With Sean Lee out, the Dallas Cowboys are still searching for their next middle linebacker. As of the end of mini camp, 8-year Hampton University veteran, Justin Durant took the most snaps with the first-team defense.
Durant entered the league in 2007 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, joined the Detroit Lions in 2011, and came over to the Cowboys in 2013. Last year he helped replace Lee after his hamstring and neck injuries. In those six games, Durant recorded 24 total tackles (14 solo, 10 assisted), one pass defended, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Right now, Durant has three more years experience than any other healthy linebacker on the roster. The next most-experienced LB, whether it be in the middle or outside, is Bruce Carter- but we should see Carter playing on the outside this season. This leaves rookie Anthony Hitchens as the next man up in the middle. Durant knows that he hasn’t quite earned his spot as the starting Mike, he just had the most experience in the system last year. The Cowboys coaching staff also may not want to overwhelm the rookie Hitchens, my putting too much on his plate.
“I think that I’m just the vet,” Durant said. “I’m the older guy in the room. I was the backup last year at the Mike.”
Not only is he just the older guy in the room, he has played more games than all of the Cowboys linebackers combined. While Durant may be the most veteran linebacker on the team, he is playing his cards close to his chest. After playing for his third team, he knows like any other NFL vet it’s always up to the coaches in the end, and precedence doesn’t guarantee anything. Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus didn’t quite give the most glowing recommendations of Durant during the minicamp, but it isn’t anything that should have Cowboys fans clamoring for Jerry Jones to sign free agent Jonathan Vilma.
“He’s done good,” Eberflus said. “He’s played that before for us in the past. He’s comfortable there. He knows what to do and knows how to play that position. He’s been solid in this OTA and minicamp.”
Eberflus continued to say that the linebacker group is still a work-in-progress and they will be looking for the three best players at each position. There are couple of ways you can look at this. It is good that the Cowboys do have an eight year veteran to fill the void created by Lee. On the other hand, why shouldn’t an eight year veteran be running away with a starting position over a rookie?
At training camp, which kicks off July 24th in Oxnard, CA, the battle for starting positions at linebacker should be one of the more intriguing story lines heading into the 2014 season.