OXNARD, Calif. – It's one of the most interesting questions facing the Cowboys heading into the 2018 season.
The Cowboys employ a highly-talented linebacker, drafted No. 34 overall, in Jaylon Smith. Following this year's draft, they also employ a highly-talented linebacker, drafted No. 19 overall, in Leighton Vander Esch.
With only so many snaps to go around, there's been a persistent question about how the Cowboys can best use both. Asked about it Wednesday, team executive vice president Stephen Jones offered some insight.
"Well, I think first of all, as you well know at that position, you're going to need more than two to get through it," he said.
That's an obvious point, but a valid one. Linebacker is one of the game's most physical positions, and the Cowboys have had bad luck on that front in recent years. Sean Lee's injury history is well-documented, and Anthony Hitchens missed four games with a knee injury last year.
"We all know that you need a lot of guys at the linebacker position," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "You play in base. You play in nickel. There are a lot of different situations those guys play in. We're excited to have them all."
There's more to it than that, though. With two talented options available, Jones hinted that they may be able to specialize the way they deploy their two middle linebackers, depending on the personnel.
"I just think you'll find what each one of them's best skills are. We have a feel for that," he said. "The other thing we think Jaylon can bring to the table is he does have some special blitzing, pressure ability that he's going to bring."
That presents some intriguing possibilities. Smith has shown some impressive athleticism in the backfield, logging a sack against San Francisco last year on a designed blitz. He also showed some aptitude in college, finishing with 4.5 sacks during his career at Notre Dame.
Coupling Smith with a similarly talented option in Vander Esch could free him up for that type of activity. But regardless of how it shakes out, the Cowboys see plenty of work to go around for both of their young linebackers.
"I can see that thing evolving to where those players are very similar in terms of the number of snaps that they take and the number of plays that they make," Jones said.