The biggest storyline for the Dallas Cowboys going into the season is what they plan to do with the middle linebacker position. This issue isn’t going to go away until someone proves they can step up. The likely suitor to take over for injured Sean Lee is Justin Durant. They need a stabilizing force at that position, and Durant must be that guy.
There will be no return for Lee this season as he was placed on the injured reserve. In conjunction with that move, the Cowboys signed troubled linebacker Rolando McClain.
McClain shouldn’t be counted on for much this season. He hasn’t played in an NFL game since November 2012. His willingness to stay committed to himself and his teammates is an uncertainty right now. This looks to be a long-term move that is really a shot in the dark.
Rookie Anthony Hitchens could be the middle linebacker, but the game will likely pass him by in the early stages. Everyone thinks they can adjust to the next level of competition until they actually experience it. He could develop into a productive player, but it’s going to take some time.
That brings us back to Durant. He took the first-team snaps in minicamp and looks to be the first option to fill Lee’s void. He’s played the position before, although he admits it may not be his strongest spot. That doesn’t mean that he won’t be able to play the position effectively, he just needs to get the needed reps and build his confidence and comfort level.
Linebacker coach Matt Eberflus feels that Durant can play the position and really produce for the team. It’s an important position. He will be the quarterback of the defense and he’ll have to be smart and make the calls. He has to cover both sides of the field, while being quick, speedy and durable.
There is no doubt that Durant possess the skills to play the position. He played MLB while in Jacksonville and also filled in for Lee previously in Dallas. The biggest question is his ability to stay on the field. He’s struggled with groin and hamstring injuries in the past. If he misses time this season, Dallas’ defense could be in a downward spiral.
You’ve probably heard that if you have two quarterbacks, then you don’t have one. My belief is that if you have various middle linebackers filling in throughout the season, there is no shot to succeed. Every player brings their own style when making the calls and adjusting to the offense. The team needs a consistent, familiar voice on defense, someone they can trust and rely on.
Durant seems like the best option for replacing Lee. It looks like Dallas has backed themselves up with safety options, but if they have a revolving door in the MLB spot, it’s going to be another rough year on defense.