The Cowboys linebacker corps has seen a bit of a turnover since the end of the 2017 season. Anthony Hitchens left in free agency to sign a monster deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Cowboys spent the 19th overall pick on Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch to mix in with veterans Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Damien Wilson. They also grabbed Chris Covington in the sixth round. So far, the forgotten man in the room has been fourth-year linebacker Justin March-Lillard.
The Cowboys signed the 24-year-old linebacker after being released by the Seattle Seahawks in September of last year. March-Lillard was a busy man last year spending time with four different teams in a one month span.
While March-Lillard has yet to settle in with one team, he has the opportunity to do so here in Dallas. Taking a look at the early linebacker depth chart, Justin looks to be the fifth or sixth linebacker on depth chart and is in line to make the 53-man-roster to be a rotational defensive player and key special teams contributor. According to David Helman of DallasCowboys.com, Justin March-Lillard has been showing up in a big way on the defensive side of the ball in OTA’s.
OTA 9. Shouts out Justin March-Lillard, who had himself a day running with the first-team D. Recovered a Dak Prescott fumble in the red zone, and broke up a goal line pass to get a big stop for the defense #cowboyswire— David Helman (@HelmanDC) June 6, 2018
Coming out of Akron in 2015, March-Lillard was seen as a good athlete who could make a big contribution on special teams. While he has yet to show that on a consistent basis, year four for Justin March-Lillard may finally be the year it all clicks for him.
Here we’ll see March-Lillard lined up as one of the two linebackers on the field in Kansas City’s nickel defense. Off the snap, he does an excellent job of mirroring and reading Derek Carr’s eyes. Once he sees that Carr is not going to run the football, he drops back in coverage and almost comes down with an interception. Though he isn’t able to come down with the football, you can see how fluid of an athlete he is and how easily he moves in space.
Now this is a heck of a rep from Justin March-Lillard. Here we see March-Lillard overpower six-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. Justin reads the play perfectly at the snap and is able to win at the point of attack against Pouncey who was pulling on the play. Not only did March-Lillard blow up a two-time All Pro, but he was also able to keep his balance and make the tackle on Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams. This play takes instincts, speed, and power. Justin March-Lillard put all three on display.
Another really nice play from Justin. Again, we’ll see him meet at the point of attack with a bigger/stronger offensive lineman. March-Lillard is able to disengage from the blocker, dip under the right tackle and make the play on Le’Veon Bell. My favorite thing about this play is what Justin does pre-snap to make sure everyone on defense is lined up in the right spot.
Where we will see Justin March-Lillard show up in Dallas is on special teams. While he does have a high motor, and he does give 100% effort 100% of the time when on special teams, his best trait could very well be his ability to get off blocks which is extremely important for limiting big plays on special teams.
Here you’ll see him do an excellent job of using instincts and awareness to not get caught up in the trash. March-Lillard does a great job of maneuvering through the kickoff return team to meet the returner at the 25-yard line. Plays like this is what will keep March-Lillard employed and wearing a star on his helmet.
With the linebacker room having guys such as Chris Covington, Joe Thomas, Tre’Von Johnson, and UDFA Joel Lanning competeting for one of the last linebacker spots, it’s no sure thing that March-Lillard is guaranteed to make the roster, but the word out at the Star right now is that, fourth-year linebacker Justin March-Lillard is doing everything in his power to prove to the coaches that he is up for the task.