(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 2021. Today, we'll debate how the Cowboys will sort out a deep linebacker rotation.)
FRISCO, Texas – Believe me, the Cowboys' coaching staff isn't complaining here.
After dealing with depth issues due to injuries in recent years, Dallas loaded up at linebacker this offseason, drafting two talented rookies (first-round pick Micah Parsons and fourth-round pick Jabril Cox) and signing dependable veteran Keanu Neal, a Pro Bowler in Atlanta under new Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
So how will the staff sort out roles and playing time for the new additions, plus veteran starters Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esh? Our staff writers debate.
5) How Will The LB Logjam Work Out?
Rob Phillips: We've talked about logjams at certain positions over the years, and the truth is injuries usually dictate starts and snap counts over the course of a season, at least on some level. Hopefully that's not the case here. At full strength, not everybody's going to play as much as they probably want. I'd guess Leighton Vander Esch is a starter, possibly on the weak side, with Keanu Neal rotating in. I'd assume Jaylon Smith is a starter, too, but is that at middle linebacker or perhaps the strong side? The way offenses spread things out now, often you only see two linebackers on the field. Micah Parsons is the X-factor here. He's not a full-time edge rusher, but the Cowboys believe he's versatile enough to help them with the pass rush, and perhaps moving him around is one way to get snaps for everybody.
Nick Eatman: Let's hope this is a good problem to have. People like to say that when you're talking about depth and in this case, if there is a surplus of linebackers that need to play, then it will be a good problem for Dan Quinn and his new defense. But I'm a little hesitant to say that all of it will just work out. Like, LVE suddenly is healthy-free and he's back to his All-Pro self. And Jaylon Smith is also back to Pro Bowl form again. And Micah Parsons is everything the Cowboys hope he'll be and becomes a star from Day 1. Keanu Neal makes the linebacker transition with ease and is a playmaker again and even Jabril Cox, proves all of his doubters wrong and is a fourth-round steal. All of that could happen. It's unlikely it all will. So therefore, I'm doubting that it'll be a problem at all. I see Vander Esch playing in the middle and the Cowboys coming up with outside linebacker roles for Parsons and Smith that will rush the passer more than we're used to seeing. But they need to find out about Cox this year if they have to make tough decisions on Smith and LVE next year.
Kyle Youmans: As exciting as the acquisition of Micah Parsons was this offseason and as frustrating as the linebacker spot has been over the past two years, I still don't expect a ton of change to start. Parsons will certainly get his snaps and see a hefty amount of playing time, but it's tough for me to see which starting job he would take over at the start of the year, especially when there is so much capital invested in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. But as the year goes along, I fully expect to see a couple more Parsons starts and a good dose of Keanu Neal as an added depth piece, should health be a question again. Either way, the linebacker spot is in better hands because it finally has some depth that it has lacked in the past.