With training camp right around the corner, DallasCowboys.com is taking a look at the outlook of each position group for the home team in an eight-part series, continuing Monday with the linebackers.
Big Issue: Whereas the veteran presence of Bradie James and Keith Brooking has been a hallmark of the Cowboys’ inside linebackers in recent years, the ascension of
The youth movement will continue in 2012, as second-year pro
On the outside, the Cowboys have one of the league’s best pairings with
There will be a great deal of focus when camp opens next week for the Cowboys on the battle for the starting Mike linebacker job next to Sean Lee. The battle between Bruce Carter and Dan Connor should be outstanding but where I am also very interested to see the outcome is on the outside for some back up spots. Anthony Spencer will be the starter opposite DeMarcus Ware but will this be the year that
Rookie Watch: Fourth-round pick Kyle Wilber has to be considered a potential starter in the not-too-distant future, because both Spencer and Victor Butler are set to be free agents after 2012. Spencer’s price tag may be more than the Cowboys want to pay, and Butler hasn’t established himself as a player who can consistently stand up against the run. Wilber needs to develop his body considerably over the next year, but his play at Wake Forest led the Cowboys to believe he can do it all on the strong side of a 3-4 defense.
It’s likely Wilber plays primarily on special teams this year, but he could be in line for some pass-rush opportunities as well.
Don't Forget About … This offseason, Jerry Jones suggested Butler should see quite a bit more playing time. Over the past three years, he’s played primarily on known passing downs, but if the Cowboys want to give him a fair chance to prove he can be a starter – and a cheaper solution than Spencer – he may get more snaps.
Ware, obviously, will be on the field rushing the passer as much as possible, and Spencer’s $8.8 million price tag as the Cowboys’ franchise player is reason to believe the team will try to get its money’s worth this year. However, Butler has been a better pass rusher than Spencer since breaking into the league, so it’s possible he could play even more on third downs, and the creative Ryan may try to get his top three outside linebackers on the field at the same time more often.
DeMarcus Ware: His peers voted him the league’s sixth-best play in the NFL Network’s Top 100; in other words, he’s probably still underrated.
Sean Lee: One of the team’s hardest workers, it’ll be interesting to see if he can get teammates to fall in line.
Bruce Carter: Jones said in June that Carter would’ve still gotten a majority of first-team reps this summer even if Connor were healthy.
Dan Connor: Even if he is declared the starter, he may play less than Carter, who is expected to be featured on the nickel defense.
Anthony Spencer: Unless he plays with greater consistency this year, the Cowboys won’t overextend themselves to bring him back.
Victor Butler: He has a lot to play for this year: A chance to become a starter for the Cowboys or another team in 2013.
Kyle Wilber: He has the right frame to play on the strong side, but he needs to add bulk.
Alex Albright: A favorite of special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis.
Orie Lemon: His experience on the practice squad may give him a leg up on McSurdy.
Caleb McSurdy: A thickly-built inside linebacker, he should show up more as he gets more comfortable in the defense.
Adrian Hamilton: Small-school pass-rushing terror is competing with Albright to be the team’s fifth outside linebacker.