Editor's Note: The last stretch of the offseason is upon us. The next time the Cowboys get together, it will be time for training camp. The roster is nearly full and that should mean a healthy dose of completion – at all positions. In the coming weeks, the writers of DallasCowboys.com will focus on each position to find the most intriguing battles as we get ready for training camp. Today, we continue the series with linebacker.
Battle To Watch:
There's only one, big question about the Cowboys' linebacker corps, and that is: who exactly is going to play in the middle?
We know Sean Lee is going to man his usual spot on the weak side, but they have two intriguing options in the middle. The Cowboys drafted Leighton Vander Esch with the No. 19 overall pick back in April, and the massive Boise State product is a natural fit to play the Mike position. However, there's another hulking prospect by the name of Jaylon Smith to consider. Smith played 578 snaps last year, most of them at Mike linebacker. He certainly had his share of struggles, but he handled himself well for a guy coming off a year-long absence due to injury.
This spring, Smith got the vast majority of the first-team snaps in the middle, while Vander Esch missed minicamp with an ankle injury. It will be interesting to see how that competition carries over into training camp – and how that shapes the rest of the linebacker corps once the coaching staff has decided on a starter.
Don't Forget About:
The addition of Vander Esch has pushed Joe Thomas to the backburner, but the Cowboys signed the veteran free agent for a reason. Thomas spent four years with Green Bay after going undrafted in 2014, and he proved himself capable as a contributor and a spot starter. During the spring, Thomas spent a lot of time with both the first and second-team defenses, playing a variety of different spots.
With Lee, Vander Esch and Smith all on the roster, the coaching staff likely prefers that Thomas doesn't start. But if injuries take their toll, as they have in years past, Thomas is a jack of all trades who can pick up the slack at multiple different positions.
Considering all of their offseason additions, it feels pretty easy to pick out the top of the Cowboys' linebacker depth chart. Where it gets interesting is the back end, where there are a variety of contenders to earn the last couple of spots on the roster.
Sean Lee – Jaylon Smith – Leighton Vander Esch – Joe Thomas
Damien Wilson – Chris Covington – Justin March-Lillard – Eric Pinkins
Tre'Von Johnson - Kyle Quiero – Joel Lanning