have lost it because of the lack of plans to solve these shortcomings is where we should recruit new coordinators, if that does not happen we hope another winning season and another loser as now, dallas is a team from average to bad and it is not for lack of good players but because no we have a Bilk Bellichik boss giving an identity to this team.
      the team plays with the same attitude of JG a mediocre … greetings from an angry fan who realizes that we have human material to be better ..

Star Blog

Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin



Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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Star Blog

Can Rico Gathers Make Cowboys Offense More “Dak-Friendly”?

Brian Martin



Rico Gathers, Rams

The Dallas Cowboys unfortunately face all kinds of questions heading into the 2018 offseason. Right now, there are no answers to those questions, which means we’ll just have to sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. But, one question that absolutely has to be answered is how to make the Cowboys offense more Dak Prescott friendly.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys had an extremely disappointing year in 2017. Suspensions and injuries are the main culprits for the disappointment, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t really changed things much in the scheme or personnel to help Dak Prescott succeed.

The sad truth is, the Dallas Cowboys are still operating as if Tony Romo is the starting quarterback. It’s pretty much the same personnel and scheme, but it really doesn’t suit Prescott.

It’s time for that to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will happen overnight.

The Cowboys spent years putting together the personnel to help Romo. Just when they thought they had the missing piece — by drafting Ezekiel Elliott, Romo sustained a back injury, pretty much ending his career.

Anyway you look at it, the offensive personnel needs to improve in order to make this team more “Dak-friendly”.

Enter Tight End Rico Gathers.

Rico Gathers

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

The Dallas Cowboys have invested two years in Rico Gathers’ development, but with the exception of a few flashes in preseason, they haven’t benefited from the fruits of their labor. The 2018 season should be Gathers’ coming-out party.

We all witnessed what the Cowboys offense looks like when they are forced to rely on the passing game. Dak Prescott struggled to find any kind of consistency throwing the ball — with the options he had at his disposal in 2017 — while Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension.

Defenses decided to take Prescott’s favorite target out of the equation by bracketing Cole Beasley in coverage. Then, they also devoted extra attention Dez Bryant‘s way, making it difficult to get him the ball.

The only other option left really was Jason Witten on simple check downs.

And that is what the future Hall of Famer has been reduced to.

Jason Witten is no longer the threat he once was. Yes, he is still a reliable target, but his age is starting to catch up to him, which has unfortunately robbed him of some of his athleticism. We will no longer see Witten stretch the field down the seam, or run many routes further than 10 yards.

That’s why I think Rico Gathers could be a difference maker in 2018, especially for Dak Prescott.

Prescott needs more than an outlet receiver at the TE position. No offense to Jason Witten, but that’s pretty much what he has become at this point in his career.

Rico Gathers on the other hand is not only different from Witten, but also provides a different skill set than any other TE on the Cowboys roster. He’s a big target with athleticism, who cannot only move the chains, but stretch the field and break tackles in the open field.

Gathers’ sheer size alone creates mismatch problems against smaller defensive backs and linebackers, but his athleticism should allow him to create separation, something which fits into what Prescott needs from his receivers.

There is no reason why the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff can’t find a way to incorporate Rico Gathers’ unique skill set into the offense. They may not truly trust him to be an every down player, but that’s not happening anyway, not with Jason Witten on the roster.

If it was me, I would have a few packages in the playbook specifically designed for Gathers. I not only think this will help him grow as a player, but help the Cowboys offense become more “Dak-friendly”.

Can Rico Gathers make the Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”?


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Star Blog

Months Later, it Seems Jaguars S Barry Church was Right

Kevin Brady



Months Later, Jaguars Safety Barry Church Wa E

About five months ago, before the 2017 NFL season had even begun, former Cowboys safety Barry Church made comments which made Cowboys Nation scratch their heads. Now a Jacksonville Jaguar, Church said his current team was more talented than his former, the Dallas Cowboys.

At the time, many fans and writers alike laughed off his comments and chalked it up to typical preseason hype. Most people thought Church was crazy for suggesting a 13-3 team had less talent than the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team led by Blake Bortles.

Well, five months later, it’s become clear Barry Church was right.

Brian Chojnacki on Twitter

Jaguars safety Barry Church says he feels this Jags team has more talent than his #Cowboys squad last season. Dallas went 13-3.

This weekend the Jaguars went on the road to Pittsburgh, and came away with a wire-to-wire victory in January. The Jaguars were the more physical team from start to finish, and dominated from the opening kick off.

On the road.

Against the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now the Jaguars are preparing to do something the Cowboys haven’t done in two decades: play in a conference championship game.

The Jaguars and Cowboys will be linked for the next decade or so due to decisions each made during the 2016 NFL Draft. And while it appeared the Cowboys pushed all the right buttons in 2016, it now looks as if the Jaguars are preparing to compete for AFC supremacy for years to come.

With their talented secondary, dominant defense, and physical rushing attack, the Jaguars have built their team in the mold of past champions.

The Cowboys have attempted to do some of the same, but it certainly looks as if Barry Church was correct in his preseason assessment of the two rosters.


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