We continue our look at the newest Dallas Cowboys. In this post, we talk about fourth-round linebacker Damien Wilson from the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Our answers come from Matt Humbert of SBN's The Daily Gopher.
1. Last year, the Cowboys took a highly productive but not so well known linebacker from a Big 10 school, Anthony Hitchens of Iowa, in the fourth round, and he turned out to be the second most important rookie of the season. Damien Wilson appears to be a very productive but not so well known linebacker. Can you make a comparison between the two?
Iowa's linebackers in 2013 were arguably the best in the Big Ten, and Hitchens was a big part of the reason why. Hitchens and Wilson had similar combine measurements, though Damien is a little bigger, quicker laterally and more explosive/athletic. Wilson's best position as a pro may be a WILL, and Hitchens may be a little more physical. Really, the two are similar in a lot of ways despite playing different spots in college and under different schemes.
2. In the fourth round, Dallas is looking for depth and special teams abilities rather than a starter. First, what position or positions is he best at? Dallas likes some position flex, so does he offer that?
Damien played MIKE linebacker for the Gophers the last two seasons, becoming an every-down backer his senior year after he dropped some weight to be quicker and more fluid in coverage. He could continue that trend and shed an additional 5 lbs. or so to move outside as a pro. WILL may be the best position for him, since he tends to avoid blockers rather than engage and shed. He's also sneaky good in zone coverage, and has a knack for baiting quarterbacks with his eyes. MIKE would be his secondary position but the one he's most familiar with based upon college experience. Minnesota played a lot of Nickel last season, and Wilson rarely left the field.
3. Does he have any special teams experience?
Limited. Minnesota was hit pretty hard by injuries at linebacker in 2013 and 2014, and Wilson was far too valuable.
4. In general, can you discuss his strengths and weaknesses as a player?
He's very good at moving from sideline-to-sideline and his pursuit ability is a big reason why he was able to pile up so many tackles in college. He's better at avoiding blockers than using his hands to shed, which was a problem against power teams like Wisconsin and Ohio State. He also has a tendency to overrun his fits and take a few missteps, the most glaring example was his missed fit on J.T. Barrett's 80+ yard touchdown run last year. He's not necessarily the best in a phone booth, and at Minnesota he has plenty of support to cover up misses at the second level because the Gophers are very aggressive with their safeties.
In general though, he has a knack for being around the ball and is a very aggressive tackler. He's durable and tough, rarely leaving the field for anything and even played through a meniscus tear that required surgery. He was the leader of the front seven and directed the calls for the defense. Damien is very consistent, productive and a quick learner; he stepped in to the starting MIKE linebacker role from Day One at Minnesota and showed none of the learning curve associated with many JUCO transfers. He is arguably the Gophers' best linebacker in many years.
5. Obviously, Dallas took players that are model citizens (like Byron Jones) and those who have an issue or six off the field, like Randy Gregory. What kind of person is Wilson away from the field? Is he likely to generate the wrong kind of headlines, or is he more likely to go quietly about his business and practice and play hard?
Wilson had no off-the-field incidents at Minnesota other than missing a meeting once, and he was punished by not starting for one game. He was a vocal leader on the field, and as noted, put in the effort during the offseason to get down to a better playing weight. His presence on the team also helped support and motivate his cousin David Cobb to get serious, and Cobb became one of the better running backs in the Big Ten the last two seasons.
6. Finally, why are the Gophers golden?
The Gopher nickname was lifted from a satirical political cartoon in the 1800's, and the Golden bit was attached in the 30's. Back then, when Bernie Bierman was the head coach and the Gophers won 3 consecutive national championships, they wore all gold uniforms. A radio broadcaster referred to the awesome juggernaut of a squad Bierman fielded as "Golden Gophers," and the name stuck ever since.
Thanks again to Matt for his insight. Wilson looks like he has the potential to be a strong player for Dallas going forward.