IRVING, Texas – There isn't a spot on the team more in shambles than at linebacker.
Earlier in the season, it was the defensive line, a position that has seen nearly 20 different players take the field at some point.
But it's never been as bad as it was, or is right now, at linebacker.
What the Cowboys finished with Sunday against the Packers should be worse than what they will play with this week in Washington. The main reason for that is the availability of Bruce Carter, who all but guaranteed he will play this Sunday, despite missing last week's game with a hamstring injury.
Not only playing, but Carter is expected to wear the defensive headset in his helmet, something the Cowboys played most of the second half without last week against the Packers. Carter will make the defensive line calls despite staying at weak-side linebacker.
That means DeVonte Holloman, a rookie who had missed five straight games until last week with a neck injury, and a player who played both outside linebacker and safety in college, will be the Cowboys' starting middle linebacker this week.
Holloman has played other positions before in his collegiate and high school days, but never in the middle. He'll get that shot Sunday with perhaps the season on the line for the Cowboys.
So what's the hardest thing for Holloman?
"Knowing what to look for before it happens. Guys have been in the fire before, they can see things coming a lot faster than guys that are just thrown out there or their first time out there," he said. "Just seeing a couple things before they come at you."
Holloman was thrown into action last week after both Justin Durant and Ernie Sims left the game against the Packers. And because both players had the headsets, it left Holloman having to get relayed signals from the coaches on the sideline.
"Hopefully we'll have a guy with a microphone this time and we won't have to do too many signals," Holloman said. "Bruce will have the mic to start, and I'll be the backup with it."
Durant has been placed on IR with a hamstring injury and it's unlikely Sims (hip/groin) will play. The Cowboys signed Orie Lemon to the roster and will get rookie Cameron Lawrence ready as well. Lawrence had to play most of the second half on the outside.
They certainly can't afford any more injuries at linebacker. The team is preparing to play again without Sean Lee, who is dealing with a neck injury that likely keeps him out the rest of the regular season.
As for Carter, who missed one game already due to his hamstring, he knows both time and linebackers are running out.
"We understand we don't have really any depth right now at linebacker, so if we can get guys back healthy like me, try to get Ernie there, he's been banged up," Carter said. "We just need to get anybody, really."
And while Carter's season hasn't lived up to the high expectations set for him in the offseason, he knows he has a job to do, especially if he's the only experienced starter out there, with Kyle Wilber on the strong side.
"My job is to try to lead the defense to a victory and just play as good as we can. When things get out of hand, try to get everybody to calm down and just try to get back to our game plan and play sound," Carter said. "I'm up for the challenge. I know what's ahead of me. We've just got to go out there and execute." [embedded_ad]
And facing the Redskins won't be easy, simply because of the way they run the football. Washington ranks third in the league at 140.9 rushing yards per game. Even with Kirk Cousins now in for Robert Griffin III, the Redskins will still rely on Alfred Morris, who ranks fifth in the league at 1,125 rushing yards.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said he's worried about more than just stopping the Redskins' running game. But despite having the worst-ranked defense in the league, Kiffin still has confidence.
"We're going to show up and we're going to play hard and whoever is out there is going to do a heck of a job," Kiffin said. "When we walked into that meeting this morning, man, we're upbeat. 'Let's go. Let's go, man.' We've got a couple of games to go and hopefully another one after that. But you only play one at time. You've got to play 60 plays, 65 plays, whatever it is, so don't worry about the second game. Don't worry about Philadelphia. Let's play 60-65 plays at the very best of our ability and then play hard. That's what we've got to do."
At this point, they don't have many other choices.