Since Sean Lee went down with a torn ACL during the Dallas Cowboys’ OTAs, everyone has been wondering aloud who should/can replace him at middle linebacker this year. While we won’t really know the answer to that question until training camp and the preseason are over, DeVonte Holloman is the unquestioned best replacement option for Lee right now.
A 2013 sixth-round pick, Holloman caught the attention of Cowboys fans in his first preseason game when he intercepted a Matt Moore pass and took it back 75 yards for a touchdown in the Hall of Fame Game against the Miami Dolphins. He showed a natural playmaking ability that didn’t really come to fruition as a pro until the final game of the regular season.
In place an injured Lee, Holloman got his first start in the Cowboys’ Week 16 win over the Washington Redskins and recorded six tackles, but he really broke out the following week with 11 tackles, two sacks and a huge stuff on a running play at the line of scrimmage in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s the Holloman who could replace Lee as a starter in 2014.
Holloman played free safety when he first got to South Carolina as a freshman, which is an indicator of his athleticism and versatility. For his senior season, Holloman was moved to a hybrid safety/linebacker spot in the Gamecocks’ 4-3 defense, a position they call the “Spur.”
For the past three and a half seasons, the Cowboys have relied on Lee to play athletically and drop back in pass coverage quite a bit, and that especially was the case once the team switched to the Tampa 2 cover scheme under Monte Kiffin. Now with Rod Marinelli calling the shots, a linebacker who can drop back into coverage without sacrificing help against the run is more important than ever.
While Marinelli will stick with the Tampa 2 scheme, he’ll use a lot more man coverage in the secondary, which is what made Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings Pro Bowlers for the Chicago Bears, and the same was true for Brian Urlacher in two of Marinelli’s three years in the Windy City.
Considering Holloman has shown signs of similar freakish athleticism, instincts and playmaking ability to both Lee and Urlacher, he is undoubtedly the best option to start at middle linebacker for the Cowboys this year, assuming he doesn’t blow it in training camp or the preseason. His assets and style of play are ideal for the scenario into which he’s being thrown, and that’s amplified by the fact Lee will be there on the sidelines coaching him along the way.
Dallas fans shouldn’t expect Holloman to be the elite linebacker Lee is right off the bat, but it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom in Big D just yet. Holloman has the chance to be a star in this league and in Lee’s absence, he might just expedite that process this season.