Cowboys Tarnished Star

Tarnished Star?

The start of training camp is seventeen days away and the sports world is drooling at the prospect of the NFL season being around the corner. We’ve made it through the draft, OTA’s and minicamps and in seventeen days the sounds of pads colliding will start the shaping of the 2017-18 Dallas Cowboys team. Much to the chagrin of the management, I tend to go into my shell during the offseason. I’m not a big college football fan, although my favorite team is The Fighting Irish, my ADHD makes it hard to follow. In my mind it’s easier to skip the NFL Combine aka “The Underwear Olympics” and go straight to the draft which I would rate a B- due to the lack of foresight of possible future roster issues. I felt that the team was shortsighted in not addressing the linebacker room in the draft and this past Fourth of July holiday an issue arose with a player that was stamped by coaches and management to be a key contributor.

If  you’re a Cowboys fanatic like I am, I get alerts to my phone for anything Cowboys related, and I was awoken on Friday morning by an article on Yahoo Sports titled: “Wilson’s Aggravated Assault Charge Latest in Mounting Personnel Issues for Cowboys”. The article discusses the many Cowboys transgressions during the offseason from Nolan Carroll to David Irving as well as  rookie Jourdan Lewis who came to the team with a pending July trial date for domestic violence charges. To throw a dagger into my heart, Elliott’s domestic violence investigation is discussed. I’m not here to give any excuses for the behaviors of players but let’s not lump everyone’s situation into one big pot or question the teams commitment to having a drama free football team.

David Irving is suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the leagues policy on performing enhancing drugs. I understand that players should know what they put in their bodies. It’s been reported that the PED that was in his system is from a company that signed him to promote their products and I hope they reimburse him the money he’ll lose during his absence (highly unlikely). This transgression does not mean that Jason Garrett is not a  disciplinarian or that management is more concerned with talent rather than character. I’m under the belief that this is an honest mistake that the team could not control. If fans and media expect the team to monitor players lives to the point of what they put in their bodies, what has the NFL come to? I’m sure that the NFLPA has a do/don’t list of what the players can take so this falls on Irving’s shoulders and I’m sure he would say the same thing.

Nolan Carroll should have known better to drink and drive and in the world of Uber and Lyft there is no excuse. Carroll has taken personal responsibility for his actions and the league will most likely be suspending him in the near future. The team has enough cornerbacks on the roster to circumvent his loss and he might not have a big part in this season if one of the rookie cornerbacks perform during his absence. When he arrived in Dallas he was signed as a starter but his salary isn’t enormous to the point that he has to play.

The Ezekiel Elliott saga is rumored to be coming to an end in the near future. The NFL continues to do its due diligence in his case and I can see this coming to an end no later than the third preseason game of the season. In my opinion the only reason that Alfred Morris is still on the team is because of Elliott’s legal issues. In recent interviews and comments, it seems that the light bulb has finally come on and everyone can hope that the only thing Elliott will be catching is screen passes instead of cases.

All of these cases are issues that the team has addressed and I would bet a large coke slurpee that Garrett continuously preaches personal responsibility and not squandering an opportunity for one poor decision. With the recent arrest of linebacker Damien Wilson for two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon the team is taking the “gathering more information” stance and there are people that feel that Garrett should make an example of Wilson and cut him. Over the years the Cowboys have shown patience with players who step outside of the law and to be honest with you there is no need to read the list of names. The team doesn’t benefit by making decisions about the players status on the team before the court system and I’m certain the team will wait to see how it works out. I’m sure we will see Wilson at training camp and during the preseason while this plays out in the media and court. I’m not worried if Wilson can be replaced on the field because we have Anthony Hitchens, this teams Swiss army knife.

One of the reasons that I am a Jerry Jones apologist is during his ownership, he’s never turned his back on his players. Some people may feel that is because Jerry values the talent over Garrett’s RKOG (Right Kind of Guy) mantra and that might be true but at least he’s been consistent. For every Randy Gregory and Rolando McClain there is a Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant. There is also a Dimitrius Underwood and Alonzo Spellman, two players that the Cowboys gave an opportunity to get their lives together after being diagnosed with mental disorders.

As Jones gets ready to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, these stories should be told as well as how he affected the NFL with his shrewd business moves in advertising and challenging the NFL norm.

So Mote it be

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