Cowboys 2017 LB’s – Depth, Rotations & Snaps

Sean Lee
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series 2017 Cowboys Depth, Rotations & Snaps

In this series we break down the potential Dallas Cowboys depth chart, rotations and snap counts for the 2017 season.

It’s the modern NFL. Free agency is here to stay and organizations have to deal with moving parts each season. There is more to building a team each year than just finding the best 11 starters for each side of the ball. In this era of specialization and pass-happy offenses a “starter” is a fluid term to say the least. Teams employing three and four receiver sets have to be countered with defenses that echo that alignment. Ultimately it comes down to not only your starters, but your positional depth and/or the snap counts players get. It’s not getting the best 53 players to put a pen on a contract. It’s getting the right 53.

Ed Note: Click here for the latest Dallas Cowboys Depth Chart. It’s interactive and exportable.

As of today rookies are rookies and have yet to earn stars on their helmets. However these players were obtained for a reason and our lineups reflects that. Today we’re going to look at the potential 2017 Cowboys linebacker rotations.

Linebacker Base Alignment

  • WLB – Sean Lee
  • MLB – Anthony Hitchens/Jaylon Smith
  • SLB – Damien Wilson

Nothing is set in stone, except of course, when it is. Sean Lee will be starting on the week side. Not going to spend a ton of time talking about him. With Lee the Cowboys have one of the best linebackers in the league (when healthy). In Marinelli’s D the WLB is a focal point who has excellent flow lanes to get to the ball. He does. Passing game? Check. Sean Lee is a stud.

Talk about Jaylon Smith all you want (we will), but Anthony Hitchens is the incumbent and in his fourth year is looking quite comfortable in the middle. More than a JAG and less than a stud, Hitchens is a glue guy that makes the rotation better. An excellent short yardage option Hitchens isn’t so much a weak point as Jaylon Smith is an upgrade. It’s possible Smith takes the job for Week 1. More likely the torch is passed sometime during the week six bye.

Damien Wilson most likely would have been the starter last season if not for a freak paint ball eye injury that caused him to miss almost the entire training camp. Having wheels that give him range with some serious thump, Wilson is the man this year. He should start on the strong side in the base alignment and will also see the field on certain passing downs. Even as a starter he will still be a core special teams guy. This kid is a football player and Cowboys Nation is really going to enjoy him this season.

Linebacker Passing Alignment

  • WLB – Sean Lee
  • MLB – Jaylon Smith/Damien Wilson

This is the alignment that will see the majority of snaps on the field. Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith (even at 80-90%) is a very nice upgrade over last season. I love Anthony Hitchens on the field. But flash back to the Lions playoff game and Hitchens body exploding like a geek trying to make a cut in flag football as he chased down the receiver and somehow didn’t get called for pass interference. So ya, Smith/Wilson will be an upgrade.

Let’s start with Wilson. The kid is for real. He is fast, can cover, has instincts and a zeal for the game. If Lee went down it’s a toss up at this point as to which player would fill in. Top of the list is Damien Wilson. That says a lot. But even early in the season the team is looking to put Jaylon Smith on the field paired with Sean Lee and come on …. can  you blame them?

Not going to get dragged down here in regards to Jaylon’s injury recovery or his draft position. This is not a piece about the value of the pick. This is about which talents are going to do what on game day, not about how they got here. Jaylon Smith, even at less than 100% is a serious upgrade over any other option on the team. He’s that good. He’s that instinctual. He’s that damn sexy on the field.

The injury didn’t rob Smith of his incredible instincts. Remember this guy wasn’t just an incredible athlete. Jaylon has incredible football instincts and those ALWAYS translate well to the NFL. He can cover, he can blitz, he has range, he has a huge catch radius and (by all reports) a nasty attitude on game day. On passing downs the team just got a WHOLE lot better.

Linebacker Rotation

  • WLB – Sean Lee/Anthony Hitchens/Damien Wilson
  • MLB – Anthony Hitchens/Jaylon Smith
  • SLB – Damien Wilson/Mark Nzeocha/Kyle Wilber

The Cowboys have been looking to upgrade their linebacking corps for years and at this point with Wilson (and Nzeocha) maturing the unit is in a very good place. Throw in the multi-talented Kyle Wilber and the Dallas Cowboys have a solid unit. Not the deepest but certainly talented enough to get the job done on game day.

The bad news is, much like the DB’s behind them, the Cowboys linebacking corps will only be as good as the defensive line in front of them. The good news is the Dallas DL is looking better than it has in years. This is critical for the success of this crew.

Bottom line, the group stays healthy they are a solid crew and one of the best groups the team has has  had manning the position in years. The duo of Lee and Jaylon could arguably be a top ten unit for the team this season. Let that sink in for a minute. It’s been a long time.

Linebackers On The Bubble

  • LB – Kyle Wilber

Stud on special teams. Stud run defender. Able to put his hand down on the line in a pinch. I also understand he makes a mean espresso. Wilber has never fulfilled the promise he was drafted for but as the team shifted from a 3-4 to a 4-3 he adapted. Wilber is a football player. He loves the game and is not too expensive. That being said if a talented guy steps up Wilber is the man who is at the bottom of the rotation. Not the best place to be.

Linebacker Dark Horses

  • LB – John Lotulelei
  • MLB – Zach Wood

As he does every offseason Long snapper L.P. LaDouceur will have to fight off competition for his job. Zach Wood is (again) the man tabbed for the deed. The team isn’t up against the cap and has no motive other than performance to make the switch. Look for L.P. to man the job again this season. You don’t mess with perfection.

LB John Lotulelei is 5’11” and carries 235 lbs of pure football player on his frame. The former UNLV product entered the league as an UDFA with Seattle in 2013. He is a player who fits the RKOG mold. Tough, hard-nosed, great motor and loves the game. It takes many a player a year or so to get the NFL game down. Lotulelei is at that perfect time playing in a defense that is perfectly suited to his skill set. Keep you eye on this kid. I know Kyle Wilber will.

We will move back to the offensive side of the ball next. Til then.

What say you Sports Nation?

Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over

Cowboys 2017 DB’s – Depth, Rotations & Snaps

Orlando Scandrick
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series 2017 Cowboys Depth, Rotations & Snaps

In this series, we break down the potential Dallas Cowboys depth chart, rotations and snap counts for the 2017 season.

It’s the modern NFL. Free agency is here to stay and organizations have to deal with moving parts each season. There is more to building a team each year than just finding the best 11 starters for each side of the ball. In this era of specialization and pass-happy offenses, a “starter” is a fluid term, to say the least. Teams employing three and four receiver sets have to be countered with defenses that echo that alignment. Ultimately it comes down to not only your starters but your positional depth and/or the snap counts players get. It’s not getting the best 53 players to put a pen on a contract. It’s getting the right 53.

Ed Note: Click here for the latest Dallas Cowboys Depth Chart. It’s interactive and exportable.

As of today rookies are rookies and have yet to earn stars on their helmets. However, these players were obtained for a reason and our lineups reflect that. Today we’re going to look at the potential 2017 Cowboys defensive backs rotations.

The Cowboys let starting Safety Barry Church, starting CB Brandon Carr, starting CB Morris Claiborne and rotational DB J.J. Wilcox all walk in free agency yet the cupboard is hardly bare.

DB Base Alignment

  • FS – Byron Jones
  • SS – Jeff Heath (Kavon Frazier)
  • CB – Orlando Scandrick
  • CB – Anthony Brown

Jones and Scandrick are “locks” to start. Heath and Brown are “probable.” Sophomore Anthony Brown has given no reason to doubt his skill set through OTA’s. His rookie season was not a fluke. As long as he keeps doing the work he will continue to improve. He will. This is Jeff Heath’s year. He got thrust into a starting role as an over-matched rookie. He has improved each season and actually has the best hands of any of the DB’s currently on the roster. Sophomore Kavon Fraizer will make certain nothing is given to him as he played injured last season but is now fully healthy.

Unless there is an injury rookie Chidobe Awuzie will not be a starter to begin the season in 2017. He’s a CB taken LATE in the first second round. He will have an adjustment period.

DB Passing Alignment

  • FS – Byron Jones
  • SS – Jeff Heath
  • CB – Nolan Carroll (Chidobe Awuzie)
  • CB – Anthony Brown
  • NCB – Orlando Scandrick (Chidobe Awuzie)
  • DCB – Jourdan Lewis

Nothing really changes here for the Cowboys. Scandrick moves to the slot once the Nickle-D takes the field. Veteran Nolan Carroll is currently tabbed to be the starter yet an offseason DUI arrest could easily lead to a four-game suspension to start the season. Ball-hawk DB Jourdan Lewis should see the field when teams go four wide.

Awuzie may start depending on the status of DUI-fan Nolan Carroll (more below). He should end the season as the starter regardless.

DB TE Alignment

  • FS – Byron Jones
  • SS – Jeff Heath
  • CB – Nolan Carroll
  • CB – Anthony Brown
  • SCB – Orlando Scandrick
  • TECB – Chidobe Awuzie

After playing multiple defensive positions in college during OTA’s Awuzie has been getting the Byron Jones rookie treatment. He will play on the edge, in the slot and at safety. Yes, he’s that versatile and by working him at multiple positions Dallas can more easily get their best group of players on the field. The other specific job the team is hoping Chidobe can accomplish is to become a downfield TE stopper. Prolific pass-catching TE’s are becoming all the rage in the NFL and matching up with them is a challenge. Making it worse is the Patriots effect where some teams will have multiple options at TE driving defensive coordinators mad.

Jones can handle one yet the team would like to keep him running free if possible. Enter Chidobe who like Jones is physically able to matchup and has the mental tenacity and collegiate experience to make it work. Make no mistake, this defensive flexibility will be critical for the Cowboys in 2017 with the Giants, Redskins and Eagles all having big-time talents at TE now.

DB Depth

  • FS – Byron Jones/Xavier Woods
  • SS – Jeff Heath/Robert Blanton/Kavon Frazier
  • CB – Orlando Scandrick/Nolan Carroll/Chidobe Awuzie
  • CB – Anthony Brown/Marquez White
  • SCB – Orlando Scandrick/Chidobe Awuzie/Jourdan Lewis

When you let three starters and one key rotational player take a walk you take a hit in the depth department but the Dallas front office was obviously ready for it and did a fine job of restocking the cupboard. Don’t overlook veteran free-agent signees Robert Blanton and Nolan Carroll. Carroll’s pending DUI issue aside these were key moves this offseason that gives the Cowboys coaches a critical veteran presence to lean on.

After the two vets it’s all about talent. Kavon Frazier could easily beat out Jeff Heath and brings a physical presence to the position that is always welcome. Xavier Woods has the tools to hold down the top of the D while Jones cancels out opposing tight ends. Marquez White has all of the raw tools and Jourdan Lewis is a highly intriguing ball-hawking DB who looks to be the heir apparent to the Orlando Scandrick role.

DB On The Bubble

  • CB Nolan Caroll
  • CB – Marquez White
  • Safety – Robert Blanton

Once first round pick Awuzie gets his hands on a starting spot he probably won’t let go. If Nolan Carroll’s DUI results in an early four-game suspension his value to the team could very well be negligible when weighed against the burgeoning young talent that should be much more evolved when Caroll may be eligible to return.

Marquez White does indeed have all of the raw, physical tools. That’s just it. He’s raw. The practice squad is an option in case he can’t make the final 53.

Robert Blanton is in direct competition with Jameill Showers and Xavier Woods for a roster spot. Guys on rookie contracts are what makes the Cowboys salary cap wheel move without squeaking.

DB Dark Horses

  • CB – Jourdan Lewis
  • Safety – Robert Blanton
  • Safety – Kavon Frazier

Jourdan Lewis has his own impending legal issues yet he and the team both seem confident they won’t impact his freshman campaign. Ball-hawk is a term you want to be associated with your players and Dallas is sorely in need of someone to increase their tepid interception numbers. Lewis could be that guy.

Jeff Heath is the man at Safety. Unless he isn’t. It won’t be a matter of Heath playing badly, he won’t. However Blanton isn’t chopped liver and has the skills to excel in Marinelli’s D. Frazier brings the big thump, speed and a rookie contract to the party after playing injured during his rookie campaign. Remember the physicality Wilcox brought to the field? I know Odell Beckham Jr. does. Fraizer brings that same ability and Rod Marinelli wants that on the field. I look at the safety position next to Byron Jones as being the most competitive battle in the backfield this training camp.

We will move back to the offensive side of the ball next. Til then.

What say you Sports Nation?

Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over

Cowboys 2017 DL – Depth, Rotations & Snaps

Depth Chart
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series 2017 Cowboys Depth, Rotations & Snaps

In this series we break down the potential Dallas Cowboys depth chart, rotations and snap counts for the 2017 season.

It’s the modern NFL. Free agency is here to stay and organizations have to deal with moving parts each season. There is more to building a team each year than just finding the best 11 starters for each side of the ball. In this era of specialization and pass-happy offenses a “starter” is a fluid term to say the least. Teams employing three and four receiver sets have to be countered with defenses that echo that alignment. Ultimately it comes down to not only your starters, but your positional depth and/or the snap counts players get. It’s not getting the best 53 players to put a pen on a contract. It’s getting the right 53.

Ed Note: Click here for the latest Dallas Cowboys Depth Chart. It’s interactive and exportable.

As of today rookies are rookies and have yet to earn stars on their helmets. However these players were obtained for a reason and our lineups reflects that. Today we’re going to look at the potential 2017 Cowboys defensive line rotations.

Defensive Line Starters

  • WDE – Taco Charlton
  • 1-Tech – Maliek Collins
  • 3-Tech – Tyrone Crawford/David Irving
  • SDE – DeMarcus Lawrence/David Irving

A versatile front that can play the run and the pass the team was showing variations of this alignment from Rookie through Involuntary OTA’s. Rod Marinelli want’s to put his best players on the field. Can Taco stop the run AND get to the QB? We will find out soon. Three factors will determine the strong side/3-tech shakeout. Tyrone Crawford’s ability to turn it up a notch fully healthy. DeMarcus Lawrence’s ability to get healthy and David Irving’s progress as a player which may eclipse anything the other two can counter with. With Crawford, Lawrence and Collins the team gets veterans who can diagnose early down plays and have the talent to get to the ball.

Breaking News: Looming 4 game PED suspension being reported for David Irving …. 

Defensive Line Run Alignment

  • WDE – Taco Charlton
  • 1-Tech – Cedric Thornton/Stephen Paea
  • 3-Tech – Maliek Collins
  • SDE – DeMarcus Lawrence/David Irving

Crawford sits this one out. He needs to stay healthy and limiting his snaps on the inside will be key. His versatility to play run/pass is his best asset and he should get the majority of his snaps in versatile alignments. Thornton has the strength/size to be a force on the inside and is ably backed up by Stephen Paea who could push for Thornton’s snaps. Lawrence may very well get the same treatment as Crawford here and sit this alignment out. Charlton and Collins are uniquely suited for their roles and along with Irving bring the ability to disrupt the running game from all three positions.

Defensive Line Pass Alignment

  • WDE – Benson Mayowa/Damontre Moore/Charles Tapper
  • 1-Tech – Maliek Collins
  • 3-Tech – David Irving
  • SDE – DeMarcus Lawrence/David Irving/Charles Tapper

Mayowa was bringing the heat towards the end of last season and there is no reason he shouldn’t continue his growth. The Cowboys really like his skill set and the light seems to have come on. Moore is the risk/reward offseason acquisition who if he plays like he did in Seattle could be a starter. Tapper is a total wild card. Much like Collins was miscast in college as a two gapper. Tapper is seen as a guy that can excel in Rod Marinelli’s defense. Collins and Irving from the inside on passing downs is a nightmare for opposing lines.

  • WDE – Benson Mayowa/Damontre Moore/Charles Tapper
  • DT – Maliek Collins
  • SDE – David Irving

On third and long the Cowboys occasionally go to a three man line. These guys all have motors that won’t quit and have the wheels to chase down screens and trick plays.

Defensive Line Rotation

  1. Taco Charlton
  2. Maliek Collins
  3. Tyrone Crawford
  4. DeMarcus Lawrence
  5. Benson Mayowa
  6. Cedric Thornton
  7. David Irving
  8. Charles Tapper
  9. Stephen Paea
  10. Joey Ivie

Tapper will be the last man on game day with Paea and Ivie looking for the occasional injury or matchup fill in. The starters will get theirs but look for the next four guys in the rotation to receive very heavy snap counts. As part of the team game plan they follow the 90’s scheme of lower counts for the starters and a solid rotation.

Defensive Line On The Bubble

  1. Tyrone Crawford
  2. Cedric Thornton
  3. Stephen Paea
  4. Charles Tapper
  5. Joey Ivie

In order. Crawford can’t afford to step back and needs to stay healthy. His contract is larger than his production. Thornton and Paea could very well be looking at the same roster spot. Tapper got his redshirt season. Now he needs to step up and be productive. Ivie is on the outside looking in but has that special thing that’s hard to describe. He’s a Marinelli player. Motor and talent. Still, he’s on the outside looking in and has a long road in front of him.

Defensive Line Dark Horses

  • DE Darnell Leslie
  • DE Zach Wood

Wood is an effort guy who is also direct competition for the long snapper position which has been ably maned for many years by L.P. Ladouceur. Wood has the ability to contribute on every special teams unit at a high level. As a member of a defensive line rotation, he would be an emergency guy.

Darnell Leslie is listed everywhere as a defensive end. He played more snaps in college in a two point stance and the Cowboys were using him a lot at LB at OTA’s. At 235 lbs his skill set screams special teams however he does have a knack for rushing the QB and that has to be looked at. To wit from his bio:

“Finished career tied for 7th all-time in sacks despite only playing three seasons” – MU Bio

If you can get to the QB who needs an official position anyhow?

We will move to the offensive side of the ball next. Til then.

What say you Sports Nation?

Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over