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Roster Rundown: Hitchens Rose To The Occasion During Breakout Rookie Season

Editor's Note: Throughout the off-season, staff writers will take a closer look at the roster, analyzing players' impact last season and how each fits into the team's 2015 plans. Today's Roster Rundown entry features linebacker Anthony Hitchens.

Name: Anthony Hitchens
Position: Linebacker
Height/Weight: 6-0/ 235
Experience: 1 season
College: Iowa

Key stat:The term "position flex" might be the most popular phrase in Jason Garrett's vocabulary. To say Hitchens has it would be an understatement. He started 11 games as a rookie at all three linebacker spots – one on the strong side, three at middle linebacker and seven on the weak side.

Contract Status:Signed through 2017.

2014 Impact: It was obvious that the front office and coaching staff felt much better about the selection of Anthony Hitchens than those in the media that tend to report what they hear instead of taking the opportunity to learn about the player with their own eyes. The biggest issue I saw with Hitchens is that I thought he would have been a more productive player if he wasn't carrying as much weight on his frame. After his first rookie minicamp I still felt the same way, but by the time we had all arrived in Oxnard, Calif., for training camp, he appeared to be a different player physically and it showed in his play. In true Jason Garrett fashion, he threw the rookie into the deep end of the pool and expected him to immediately swim -- and swim he did. Hitchens was getting a ton of snaps, not only in the practices but in the preseason games, as well. He was playing entire games, but also at several different spots, so by the time the regular season opened he was as prepared as any linebacker the Cowboys had on the roster. In his first five games of his NFL career, he made three starts, but what was impressive is that he did it at each linebacker position. In those games, he collected a total of 25 tackles but none were bigger than the fourth down stop that he made to give the offense the ball back on their own 15 yard line in the 3rd quarter of the St. Louis game. That stop shifted the momentum back toward the Cowboys, who rallied to win the game after being 21 points down. Hitchens made nine more starts that season and in four of those games he had double-digit tackles. His best trait is his nose for the ball, but it is also important to mention that it's one thing to get there, but you also have to finish. That was exactly what he was able to do. It was not a bad season for a player that many believed was a wasted selection in the draft.

Where He Fits: The fact that Hitchens proved that he could line up at several different positions and play well gives this defensive coaching staff a great deal of options going into the 2015 season. What we also have to remember is that, other than offensive tackle there is not a group that will be affected more in free agency than the linebackers. Having Sean Lee and Hitchens will help in that both of them could start and this defense wouldn't miss a beat. The question now becomes in what direction this front office might go with Rolando McClain, Bruce Carter and Justin Durant. I believe it's likely that Durant comes back and McClain and Carter test free agency. If that happens, we most likely will see Hitchens on the weak side unless the coaches want to move Lee there and put Hitchens inside in the middle which in my opinion is his best position. Regardless of what direction the coaches decide to go, Anthony Hitchens will be comfortable and productive in any spot he plays.        

Writers' Analysis:

David Helman:Chalk me up as one of those boneheaded media members who questioned the decision to draft Hitchens No. 119 overall. I had never heard his name mentioned as a possibility, and the common consensus was that he'd been drafted two rounds too early. Clearly, that was a mistake. The thing that stands out the most to me from 2014 is his quiet, but clearly present confidence – very similar to Sean Lee. One month after Hitchens was drafted, Lee went out injured and it became evident the rookie wouldn't be allowed the luxury of developing slowly. He faced the full scrutiny of the Dallas media all during the offseason and all through training camp, and he never batted an eye. He buried himself in preparation, and he put together an outstanding rookie season. He wasn't the best player on the defense, but when you consider the expectations and the circumstances surrounding him, I think Hitchens had one of the better seasons for a Cowboys player. The fact that we were questioning his selection last spring and we all expect him to lock down a starting job this spring tells you everything you need to know.

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