FRISCO, Texas – For the last several years, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have dominated the Cowboys' linebacker snaps when healthy.
For one game, at least, the rotation against the Tampa Bay Bucs looked far different:
- Micah Parsons: 51 (out of 65 defensive snaps)
- Keanu Neal: 50
- Smith: 16
- Vander Esch: 14
But Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn says don't read too much into Smith and Vander Esch's workload from last Thursday's opener.
"I would say this is early," Quinn said, "and we're certainly expecting those guys to play a lot. Some games, they'll play a ton. Some games, it will be more balanced. I feel like we've got four excellent linebackers. … I'd expect games to be different as the season goes on."
The Cowboys found themselves in a lot of nickel defense against the Bucs' passing game, with quarterback Tom Brady attempting 50 or more passes for only the 27th time in his 21-year career. That meant more work for Parsons, the 12th overall draft pick, and Neal, a converted safety who signed as a free agent in the offseason.
Quinn cautioned against saying Smith and Vander Esch will play mostly in clear running downs.
"I trust them in all spaces," he said. "I thought both of them played strong and well in their reps. … Both of them are equally equipped to handle all of the stuff. I would expect that to move around as the season progresses."