Throughout training camp, the Cowboys have consistently talked about finding best three guys to be their starting linebackers, as Jason Garrett said in mid August:
"At the end of the day, we need to find our best three linebackers and the best combination of guys to start for us in base," Garrett said.
What may not seem like a big deal on many other teams is a big deal in Dallas, and not just because the Cowboys lost middle linebacker Sean Lee early in the season, and then lost DeVonte Hollaman in the preseason. They also almost drafted Ryan Shazier with their first-round pick had he been available, which raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions about the linebacking unit; they brought in Rolando McClain out of retirement, who brought with him a set of entirely new question marks; there were massive doubts about Bruce carter's ability to be successful in a 4-3 defense; Kyle Wilber seemed to have locked down the strongside linebacker position after playing it fairly well in six games last season: in short, everything was up in the air. So much so that the coaches basically played every player at every position, as Bruce Carter said yesterday.
"I moved all over the place [in the preseason]as far as our positions. You know, all of our linebackers did."
As we enter the final week of preseason, and as the Cowboys start their normal pregame practice routine, it seems that the coaches have finally settled on their starting lineup, according to Carter, who says he'll be the stater at the strongside spot, Rolando McClain will be the middle linebacker and Justin Durant will man the weakside position.
"I think SAM," Carter said today when talking about the starting lineup and where he'll fit in. "JD is at WILL and Rolando is at MIKE. And then I play WILL in nickel."
This is interesting for a number of reasons.
For one thing, it will leave Kyle Wilber, the presumptive starter on the strong side through much of camp, free to move to RDE in DeMarcus Lawrence's absence (and in the absence of any real pass rusher at RDE). Wilber played that position for the first ten games last season to mixed results, but continued taking snaps as a (nickel) pass rusher during camp. This also helps to partly explain the Korey Toomer signing, who would likely back up Bruce Carter on the strong side while Wilber moonlights at RDE.
The presumptive starting lineup also indicates that Rolando McClain has progressed far enough physically and mentally to where he can play the MLB spot. And perhaps even more importantly, the coaches trust him to play the spot.
By moving the 248-pound Carter to the strongside and keeping the 259-pound Rolando McClain in the middle, the Cowboys are beefing up their run defense, while the slighter, 228-pound Durant focuses more on defending the pass as the weakside linebacker. And they are also adding speed on the strongside: Carter ran a 4.57 40-yard dash while Kyle Wilber had a 4.83.
So, Carter, McClain, Durant.
What do you think about that lineup?