Over the last couple of days, Coty Saxman stated his opinion that the Defensive Line would be the most impactful position for the Cowboys in 2013, OCC claimed that the biggest impact would come from the secondary, KD retorted that the difference would truly come in the trenches, but on the offensive side of the ball, Tom then tried to outsmart all of us by claiming that the most important group would be the coaching staff.
Today it is my turn, and my group of highest importance, the linebackers.
In the 2010, and 2011 drafts, the Cowboys spent consecutive second-round picks on linebackers, who would have been first-round picks had they not been injured their last year in college. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter have proven to be extremely effective players when they are on the field, although both suffered season ending freak injuries in 2012. These two manned the inside linebacker positions in former DC Rob Ryan's defense, and did so very effectively. In Monte Kiffin's 4-3 front, Lee and Carter will man the Mike and Will positions respectively.
The skill sets of these two players fit perfectly for these positions in this scheme. Both of these guys read and react very well and have the ability to attack the ball carrier. Moving from the 3-man front to the 4-man front, giving them a 3-technique and 1-technique to keep interior offensive linemen from getting to the second level to block them will only highlight their abilities.
A lot of conversations took place here on BTB as well as other Cowboys fan forums, about what the team was going to do about the SAM LB spot, and whether the Cowboys would spend an early pick on a guy or trust either Kyle Wilber or Alex Albright to play that spot. However, the Cowboys made a signing that could end up being very impressive. They brought in Justin Durant, the free agent LB from Detroit who last season played in all 16 games, was on the field for 82% of his team's snaps and recorded a total of 103 tackles. Clearly this tells you that he is a player who can find the ball on a run play and go make a tackle.
Durant's combine 40 yard dash time of 4.51 seconds was the third fastest among linebackers in the 2007 class. This level of speed, combined with the range already shown by Sean Lee and Bruce Carter create the opportunity for the Cowboys linebacking corps to rank among the league's elite, and to provide a backbone and support system for the rest of the defense, allowing the unit to become a dominant group once again.
(Later today, at around 7:00 pm ET, Coty will close this mini-series with some ruminations on who is really king, and also offer a poll where you can vote on which unit you think will contribute most to the Cowboys' 2013 success.)