With so many other pressing needs heading into the 2015 NFL Draft, the linebacker position has no choice but to take a backseat. In fact, it looks pretty good.
The Dallas Cowboys’ defense, led by Rod Marinelli, places great importance on certain defensive positions. The 3 technique DT, RDE, LCB, FS, and both the WILL and MIKE linebacker spots, are all considered premium positions in a Marinelli defense.
Last season the Dallas Cowboys made their intensions known they were hoping to draft WLB Ryan Shazier. As it turned out, Shazier never made it to the Cowboys and the Cowboys were forced to adapt. But the point of the matter is, despite all the needs elsewhere, the Cowboys considered LB such and important position, they were hoping to invest a first round pick.
This season, things have changed considerably at the LB position. Rolando McClain has established himself as a true playmaker capable of thriving in the middle as the MIKE. Re-signed for another 1 year deal, the Cowboys can confidently enter the 2015 season knowing it’s in good hands.
The WILL spot is now Sean Lee’s new position to redefine. Lee, one of the best LBs in the NFL, expects to be fully healthy in 2015 and looks to take over the most important LB spot on the field.
The final LB spot, on the strong side, is the only spot in question. But for a Cowboys’ defense that uses the nickel package often, the SAM is only a part-time player unworthy of a high investment. Note: in the nickel package, a 3rd CB substitutes in for the SAM.
I wrote, when the Cowboys signed Jasper Brinkley, that I felt he was a better fit at SAM than he was at MIKE. In a nutshell, Brinkley is a very one-dimensional player who struggles in coverage and usually leaves the field on passing downs altogether. To read about Brinkley and why he’s best suited as the starting SAM read: Jasper Brinkley’s Best Fit is at SAM.
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If training camp opened today, Brinkley would be my pick to claim the starting SAM spot. This isn’t to diminish anything Anthony Hitchens has done, but rather a move made with Hitch’s successful 2014 in mind. Hitch was nothing short of season-saving in his rookie campaign. He played over 500 snaps between 3 different positions. Not all LB positions are created equal and not many players can successfully play them all – especially a rookie who has a huge task in learning a singular assignment.
Anthony Hitchens was good, but his struggles in coverage were apparent. He’s a smart and developing player who can grow into any and all roles. And that’s why I see him as a swing linebacker at the WILL and MIKE.
As I’ve said before:
"Both Sean Lee and Rolando McClain have troubling injury histories. It’s not a matter of if they’ll miss games, it’s a matter of how many games will they each miss. With this in mind, having reliable backups at the WILL and MIKE seems like a pretty smart move."
The idea for Hitch is to utilize his versatility and follow Rod Marinelli’s mantra at the same time. Marinelli believes the best players should start regardless of position. He always wants to find a way to get his best on the field. When the inevitable injury to Sean Lee or Rolando McClain happens – and we all know it will happen – Hitch will be the first man up.
We can fully expect the Cowboys to bring in one or even two LBs this draft, but with McClain and Lee on-hand, a healthy competition of Kyle Wilber and Jasper Brinkley at SAM, and the versatility of Hitch, the Cowboys have much bigger things to worry about heading into next season.
Final Note: Does this mean that if Shane Ray, Bud Dupree, or Vic Beasley somehow falls, the Cowboys won’t be interested? Of course they’d be interested, but they would be selected primarily for their pass-rushing ability and not for their LB play.
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