It's not much to go on, considering it's an OTA practice in late May, but it's the best indicator we have yet. In the first practice the Dallas Cowboys held after losing Sean Lee for the season, fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens took the first-string reps at middle linebacker. There weren't many other options at the moment. Veteran Justin Durant is still rehabbing an undisclosed ailment, the Cowboys seem reluctant to move Bruce Carter, so last year's sixth-round pick, DeVonte Holloman, was the only other serious challenger.
For now, the Cowboys are going to see what Hitchens can do, it is the reason they drafted him. Although I'm still a big proponent of giving DeVonte Holloman a shot. His speed measurables, a big component of any Tampa 2 scheme, are comparable to Hitchens, and last year he just made plays. Not comparing him to Sean Lee, but that is one of the big things that sets Lee apart from other linebackers, making big plays especially in the turnover department. I like Holloman in that role so I hope the Cowboys give him a fair shot.
For now, they are content to evaluate their own talent, because there is no need to rush. Todd Archer, on point as always, points out that most any free agent they may look at will likely still be available come training camp. The Cowboys can always make a call then. Or, they can study other rosters and look for players who could possibly be released for some reason. The Cowboys do not have to panic into making a quick move, if they decide to make a move at all.
Of course, that doesn't stop the speculation, like this from Gil Brandt.
At least Lee's injury came early enough for Dallas to formulate a plan to account for his loss, either by doing a big job on Hitchens or by finding someone else. Perhaps the Cowboys could coax former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, who knows defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's system, out of retirement.
I'm still looking at Pat Angerer as the best replacement guy from outside, provided his knee checks out after micro-fracture surgery. He's still young and has proven talent in the NFL. Urlacher has proven talent for sure, but he is 36, he's been out of football for a year and had issues with his knee. It's no sure thing even if he did decide to come out of retirement.
If it turns out to be one of the young Cowboys like Hitchens or Holloman, they'll have plenty of help getting up to speed. One day after injuring the knee, Sean Lee was right back at Valley Ranch, coaching up Hitchens.
Lee was back at Valley Ranch on Wednesday going over defensive plays with rookie fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens, one of the candidates to fill-in for Lee. Just after the second organized team activity practice ended, Lee talked to Hitchens.
"He just helped me out a little bit on a couple of Cover Twos that we ran in practice," said Hitchens, who took all of the first-team reps at middle linebacker Wednesday. "It means a lot to me, being a young guy, that he's helping me out already. Whenever I have questions, I run right to him."