MIAMI– Anthony Hitchens' first-team reps at middle linebacker in practice this week were no tease or red herring.
While the Dolphins ran mostly three-wide receiver sets, forcing the Cowboys to take Hitchens off in nickel packages, the rookie started at middle linebacker with the ones in the base defensive formation of Saturday's dress rehearsal preseason game.
The Cowboys meet the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.
"It was a good feeling to get out there with them, but I've still got a lot to learn and a lot to improve on," Hitchens said. "As long as I'm always improving, I think I'll be all right, but it was definitely a good feeling to be out there with ones."
Hitchens had to run on and off the field as the Cowboys switched to the nickel package and back, but he said that's not any excuse not to do his job well. He said he's always got to be ready, whether it's staying fresh on the sideline or rotating positions within the game.
Hitchens has switched from middle linebacker to weak side linebacker and back since getting drafted by the Cowboys. That's happened week to week and game to game, and even within the game.
On Saturday, Hitchens began the day at middle linebacker before switching over to the weak side.
"I've just got to keep adjusting to it depending on where I'm playing in this practice," Hitchens said. "I think I started off pretty decent. I started moving around to Will a little bit throughout the quarter, then I was going back to Mike. I've just got to get all my calls down from both perspectives."
Hitchens finished the game with two combined tackles – the same total as Rolando McClain, who's also competing for a middle linebacker spot. The whole front seven has a lot to look at after allowing 200 total rushing yards, 93 of which came against the starters in the first half. [embedded_ad]
"We've got to do a better job of being gap disciplined, knowing when our safety's going to come down and stuff like that," said Bruce Carter. "We've got to be in tune with what we're trying to do, read our keys and go make plays."
Head coach Jason Garrett said the defense can't allow a team to run the football and control a game the way the Dolphins did, but he was pleased with the stops the Cowboys made late. Despite those big rushing totals, the Cowboys held the Dolphins to three first-half points by forcing field goals and turnovers.
"They got us into some coverage looks and I thought they ran the ball well," Garrett said. "I thought our defense did a good job as those drives wore on forcing them to bog down a little bit, kick a field goal in the red zone, take the ball away. Those are really positive things. Ultimately, this thing isn't about yards and how many yards you gain – it's about points."