Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster predictions: Training camp rolling

Dak Prescott, Garrett Gilbert, Cooper Rush, Dallas Cowboys Mandatory Credit: Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports
Dak Prescott, Garrett Gilbert, Cooper Rush, Dallas Cowboys Mandatory Credit: Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

Linebackers (6)

Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Micah Parsons, Jabrill Cox, Keanu Neal, Luke Gifford

I don’t think there’s much argument over who ends up in the linebacker room. Leighton Vander Esch is on the final year of his contract and the Cowboys want to re-sign him after this season. The only way to ensure he has the best opportunity is by starting him. With a better defensive line and simpler defensive scheme, hopefully, shades of 2018 Vander Esch find his way back to Arlington.

The team drafted Micah Parsons with their first-round pick and Jabrill Cox with their first fourth-round pick. The organization clearly views both of them in high regard because they are incredibly athletic and have had several years of high productivity at their respective college programs. Their spots on the team are as secure as a Stanley Hardened Steel Padlock.

Jaylon Smith… Probably one of the most hated Cowboys on the team currently, he certainly catches more flack than he deserves from his oft tone deaf comments about his play and his role with the team in large part because of the contract he was given before the 2019 season. Smith shouldn’t be on the field as a starter, but the team paid him a lot of money to be one and somehow still view him as one? There’s an out on his contract in a year, maybe they’ll surprise us then.

Keanu Neal was supposed to be a veteran with experience for this Dallas defense, but in his five-year career, he’s had two season-ending injuries hurting a body that was already lacking in athletic ability. The waning athleticism is a big reason why he shifted to linebacker, but it’s possible that he might still be too slow to play his new position.

Original reports were that he was struggling to cover the first few days of camp before picking up the last two practices. Concerning news for a guy who was projected to be one of the team’s subpackage linebackers, but when you share the same field with Parsons, Cox, and Vander Esch the lack of athletic ability is pretty easy to point out. Over time, things should start to level out and Neal will likely garner most of his reps in passing situations.

Lastly, the odd man out of this group would be former Nebraska Cornhusker Luke Gifford. The team generally carries six linebackers, but in years past have used the bottom of the list of guys to play special teams. With so many linebackers to go around getting playing time on defense, the team needs someone to fill in for special teams. Francis Bernard is currently out nursing a foot injury, the selection wasn’t very difficult.