Cowboys On Verge Of Finally Having Best Linebackers?


The Dallas Cowboys are finally getting players back from injuries and suspensions, which could mean the best linebackers in football.

All the way back in the month of April, I asked the following question while still writing for our good friends over at The Landry Hat: Could the Dallas Cowboys have the best linebacker corps in the NFL this season?

Beginning Sunday afternoon in East Rutherford, New Jersey, I think we’re about to find out.

Week 5 brought two names to the Cowboys defensive front that were eagerly awaited by Cowboys Nation for months. While defensive end Greg Hardy‘s arrival certainly didn’t go unnoticed by mainstream media-gossip columnists and Cowboys fans alike, the name Rolando McClain is the one that I’m probably most interested in.

Hardy exploded all over ‘deflator’ Tom Brady of the New England Patriots not two weeks ago, and his contribution has put numerous fans and analysts in a bit of a bind – do they pump their fists in celebration or do they continue trashing this alleged domestic abuser of an ex-girlfriend?

But does anyone remember McClain’s journey back to the field?

What about what he did for Dallas a year ago?

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In just 13 games in relief of injured middle linebacker Sean Lee, McClain came into a new system following almost two years out of football to record 81 combined tackles and a sack. The then-fourth-year veteran out of Alabama wasn’t in the best football shape and, if not for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, might not even be in the league right now.

McClain was chosen eighth-overall in the 2010 NFL Draft to play inside linebacker in the Oakland Raiders 3-4 scheme. When on the field and healthy, McClain rarely disappointed, but obviously there were numerous incidents of off-field issues and arrests that led to McClain being released by Oakland during the 2013 offseason and then signed by the Baltimore Ravens. Weeks later, McClain retired from football and wouldn’t surface again until landing with the Cowboys in the aftermath of Lee’s 2014 training camp injury that shelved him for the season before it ever started.

So, this was supposed to be the year that McClain was back in shape and, along with Lee, ready to turn the Dallas linebackers into perhaps the best in the NFL.

But only after a four-game suspension for substance abuse to start the season.

In McClain’s 2015 debut, he immediately stepped into the middle linebacker spot and tallied 8 combined tackles and a sack of Brady.

This is what defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has been waiting for.

Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The combination of McClain and Lee ranging about the shallow secondary and flats should become every bit as important to creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks as anything happening with defensive backs covering wide receivers.

McClain picked off two passes with the Cowboys last season and it’s no secret that Lee knows how to get the football in his hands. The former Penn State defender has 12 career interceptions since ’10 and already has one this season.

The ability to cover running backs and tight ends underneath is an area that should start to help the Dallas defense start to get to the quarterback more often. These are often those ‘security blanket’ targets that opposing quarterbacks like to go to as often as necessary. To have those positions covered means quarterbacks holding on to the football longer – then more Hardy.

Not to be overlooked is strongside linebacker Anthony Hitchens, a player that might not draw the same attention that his often unavailable colleagues do. A second-year veteran out of Iowa, Hitchens actually leads all linebackers with 2.0 sacks and currently ranks third on the Dallas defense with 32 combined tackles.

Yes, the Cowboys are both good and deep at the linebacker position, an area hat hasn’t always been a strength since the transition back to the 4-3 scheme in 2013.

While this Cowboys defensive line generates much discussion due to the return of rookie defensive end Randy Gregory and Hardy, it’s actually the linebackers that will probably go farther than any other position in determining whether or not this side of the ball can help the Cowboys both stay afloat and then make the NFC playoffs in less then three months.

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