The Dallas Cowboys were busy overhauling various areas of their defense this past offseason. The secondary will be replacing three starters and over 2,600 snaps, while the defensive line will be replacing one starter and one important role player.
Flying under the radar for many are the goings-on at linebacker. Let’s start with the most popular player in camp:
How effective will Jaylon Smith be?
No player is expected to garner more interest than second year pro, Jaylon Smith. Smith is attempting to come back from a potential career-ending injury suffered in college. Once considered a top-5 player, it’s unknown how impactful Smith will be post-injury.
He’s looked good early in training camp, but how he’ll look when the pads come on will be the real test. Smith could be the best player on the entire defense or completely inconsequential. That’s how big his boom/bust potential is at this point.
Is Anthony Hitchens doing as well as everyone says he is?
For the first time in forever Anthony Hitchens appears to be stable in his linebacker position. The jack-of-all trades claimed the starting MIKE in 2016 when Rolando McClain was lost to suspension (and eventually cut) and he doesn’t intend on giving up that starting spot in the middle anytime soon.
Word out of The Star has been favorable regarding Hitch. Training camp will let us know if he really has taken that next step in his development. It will also allow the Dallas Cowboys to be patient with fellow MIKE, Jaylon Smith, and his comeback.
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Can Damien Wilson be suitably replaced as SAM?
Damien Wilson was primed for a breakout this season…until of course he ran into some legal trouble. Now, possibly facing a league suspension (and quite frankly jail time), the question revolves more around replacing him. Is there a player who can step in and produce in the SAM spot or are the Cowboys doomed to a season of stop-gaps while Wilson’s mess gets resolved?
Is this the year for Mark Nzeocha?
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Three years ago the Dallas Cowboys took a gamble on a highly talented, but raw and injured linebacker from Wyoming. The time is now for that linebacker to put up or shut up.
Mark Nzeocha has the skill to play multiple linebacker spots but may see the best opportunity at SAM with the potential loss of Wilson.
We know Mark can play special teams but we haven’t seen him reliable man a defensive role. Nzeocha is a player to watch this training camp.
Can an undrafted linebacker sneak on the roster?
Flying under the radar amidst all the big-named headlines has been the promising play of undrafted rookie, Lucas Wacha. The former Wyoming linebacker was turning heads in drills and mini camps, causing some to wonder if he can snag a spot on the Cowboys final 53-man roster.
Wacha is a fast and instinctive player who best fits at WILL. At 225lbs, he’s the smallest linebacker on the team but he plays with instincts and savvy that could make size a non-factor. How he plays on special teams will go a long way into whether he makes the team or not.
It’s interesting that two of the biggest questions facing the Dallas Cowboys linebackers this season revolve around a couple of former Wyoming guys fighting for backup spots. Linebacker is going to be one of the most entertaining units to watch because after Sean Lee, it will be a battle.