The Cowboys envisioned that Hitchens would come in and develop behind Lee. Maybe, and if Hitchens absolutely had to, he might start for them in a pinch. What the Cowboys did not see coming, however, was a season-ending injury to Lee, which would thrust Hitchens into the conversation for the starting middle linebacker spot.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened when Lee suffered a torn left ACL on the first day of OTAs. Now, the Cowboys will have to find a way to replace Lee, and will need Hitchens to learn the position faster than anticipated.
Hitchens, who played outside linebacker at Iowa, is expected to make the move to the middle of the field in Rod Marinelli’s defense, but Cowboys’ linebackers coach Matt Eberflus thinks that Hitchens can play all three linebacker spots.
Eberflus, who coached with Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker for 10 years at the University of Toledo, said he was excited to have Hitchens on the team because of his ability to run and hit; something that Hitchens did well in college.
At this point, the one thing that will hold Hitchens back is experience, so I cannot say with certainty that he will be the Day 1 starter at middle linebacker, but from watching his tape, it would not shock me if he were.
Hitchens reads and reacts quickly, showing very good closing speed. He is aggressive against the run, and doesn’t look lost when asked to drop back. He is a non-stop, high-effort guy, quicker than he is fast and doesn’t stop until the whistle blows.
As I said, he looks pretty good on tape, and the Cowboys coaching staff is excited about him as a prospect, so let’s hope he can carry those skills over to the NFL.