Sean Lee is injured–who will replace him?


As you probably know, Sean Lee injured his knee today. The Cowboys believe it is an ACL tear, which takes about a year to heal. 

October 20, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee (50) during second half action against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports

If the Cowboys are right, than two questions need to be asked: who will replace Lee and are they any good?

The most likely replacements (says Nick Eatman) are Devonte Holloman or Justin Durant.

The second part–are they any good?– is something of a question mark. Holloman,  after all, is a second year player who only played in 9 games (2 starts).  Durant only played 10 games (he started 6) and apparently wasn’t very good when he did.

It isn’t like the internet is bursting at the seams with information on these players–surprisingly, backup  or oft-injured linebackers don’t garner that much press–but this represents what I could find.

DeVonte Holloman:

[Warning: entering second person]

When you Google DeVonte Holloman, the first non-profile (think something other than this or Wikipedia) link explicitly about him is an injury report. Apparently, he didn’t play against the Giants. The next non-profile link, this one on page 2, is a draft blurb on Blogging the Boys. It takes until the third page to find a story that involves Holloman actually playing at the professional level. It basically says Holloman is replacing Lee (oh, the irony) for the last game of the season and the opposing running back is LeSean McCoy. On page four, you discover that he returned an interception for a touchdown in the preseason. When you watch the accompanying GIF, you may come to the conclusion that he doesn’t look all that fast. He isn’t. He  ran a 4.71 40. Apparently, Holloman’s pro career has been relatively quiet.

When you search for his amateur days, you discover that his college career wasn’t all that loud either. Per Walterfootball:

Dec 29, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher (97) reacts after a sack with linebacker DeVonte Holloman (97) against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

"Holloman looks like a good special teams player for the NFL, but he will be a developmental project on defense."

However, a more in-depth scouting report is decidedly rosier. In short, Holloman, a former saftey, is really smart and a leader, but he isn’t all that quick or strong. The report suggests he is a legitimate option in the second round, 4 rounds before the Cowboys actuallydrafted him. (Walterfootball pegs him as a 6th round pick or later).

Statistically, he was decent when he played.  He recorded 11 total tackles against Philadelphia (the last game of the season), 6 at Washington and 4 against Green Bay. He was basically a non-factor in the other 6 games.

Justin Durant:

[Back to first person. Second person is annoying, but I thought it worked well for the first Hollman paragraph.]

Justin Durant is an 8 year vet, so it is easier to find links actually related to his professional career. A former linebacker for the Lions, Durant recorded over 100 tackles in 2012 and did well enough that, according to a story by MLive’s Josh Slagter, he ranked as a top 50 free agent. This extremely helpful Blogging the Boys post includes that and other stories.

Basically, Durant was brought in as a backup to Bruce Carter and Sean Lee. I guess the Cowboys assumed one of them would manage to seriously injure themselves, so they wanted a solid backup a la Dan Connor. It appears they got just that.

Brian Broaddus, in a brief scouting report, had this to say:

"Nice take on…used his hands well to handle the wham block….some pop and strength at the point…can hold the point…works hard to beat the cut off block…has the nose to shoot the gap when he reads the play and sees the opportunity to make a play….played with awareness…***…not much in coverage…zone drops only…never saw him in man coverage…was off the field in nickel situations…when on the field didn’t pedal well…too tall and stiff….did not see a burst…worried about that…much better player against the run than what I saw with the pass and the Lions must have felt the same way in which they played him…"

As for his character, just read the comments section here. (I admit comments are not particularly reliable, but I feel they give a pretty accurate feel of the overall mood towards him.) Pretty much everyone was sad to see him go–“great guy” was the recurring theme.

At least from what I’ve read, the answer to “are they any good” is a giant maybe. Both are solid run defenders with a high football IQ, but neither represent particularly satisfying options in the passing game.