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Last Time Out: The Synopsis For The Cowboys' LBs


(Editor's Note: In conjunction with the position series, here's a look back at how each player performed last season. Today's piece features the linebackers.)

Bruce Carter-- Carter played in 15 games in 2013 – a good number for this oft-injured unit – and finished third on the team in tackles with 122. Despite those numbers, most regard 2013 as a disappointing year for Carter – including the man himself. The common logic was that Carter would excel in Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 scheme, which was similar to his college scheme with North Carolina. It never quite clicked, however, as Carter struggled in pass coverage and was replaced in the lineup on several different occasions.

Justin Durant -- Durant has not had an All-Pro career to this point, but his 2013 output was definitely a letdown from his previous body of work. Hamstring problems limited him to just 10 games, tied for the lowest number of his seven-year career. On top of that, he managed a paltry 24 tackles despite starting six games as the Cowboys' strong side linebacker. In every other season of his career, he's managed at least 49, and he peaked as high as 103 tackles in 2012 with Detroit. After re-injuring the hamstring in the collapse against Green Bay, Durant spent the final two weeks of the season on injured reserve.

Kyle Wilber -- This is Wilber's first full offseason at linebacker, as he didn't discover his home at the position until roughly halfway through 2013. Originally drafted as a 3-4 outside linebacker, the Cowboys experimented with moving Wilber to defensive end in their new 4-3 – with marginal success. Wilber notched two sacks through the first half of the season, including one that forced a fumble against the Redskins. He couldn't maintain any consistency, however, and he moved to linebacker when injuries to Sean Lee and Justin Durant depleted the position. To say he adapted quickly in an understatement, as he notched seven total tackles in his first game at linebacker – a 24-21 win against New York. All told, he recorded 31 of his 44 tackles on the season from the linebacker position – all in the last six games.

DeVonte Holloman -- Holloman showed glimpses of playmaking ability during his rookie preseason, particularly when he returned an interception for a touchdown against Miami in the Hall of Fame Game last August. Unsurprisingly, injuries held him out for roughly eight weeks during the middle of the season. Perhaps the biggest indicator of Holloman's ability was that, despite dealing with a rash of injuries, the coaching staff opted not to place the rookie on injured reserve. It paid off, as he returned for the final three weeks and registered 21 tackles and two sacks.

Anthony Hitchens -- When they drafted him in May, the Cowboys sold Hitchens as a potential replacement if Sean Lee got hurt. It took less than two months for those words to prove prophetic, as Lee's torn ACL thrust the rookie into the spotlight. He was a tackling machine for the Hawkeyes, as he finished with 270 tackles in his four-year career. The problem there is that Hitchens was a weak side linebacker in college, whereas the Cowboys hope he can potentially play in the middle. It's going to be a steep learning curve during training camp.

Cameron Lawrence -- Lawrence seemed like a longshot to even make it through training camp last year, but he worked his way onto the practice squad after a strong showing in the preseason. When the Cowboys released Will Allen, they signed Lawrence to the active roster. He mainly made his mark on special teams, finishing in a tie for second with 12 special teams tackles.

Orie Lemon -- After spending time in Dallas in 2011 and 2012, Lemon signed with the Cowboys last season off Arizona's practice squad. The Cowboys added the extra body during their bye week, as both Sean Lee and Justin Durant were unavailable. Lemon didn't have much of a chance to make an impact, however. He appeared in three games but did not register a tackle on the season.

Will Smith -- If Hitchens was drafted to be the Cowboys' future Mike, then the hope for Smith is that he could develop into a Will. Given the amount of work required of a weak side linebacker in this defense, Smith could be just the guy. He was an absolute force in his final season at Texas Tech, racking up 120 tackles in 13 starts – and a whopping 86 of those were solo stops. He added 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, for good measure. A junior college transfer, Smith made 175 total tackles in 26 career appearances for the Red Raiders – an average of seven stops per game.

Dontavis Sapp -- Sapp got his first crack at a starting role in his final season with the Volunteers. At Will linebacker, he put together a 66-tackle, eight-tackle for loss season to finish third on the Tennessee defense. As a three-year reserve, he managed plenty of experience on special teams, notching four special teams tackles in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. He blocked a punt during his junior campaign.

Keith Smith-- Smith was, simply put, a machine for the Spartans during his college career. He started 45 games during his four-year career, and he capped that off in 2013 by leading the nation with 159 total tackles – an average of 13.3 per game. He earned first-team All-Mountain West honors for his efforts, which saw him post nine games with 10 or more tackles. He posted [embedded_ad] two 20-tackle performances.

Joe Windsor -- Windsor started 12 of 14 games at defensive end for the Huskies, where he notched 37 tackles and finished second on the team in sacks with 4.5. For his efforts, he was named third-team All MAC. Windsor added another seven sacks in 2012.

Scout's Take: I believe this is the position that might see the most change from how things start out in camp to what we see against the 49ers opening day. Right now, Justin Durant, Bruce Carter and Kyle Wilber are the starters but as I mentioned, that could all change five weeks from now. The position to keep an eye on is Mike linebacker and if Durant can hold onto his job with the additions of Anthony Hitchens and Rolando McClain now in the mix. We should also not discount DeVonte Holloman getting a rep or two there this camp. My gut feeling is that McClain despite all those off field issues will show up at this camp and win the job from Durant just for the reason that he is much better in coverage which is a key to playing in this scheme. McClain's talent level is also clearly better than what I have seen from Durant.

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