[In this series, we’re going to look at a very competitive roster and pinpoint exactly where the training camp battles will take place. The Cowboys already have plenty of guys to pencil in at starting positions and only a few roster spots are truly open. Which players really have to fight their way on the final 53? Who has the edge in these position battles?]
Linebacker: A battle brewing at backup linebacker spot?
The Cowboys have made the linebacker spot a priority this offseason. They are likely to keep five or six guys at the position and that means there could be a battle between three players all vying for one position..
Sean Lee- When Lee is on the field, the Cowboys have been a really good defense, the same can’t be said for when he’s been absent.
Jaylon Smith- The further he gets from that horrific injury, the better he is. Smith had some good moments in 2017 and should only be better this season. He may become the Cowboys new SAM linebacker.
Leighton Vander Esch- The first-round pick could very well be the new starter at middle linebacker come September. The Cowboys also wanted to protect themselves in case something takes Sean Lee off the field and they have to pivot.
Joe Thomas- The former Packers linebacker that spent some time with the Cowboys before will be an excellent backup to all three spots, while also serving duty on special teams.
Three guys will be battling for the spots after that - veterans Damien Wilson and Justin March-Lillard and rookie draft pick Chris Covington.
Tale of the Tape:
We’ll take a closer look at the measurables of Damien Wilson, Justin March-Lillard and Chris Covington plus their résumés up to this point.
|Damien Wilson||6'1||245||4th year||4th rd||4.77||4.2||7.21||22|
|Justin March-Lillard||6'0||222||3rd year||UDFA||4.7||4.44||7.31||16|
|Chris Covington||6'2||245||Rookie||6th rd||4.78||4.39||7.02||23|
All three guys have some areas where they are quite similar but both Wilson and Covington are stronger than March-Lillard. According to these measurements, they are also a tad bit more explosive than March-Lillard, too. Still, there’s only two guys that have an NFL résumé and March-Lillard is one of them:
|Player||Games||Tackles||Sacks||Passes Defensed||Interceptions||Forced Fumbles|
Damien Wilson has more experience than March-Lillard does but that doesn’t mean that he’s a decidedly better player. In fact, March-Lillard has spent most of the offseason program starting at linebacker why the Cowboys were monitoring Sean Lee and dealing with a minor injury to Leighton Vander Esch. Covington being a sixth round pick doesn’t assure him of anything. He’s behind the curve in earning a spot on the roster. Both JMarch-Lillard and Wilson have him beat there and folks have taken notice of March-Lillard this offseason.
Guys like Bryan Broaddus have been pretty high on March-Lillard for some time, saying that for what he lacks, he always finds a way to standout. Broaddus also put March-Lillard at 6th in his Top-10 offseason surprises. David Helman has also been impressed by him:
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
Damien Wilson has been a decent player but he’s also had some off-field issues that will always be a part of the evaluation process for him. If the Cowboys can find a more reliable player in Justin March-Lillard, then nothing is really in the way of them parting ways with Wilson at roster cuts. Wilson has spent most of his time as a SAM linebacker, which is a role the Cowboys hope to put Jaylon Smith at now.
Though new passing game coordinator, Kris Richard, likes to deploy three linebackers much more often than the Cowboys have in the past, this is still very much a passing league. Expect the Cowboys to play in the nickel with two linebackers most of the time. That may make keeping a sixth linebacker much less of a priority. The Cowboys linebacker corps will be built around new concepts and there is no question who the Top-3 guys will be. Joe Thomas’ spot isn’t in question as he can backup all three positions and has been a standout special teamer. Chris Covington will certainly get an opportunity to show what he has but he was mainly picked for special teams purposes, something that Thomas, Wilson, and March-Lillard can all do.
What’s likely to come into play is the versatility of Damien Wilson versus Justin March-Lillard. Wilson hasn’t really been able to break out of being much more than backup strong side linebacker with little position flexibility in his game. This could pave the way for Justin March-Lillard though Wilson still has experience on his side. March-Lillard’s ability to backup at all the positions plus his efforts paying off this offseason may spell trouble for either Wilson or Covington.
Edge: Justin March-Lillard
Who do you want to win a roster spot between Damien Wilson, Justin March-Lillard and Chris Covington?
This poll is closed