The Dallas Cowboys tweaked their starting lineup, and in the process, upgraded their entire linebacking corps
It’s not often a team finds a way to upgrade multiple positions without adding new players to the roster but that’s exactly what the Dallas Cowboys did yesterday when we heard officially, what we all were speculating for months: that Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch were switching positions.
Before the NFL Draft, Michael Gehlken from the Dallas News reported a series of moves the Dallas Cowboys were planning in 2020. Chidobe Awuzie moving to safety was one of them and LVE and Jaylon effectively swapping spots was another. Now that the Cowboys are back in the building, we’re started to gain confirmation on such moves.
By LVE moving to MIKE, he’ll upgrade Jaylon’s greatest weakness – coverage. While both the WILL and the MIKE have coverage responsibilities, the man in the middle has the arduous task of dropping and flipping vertically in Tampa 2 type looks. While the Dallas Cowboys don’t employ Tampa 2 like they used to, they still use it some form on the regular.
The scheme was especially challenging for Smith since he has well documented mobility issues, and the change of direction demanded by the MIKE in a Tampa 2 (it’s really more of a Cover 3 because the MIKE covers intermediate-to-deep middle) are the toughest of all the linebacker positions.
But this isn’t just about about covering some of Jaylon’s deficiencies, it’s also about playing to Jaylon’s strengths. When asked to attack and play downhill, Jaylon Smith is at his best. Playing as Mike Nolan’s 4-3 WILL, Jaylon will be given opportunities to line-up on the line and blitz.
The idea of a linebacker blitzing probably seems foreign to most Cowboys fans since Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard had two of the lowest blitz percentages in the league. The new defensive coaching staff isn’t quite so hesitant.
At Notre Dame Jaylon stood out in multiple ways, but attacking the backfield was his bread and butter. Smith was able to keep that proficiency in the pros, becoming a big play weapon capable of delivering devastating hits, game-changing sacks and soul-stealing tackles for loss. Putting him in position to do what he does best isn’t just wise, it’s good business.
As pointed out by Leighton, the similarities between the two spots are similar. This is especially true in nickel looks when the WILL and MIKE are the only LBs on the field. LVE broke it all down in his April discussion on the Boys and Girl Podcast below. It’s required listening…
The important takeaway is this – Jaylon Smith is still going to be in coverage here in 2020. That’s inescapable. But he’s not going to be asked to run the “vertical line” playing the middle requires, and he’s going to get more chances to run downhill and attack. The Dallas Cowboys are basically highlighting his strengths and minimizing his weaknesses.
This also bodes well for Leighton’s game since his mobility is next-level elite and he has a chance at completely dominating games at the MIKE spot – provided the Cowboys defensive tackles can keep blockers off him (somewhere Snacks Harrison just smiled).
The Dallas Cowboys just upgraded two linebackers spots without even adding personnel to the roster. How’d they do it? They assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the their star linebackers and put them in their best position to succeed.
- Published on 08/07/2020 at 11:01 AM
- Last updated at 08/07/2020 at 08:34 AM