On July 20th the Dallas Cowboys will have their players report to training camp in beautiful Oxnard, California. Another season presents one more opportunity for the core of this team to finally put the pieces together and bring home another Lombardi Trophy, but before we can even begin to contemplate that type of glory, we must start small. This team has their work cut out for them again, and everything starts in camp this summer.
The first position to watch for on my list consists of the linebackers and here are three points of interest.
Mainly we know that Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are studs, they have the Mike (middle) and Will (weakside) linebacker positions locked up. Both players have the athletic makeup to be the best linebackers in the league, but unfortunately their health and durability have become a question mark.
This is an area that the Cowboys needed to upgrade at, and for the most part they did. They decided to bring back veteran Ernie Sims, but he may not even make the team. Currently he is buried on the depth chart as the fourth option at the Will. While he isn't a probable starter, Sims does have what it takes to be a valuable backup, we saw that last year when he stepped in when needed.
Another veteran to keep an eye on is Alex Albright. The undrafted free agent from Boston College made a mark a few years ago and has become somewhat of a utility player who has seen action at defensive end and linebacker. Currently listed as the backup to Justin Durant at the Sam (strongside) linebacker, Albright is another player who may have to prove his worth to Monte Kiffin, but don't count him as purely a depth player. Worst case scenario, we can expect him to back up and fill in, but he's decent enough to start on some teams and he could make a strong case to be considered to be the starting Sam on opening day.
The Young Guns
After seeing Bradie James and Keith Brooking roam the field together a few years ago, Dallas has made more of an effort to bring in younger players at the position. Clearly Lee and Carter are the big names, but guys like Brandon Magee and DeVonte Holloman were brought in because of their athletic ability and youth. Not only can they play in the base defense, they also have the energy to play on special teams.
Magee was a prospect the war room remained high on throughout the draft process and made him a priority undrafted free agent signing. He's recovered from the Achilles injury he suffered a few years ago, but he must show that he has the speed and quickness to play in a faster pace of football. Also his size (5-11, 228) and short arms (28 3/4 inches) could prevent him from becoming a starter in the NFL. He remains one of the most interesting players to watch for this summer, but he has a lot going against him.
Another young linebacker that was undrafted is Taylor Reed of SMU. Reed was a popular player in reports coming out of OTAs and practices recently, but keep in mind that he hasn't actually played a meaningful snap in a real football scenario. It's great for him to standout in those practices, it's just that he needs to show it in the pre-season games and do it on a consistent basis before we see him push someone else off the roster.
The New Guy
The Cowboys didn't have a lot of money to spend in free agency. They did their best to make upgrades and they needed to bring in a veteran linebacker with starting experience in the 4-3 defense. Justin Durant was a good option for them. He was signed relatively cheap on a two-year, $2.4 million contract and has started for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions.
Durant isn't a great linebacker by any means, but he's solid and he gives the Cowboys a stable option to start alongside with Lee and Carter. His job isn't safe though, we've seen Dallas cut veterans with newly signed contracts before. His veteran status won't keep him on the roster, only his play and impact on the field will.