IRVING, Texas – With 53 more games played than any linebacker on the team, it makes sense Justin Durant's got the first look at middle linebacker.
The Cowboys lost more than a skillful player when Sean Lee went down. They also lost the calming influence of the defensive leader, and in his stead, they've had Durant take the majority of snaps from the middle during the offseason.
"I think that I'm just the vet," Durant said. "I'm the older guy in the room. I was the backup last year at the Mike."
Durant's not too quick to declare he's got the job locked up by any means. He hears from his coaches consistently that they're still in the process of finding the top three guys they want on the field, but it does seem early on he'll get plenty of opportunities to lock up that essential middle linebacker spot.
The veteran linebacker's played in 89 games throughout his career in Jacksonville, Detroit and now Dallas. The next most tenured linebacker on the team is Bruce Carter, with only 36 games played. In fact, Durant's got more games played than the rest of the linebackers on the team combined.
The young linebacker corps in Dallas makes veterans like Durant more valuable, and it may lead to a starting position he's not particularly accustomed to. Durant came to the Cowboys as a strong side linebacker, and he started the beginning of the season at that spot.
"It's going to take time," Durant said. "I know that I've just been playing outside my whole career, basically, just know that it's going to take a little bit of time for me to get to where I feel like I'm playing the right way. I'm just working."
He only made one start at middle linebacker last year before re-injuring his hamstring, but he believes his experience in the NFL has made his coaches, including linebackers coach Matt Eberflus, more comfortable with him at that spot. [embedded_ad]
"I think that's what it is," Durant said. "I think once we go to camp (Eberflus) is going to start probably moving some guys around and putting guys here and there and try to mix and match and see what the best group is for us."
Durant said he learned a long time ago in this profession not to guess what coaches or people in the personnel department are going to do. He tries to keep his head down and play and let the rest fall into place.
But the veteran, now with his third team, will naturally be looked upon for advice from the younger players and will be counted on from his coaches to know the position. Eberflus said the main thing for Durant now is learning the communication, making all the calls and becoming the quarterback of the defense.
"He's done good," Eberflus said. "He's played that before for us in the past. He's comfortable there. He knows what to do and knows how to play that position. He's been solid in this OTA and minicamp."
Eberflus called the position a work in progress. He'll go through different combinations in training camp before figuring out the best three players at linebacker. Eberflus wants to leave the competition at every spot as open as possible, but it appears at least to start out that they're going to look at the veteran in the middle.
With so many linebackers learning so many different spots, Durant will be looked upon to help lead the group – even if the position is somewhat new to him, as well.
"We're all working together," Durant said. "It's a couple different things in the defense this year, so it's new to us, too. We're all working to help each other. I don't think it's a responsibility, per se, but if I know something, I'm going to help. That's just natural for me, because people helped me when I was young."