Newsflash: The Dallas Cowboys need linebackers...bad. They need help at both inside and outside linebacker. The starters are set. The ever-improving Bradie James will line up at the strong inside linebacker spot. James will be flanked by his third weak side cohort is as many seasons, newly acquired veteran Keith Brooking. DeMarcus Ware will continue his reign of terror from one outside linebacker spot, while the other side will likely come down to a training camp battle between Greg Ellis and Anthony Spencer.
Beyond the starters, the Cowboys are thin. Justin Rogers has been mostly a special teamer. While Matt Stewart has experience in Wade Phillips' system, he has also been out of football for two years. Bobby Carpenter has been enigmatic, and we know next to nothing about Steve Octavien.
Here is a look at the Cowboys' current group of linebackers:
Keith Brooking (6-2, 241)
Bradie James (6-2, 239)
DeMarcus Ware (6-4, 252)
Greg Ellis (6-6, 265)
Anthony Spencer (6-3, 257)
Bobby Carpenter (6-2, 248)
Justin Rogers (6-4, 250)
Steve Octavien (6-0, 238)
Matt Stewart (6-3, 236)
The Cowboys do not necessarily need three new players, but the team has three basic needs at the linebacker position.
1. Wade Phillips' defense has worked best when he has had an athletic, rangy weak inside backer (Brooking in Atlanta, Donnie Edwards in San Diego). Hopefully with the acquisition of safety Gerald Sensabaugh, linebackers will have less coverage responsibilities. Still, the weak inside backer will have to be able to handle himself in space. Keith Brooking is exactly what the Cowboys need at the position, but at 33 he is not the long term answer. The Cowboys will be looking to land a similar player in the draft to succeed Brooking.
2. The Cowboys need another pass rusher. Greg Ellis will turn 35 during training camp. His body is aging and his mouth is growing by the year. Anthony Spencer has showed flashes, but has yet to prove that he can hold down the fort for 16 games. Even with both of those guys on board and playing well, the Cowboys are still thin outside. An injury would be crippling. At the very least the Cowboys need to find a guy who can be a situational rusher. In a dream scenario, the team would probably be elated to find a player good enough to allow the team to free itself of Greg Ellis.
3. Any linebacker the Cowboys draft will have to contribute on special teams. The Cowboys utilize quite a few linebackers on special teams, and as poor as the coverage units were last season, an infusion of fresh blood can't hurt.
Yeah we know. Aaron Curry is the best linebacker in the draft. Unless we want to waste a lot of senseless keystrokes talking about what it would take to trade up into the top 5, I suggest we stick to the guys we can actually have. Here are a few guys the Cowboys may have their eyes on:
- You would have been teetering on the edge of insanity had you said this last year, but Ohio State's James Laurinaitis could realistically be had with the 51st pick. He didn't blow anyone away in Indianapolis, but the tape doesn't lie. Animal's baby boy can play some ball.
- Darry Beckwith of LSU has been tagged as a player of interest by Dallas. Beckwith has some durability concerns, but he is the rangy, athletic type of player that Keith Brooking is.
- South Carolina's Jasper Brinkley had an outstanding combine. He is probably more suited for Bradie James' position, but may be athletic enough to provide depth at both inside spots.
- Opinions are all over the scale on Ohio State's Marcus Freeman. Some scouts are in love with his athleticism and potential. Others are troubled by his perceived lack of physicality. The recent history of Ohio State linebackers in the draft can't help Freeman.
-Virginia's Clint Sintim is appealing to the Cowboys if for no other reason, the fact that he has played a bit of 3-4. Sintim was however less than impressive at the combine.
- Connecticut's Cody Brown has the skill set to provide some depth at any of the linebacker positions. Brown is a bit raw and may be more of a project than the Cowboys are willing to take on at this point.
- Utah's Paul Kruger certainly looks the part, but virtually disappeared against big-time competition (Alabama, Michigan, Oregon State ,BYU).
-Richmond's Lawrence Sidbury, Jr. has a ton of upside, but has done most of his damage against lesser opponents. Sidbury ran the fastest 40 amongst all defensive linemen at the combine (4.64), and displayed the athleticism to make a successful transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4.
The Cowboys need depth at both inside and outside linebacker. While it would be nice to grab a guy who can step right in if called upon, the Cowboys are solid enough at the position to gamble on a player with a high ceiling. Look for the Cowboys to walk out of Radio City Music Hall with a linebacker or three.