IRVING, Texas – To the Cowboys, the term "cross-training" means learning multiple positions to be ready at a moment's notice.
They've put that term to full use this year. Head coach Jason Garrett said it was essential particularly in training camp to cross-train the linebackers, and that could pay off now with all the mixing and matching to adjust for injuries.
"Sometimes you do it out of necessity in training camp to get through a practice or get through a preseason game," Garrett said. "But you always want to cross-train your guys because it's a long season. We understand that injuries happen."
DeVonte Holloman's getting set to start at middle linebacker for the first time in his career. Next to him on one side will be Bruce Carter, who many thought would shift to the middle after Sean Lee's injury, considering he's gotten experience there before.
Next to Holloman on the other side at strong side linebacker is Kyle Wilber, who began the year as a defensive end. Justin Durant, who played middle linebacker last week, had started the year as a strong side linebacker.
"Sometimes you can't just simply put the next guy in," Garrett said. "You have to find the next best guy from somewhere else. So we have done that in the past and it's benefiting us now."
That goes to show just how much versatility has been necessary for a defense searching for any possible answers at the tail end of the season.
Holloman said he's been learning middle linebacker all season, but he never played the position before coming to the Cowboys. He was used to playing more of a hybrid safety/linebacker role in college.
"Coming from a safety to a hybrid guy and then finally playing linebacker, I've been learning since I got here, so it's not much different," Holloman said.
Holloman was forced into action last week after injuries to Durant and Ernie Sims. That was a tough circumstance for Holloman, but the brief experience he had earlier in the year helped out some.
"We all cross-train each others' positions, so I was familiar with it, but I hadn't done it," Holloman said. "It was going out there and just learning on the fly."
Garrett hopes Holloman can take what he learns from this experience moving forward. [embedded_ad]
"He's a smart guy, he cares about football and he works very hard at it," Garrett said. "Like some of the other young guys we're talking about, he'll learn from the experiences. When you get a chance to play Mike for the first time in the NFL, he'll go back and reflect on those 60, 70 plays that he was in there and he'll learn from them because he goes about it the right way. I think it was a good experience for him. He did a lot of good things, and hopefully he can build on that."
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said earlier this week he can't worry about what personnel is on the field for the Cowboys, because in the NFL it's such a common occurrence for one player to go down and another to have to step up and that everyone's in the league for a reason.
With his band of backups, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said he still has confidence in his group with only two regular season games remaining to turn things around.
"You go in your defensive room and split up and away you go," Kiffin said. "You ain't walking, get your heads up, let's go. That's the way it works. There ain't no pouting around. We'll be ready to play."