The top three competitors for the now-vacant middle linebacker spot (MIKE) are DeVonte Holloman, Anthony Hitchens, and Justin Durant. Which one comes out on top will depend on more than just physical ability, but also leadership, play recognition, and confidence. As explained earlier this week in, MLB is More Than Just a Player, the MIKE LB is more than just physical ability.
Anthony Hitchens faces the longest odds of the three top competitors. Despite getting the immediate start after Sean Lee fell last week, Hitchens isn’t automatically the next man up. The Cowboys are clear that they will keep the competition open and let the best man win. Most recently Justin Durant had his chance at running the defense from the MIKE spot. Expect this shuffling to continue all the way through training camp too. This is going to be a process.
Hitchens faces an up-hill battle. First he must learn to play MIKE for the first time. The physical demands of the MIKE in a Tampa 2 Scheme are well-documented. The Mike is often responsible for the deep middle zone in coverage. For a player who made his name playing sideline to sideline, the thought of dropping into deep coverage will be foreign.
Next, Hitchens will likely spend time playing multiple LB spots as the offseason progresses. The Cowboys are determined to start the best three and that strategy will require versatility and practice in multiple spots. Don’t underestimate how difficult that can be.
Anthony Hitchens didn’t drop into the most ideal of situations here in Dallas. Sure he has an opportunity to start but he lacks a stable environment. He has no clear role or clear expectations and doesn’t even know who will be playing along side him. The Cowboys are giving him every opportunity to win a starting spot but too many opportunities, too soon, may actually be a bad thing.
Who knows? Maybe Hitch will step up, claim the MIKE spot, and happily surprise us all. But let’s be patient just in case.
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