IRVING, Texas – Bruce Carter's quad injury isn't going to change the way the Cowboys play their other starting linebackers this weekend, according to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
The Cowboys saw arguably their best linebacker play of the season last weekend against New Orleans using a combination of Carter on the strong side, Rolando McClain in the middle and Justin Durant on the weak side.
That trio hasn't had a lot of time together in the regular season thanks to injury issues. Durant missed Weeks 2 and 3 with a groin injury, and McClain sat out of the win against St. Louis with the same problem. But with Carter now expected to miss playing time, Marinelli said he plans to keep his other two starters where they are.
"Those guys are pretty dog gone good backers for us, so you don't want to ever move a guy who's playing well," he said. "Justin will play Will and No. 55 is the Mike, and we just kind of piece these other guys between Hitchens and Wilber to get our best guys out there."
That's a refreshing bit of consistency for a unit that has seemingly been shuffling since Sean Lee tore his ACL in May. Durant was originally slated to play in the middle, before McClain arrived on the scene, and he has experience playing on the strong side, as well. Wilber was the longtime favorite to be the strong side starter before Carter switched, while Hitchens has spent time in all three spots.
"Those guys have got to be ready to play a variety of spots, and that's the way we practice them both in the base and in nickel," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
Durant and McClain figure to be the two linebackers when the defense goes into its nickel package, which has seen Wilber occasionally join the defensive line as a rusher. Meanwhile, Hitchens has tallied 21 tackles in four games – mostly spot duty, with one start at middle linebacker.
"For a rookie to be able to play a couple different spots based on injuries and go out there and be effective, I think it's a real tribute to him," Garrett said.