VRR: The Cowboys Have Quality Depth at Inside Linebacker

With three young players in Jason Williams, Sean Lee, and Stephen Hodge at the inside linebacker positions, the middle of the Dallas defense looks set for years.

This season, Hodge will continue his developmental transition from a roving college safety to linebacker while trying to make a name for himself as a special teams ace.

Williams and the rookie, Lee, should be in the Cowboys' sub-package plans. They look to be the frontrunners to replace Bobby Carpenter as the team's nickel LB. The competition for that job ought to be a great one to watch in training camp and the preseason. The coaching staff seems so intrigued with these two that there is talk they could create packages that feature both players.

If either is shooting for a starting gig, though, they may have to wait until 2011. The veterans in front of them, Keith Brooking and Bradie James, are two players who rarely miss any snaps.

Brooking has played in 144 straight games, starting 142 - in fact his only two non-starts since 2000 came last year when the Cowboys sent out their subpackage defense on the first play.

James is the Cowboys' resident ironman, having started 80 consecutive games for the team and played in 110 straight. He hasn't missed one since his rookie season in 2003.

More VRR after the jump.

In the Phillips' 3-4, the ILBs get a boatload of tackles.

James led the Cowboys in tackles last season with 181. That’s nearly twice as many as All-Pro DeMarcus Ware. Brooking was next in line with 156 tackles. Brooking was a more natural fit in this defense than Zach Thomas the season before him, and he helped bring an emotional edge to an already strong group.

ESPNDallas' latest series "Proving Ground" begins with Jason Williams.

Williams says he’s confident in his knowledge of the scheme, allowing him to react instead of think. He’s also much more fundamentally sound in coverage than he was a year ago.

Jason Witten says Williams has made vast improvements in his footwork and understanding how to use his body to prevent tight ends from getting to certain spots in their routes.

This is a fun read if you missed it by SB Nation DFW's Brett Perryman: "Top Five: Best And Worst DFW Draft Picks". Check out his numero uno.

No. 1 - Jay Ratliff (7th round/224 overall, 2005)

Ratliff was a very good player at Auburn, but NFL teams didn't seem to think that he had the size to handle the interior of an NFL line of scrimmage or the length to work work well outside. Even the Cowboys drafted him after Justin Beriault and Rob Petitti. He has worked his way to becoming the anchor of the highly ranked Dallas defensive line and has made the last two Pro Bowls. He was voted first team All-Pro in 2009.

Ratliff has been making the media rounds lately. He keeps his fans up-to-date on the news page of his supercool website JAYRAT.com.

The Blue-Star Blog begins its "Position Preview" series with the quarterbacks.

With 26 touchdown passes, just nine interceptions--one of just four NFL QBs with a single digit interception total--and the aforementioned playoff win, Romo proved many of his critics wrong last year, and built a solid foundation for 2010.

No better way to learn something than to teach it. Tony Romo returned to his hometown of Burlington, Wisconsin to teach quarterbacking to youngsters.


Fantasy Football talk already? Yup! Andrew Davidson at Niners Nation weighs whether Miles Austin or Brandon Marshall would be a better second-round pick.

The Winner: Miles Austin - Yes, believe it or not, the winner is Miles Austin. Dallas' offense is much more promising for WRs than Miami's, and Austin's speed should get him into the endzone more times than Marshall. When taking a WR in Round 2, you have to expect at least 10 TDs from the player selected, and that's more likely to happen if you take Austin instead of Marshall.

Mike Florio lists Roy Williams as one of his "Seven big-name players who should be cut".

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has shown he's not afraid to admit a mistake. Last year, he did it twice -- with receiver Terrell Owens and cornerback Pacman Jones.

Now, Jones needs to eat a Texas-sized slice of humble pie and part ways with one of the biggest blunders of his tenure with the team. He needs to cut Williams. Arguably, the handwriting already is on the wall less than two years after the Cowboys gave up a first-round pick, a third-round pick and more for a receiver who's now averaging $9 million per year. After Miles Austin's breakout in 2009 and the first-round selection of Dez Bryant in 2010, the Cowboys simply don't need Williams.

Having Williams around gives the Cowboys leverage against an extended holdout by Bryant. However, once Bryant puts pen to paper, Jones should put shoe to Williams' rear end.

No 100-yard regular season rushing days for Felix Jones? Really? You know that's going to change.

In the last two seasons, the Cowboys have had four individual 100-yards-rushing games, all by Barber. Only four teams have had fewer individual 100-yard games in that span: Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia and San Diego. Minnesota has had the most 100-yard games with 17. The Vikings are 14-3 in those games.

Bryan Broaddus finishes his "Breakdown" series with the Dallas specialists. Interesting thoughts on David Buehler...

I personally don’t think they have a kicker on this team. I welcome David Buehler to prove me wrong. In talking to special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, who believes in Buehler, I know they have a backup plan.

Get your single-game tickets! The Cowboys will put them on sale to the general public beginning this Saturday at 10:00 AM. Visit the ticketmaster.com Dallas Cowboys page for more details.

The Dallas Cowboys will put all remaining single-game tickets on sale to the general public beginning Saturday, July 10 at 10:00 a.m.

Is that Jennifer Tilly sitting at the same table as Johnny Chan? Yeah, big deal. They're regulars at the World Series of Poker. But Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith aren't. Welcome 2010 WSOP rookies!

Aikman and Smith, beginning on Thursday, will be part of a field of thousands of amateurs with dreams of walking away with the coveted WSOP bracelet. Beginning in the fall, ESPN will air highlights of the tournament leading up to the final table in November.

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