(Editor's Note: Over the next month, the staff of DallasCowboys.com is looking to answer the 20 biggest questions facing the team heading into the 2023 season. Today, the staff writers continue the series by dissecting the linebacker position.)
17) How Starting Lineup Shakes Out at LB?
Nick Harris: With Anthony Barr out of the equation, a significant amount of play at linebacker is left open for grabs, specifically at the weak-side spot. Leighton Vander Esch has the middle linebacker spot solidified, while Micah Parsons will rotate in and out at strong-side in between lining up on the defensive line which will give way to Donovan Wilson maintaining his presence as a box safety. As for weak-side, I like Damone Clark to fill that role as the starter, but don't discount third-round pick DeMarvion Overshown there. The rookie's athleticism and defensive IQ will be tough to ignore early on.
Kurt Daniels: Last season, the Cowboys started 14 of their 19 games, counting the playoffs, with three linebackers on the field. The thing is, only three defensive linemen also started in those affairs, meaning Micah Parsons was lining up to attack the quarterback. The other four games saw four defensive linemen start but just two linebackers, Parsons and Leighton Vander Esch. In other words, the Dallas defense truly featured only two starters at linebacker all year. And expect more of the same in 2023 with Vander Esch and likely Damone Clark getting the nod when Parsons is taking a position up front.
Nick Eatman: This is a good question because it's not easy to answer. And the reason why is because of all this position flex. Your best linebacker is actually more of an edge-rusher. Your top safeties – Wilson and Kearse – can play linebacker in the nickel. And then there's the versatile rookie DeMarvion Overshown. I think Dan Quinn will work his magic with this position but at the end of the day, I say a lot of packages involving both LVE and Damone Clark, with hybrid roles that include Overshown, Jabril Cox and of course, Parsons, when he's not attacking the quarterback off the edge.
Kyle Youmans: There is a significant amount of excitement at linebacker, but with it comes raised expectations around the young talent at the position. With quite a bit of versatility, players will rotate from position to position, but everything starts with Leighton Vander Esch. He'll most likely start on the weak side, a position he mainly handled during the final three games of the 2023 season. Most of his year was played at the middle linebacker before Damone Clark rotated in and was more comfortable in the middle. Following them, it'll be a rotation of Jabril Cox and rookie DeMarvion Overshown, both flexible enough to play multiple positions.