I briefly touched on a subject in a post I wrote earlier (20 Toes Weather) and I decided that I had so much to say in regards to this topic that I'd get back to typing (it's a really bad storm lol).
Our core of LB's is really starting to look like an area of immense strength on our defense. This is a very welcoming sign, as the LBers are, in my opinion, the most vital part of any 3-4 defense, because they are the primary playmakers. Although the 3 d-lineman make plays penetrating the gaps at times (especially the very special Jay Ratliff), they are essentially counted on to occupy the offensive lineman as much as possible to allow the 'backers opportunities to get after the ball. With a dominant set of linebackers a 3-4 defense can be deadly. Green Bay and Pittsburgh, the Super Bowl teams last year, both have a very impressive group of linebackers with Pitt's arguably being the best in th league last year. Sure there were many other components to their successful seasons, but I don't think their defenses would've been nearly as dominant with average or mediocre play from the LBs.
The best pass rusher in football resides in Dallas and it would be blasphemous not to mention DeMarcus Ware first and foremost when discussing Dallas' linebackers. A surefire Hall of Famer, Ware has the most sacks league wide over the last 5 yrs, including the amazing 20 sack season. Some say he is not fierce enough, and while he may not be loud and boisterous like Lawerence Taylor was, it's ridiculous to say this guy is not fierce. I rest may case on his performance against the then undefeated New Orleans Saints after having been carted off the field the game prior. He went out on that field and inspired the entire team and also made the 2 biggest plays in the game completely changing the game. Others say he's not a leader. Funny that he'd spend time AFTER practice to tutor rookie left tackle Tyron Smith huh? Now unlike some of the other revered pass rushers around the league (note I said some, not all) Ware is also very stout against the run and good in pass coverage as well. I'm sure Rob Ryan fantasizes about ways to use this beast of a LB he has inherited and I look for Ware to be even more dominant with the diverse schemes that Ryan will unleash.
Two guys in the linebacking core that I expect to remain solid contributors are the inside duo of Brooking and James. However, I expect their roles to be a little different. I fully expect that Sean Lee will take over as a starter in place of Brooking. I see this as a great opportunity for Brooking to flourish in a reserve role, he has plenty tread on his tires and we all witnessed how he began to wear down last year. Given more rest, I think he can remain fresh all season long and manage to contribute at his 09 level, only in a more limited role. James I expect to remain the starter for the duration of the season given Bruce Carter's lack of experience and time missed due to his injury. James is not a weak link, though he suffers some in pass coverage but we can scheme with that in mind. He's still good against the run and is a wily vet with plenty experience.
This next paragraph can be copied and pasted from posts during last year's offseason and even the one before. Anthony Spencer, should I dare continue? This is the last year I will say these things about Spencer, either it comes to fruition or I give up on him...that simple. We've all seen the potential, we witnessed the years of "Almost" Anthony, we saw him step up at the end of 09 and actually turn "almost" into plays, he was getting there and was the perfect complement opposite D Ware. The thought of the two of them terrorizing QB's danced in all our heads heading into last season and then last season happened, seemingly without Spencer, he'd disappeared and reverted to "Almost" Anthony. Always excellent against the run, it's time to see Spencer get after the QB, because that's what a 1st round 3-4 outside linebacker is supposed to do. Now with the scheme change under Rob Ryan I'll give it one more go...Anthony Spencer will have a break out year!
The guy I expect to step up and really become a household name this year is Sean Lee. When given the chance last year he proved that the Cowboys first round grade on him was much warranted. All the reports from camp indicate that he has not only continued his impressive play but that he has improved as well. This guy has all the tools to be a beast, especially the mental make-up. He posses the two mental qualities that I find most important in any player at any position, but especially one that plays in the middle of the defense. The first thing is that he has football smarts, he is clearly a student of the game and surely spends hours in the film room because his ability to diagnose a play or read and react is phenomenal. The second thing is his work ethic, this kid is always working to improve and better his game, he wants to be the best and he is putting in the time and effort. I'm sure coach Ryan loves his work ethic and rest assured he will use Lee's football intelligence and give him plenty opportunity to capitalize on it. I say with EXTREME confidence that Sean Lee will be in the Pro Bowl discussion this year.
As for the most intriguing prospect in our group of linebackers, look no further than Victor Butler. I doubt there is a Cowboys fan alive that isn't looking forward to seeing what this kid can do when given the opportunity. We all saw what he was able to do in limited action, the way he capitalized on his few opportunities was a thing of splendor. His speed and quickness getting in the backfield is top notch stuff and his ability to close (unlike "Almost" Anthony) and finish the play will get him plenty of snaps from any DC. Ryan's scheme will put him in position to make plays and to be a disruptive force. There have already been reports from camp of he and Ware lining up next to each other and blitzing together...that's nuts!!! You have to give Ware a load of attention and if either of them ends up 1 on 1 with a tight end or a running back you can chalk up a sack on the stat sheet.