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The Dallas Cowboys should enter training camp with cautious optimism at linebacker

Things should definitely be better in 2021 at the second level of the defense.

At this time two years ago it was a real question: Just how good could the Dallas Cowboys linebackers become?

The Cowboys were coming off of their magical 2018 season where Amari Cooper saved the day on offense and Leighton Vander Esch howled to life on defense. To make matters more impressive, next to then-rookie LVE the Cowboys looked to be big winners on the huge gamble that they’d taken on Jaylon Smith two years earlier out of Notre Dame. What a time.

As we all know things fell apart rather quickly for the Cowboys, especially in the middle of the defense. In the time since then the organization has changed head coaches and thus defensive coordinators, but entering 2021 they are on their second DC in as many seasons under Mike McCarthy.

Incidentally, the best coach that Dallas has had to work with their linebackers departed just before that 2018 season when Matt Eberflus left to serve as a defensive coordinator. Sean Lee hung around as a sort of coach on the field, but at the end of the day talent has to speak for itself and it has been rather quiet for the Cowboys in a number of different ways.

The Dallas Cowboys should enter training camp with cautious optimism at linebacker

Things have soured in just about every way that they were glorious for Dallas three years ago at linebacker. Jaylon Smith has retreated to the player that looked to be just figuring out the NFL game in 2017 (he was facing inordinate challenges that year in his first season playing since his injury) and Leighton Vander Esch has struggled to stay on the field so much that Sean Lee of all people became more reliable than him health-wise over the last two years.

So many questions led the Cowboys to one conclusion (accelerated by the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos in the 2021 NFL Draft), they must improve at this spot this year. After signing Keanu Neal in free agency, the Cowboys drafted Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox for Dan Quinn to use across his chessboard of defense. Shortly after that they declined to pick up the fifth-year option on LVE, and here we are, three years later, with the linebacker position having been re-made.

While it can feel frustrating that the Cowboys are having to sort of start over at linebacker, there is promise in that. Vander Esch seems to many like a toy that they are done playing with that they are ready to discard, but if he is someone who doesn’t have to be relied upon heavily in 2021 then that is a huge win for the team and their overall depth.

Training camp is going to be a lot of fun to watch at different spots for the Cowboys. Seeing the utilization of the linebacker group is going to tell us a lot about how Dallas feels at the spot, but ultimately the fact that they have so many options on paper suggests that there should be some guarded optimism surrounding it entering the season.

We broke down the Cowboys linebacker group in the latest episode of our Training Camp preview series on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. Subscribe to our channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss out on any of the videos that we do!