IRVING, Texas – Two weeks ago, Ernie Sims was on his couch. He's now the likely starting inside linebacker for the Cowboys this weekend in Atlanta.
Sims, who never played in a 3-4 defense prior to his arrival in Dallas, participated mostly in sub-packages last weekend until Dan Connor got hurt. Connor's neck injury will keep him out against Atlanta, opening the door for Sims to start.
"Ernie's going to play a ton this week," said defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. "I wouldn't be surprised if he starts the game. We've got some good guys there, Alex Albright, Orie Lemon, so they'll all play. We're looking forward to it."
Ryan's always been a fan of Sims' game. He tried to get Al Davis to draft the former Florida State player by putting together tape of the linebacker in hopes of swaying the Raiders owner's decision.
Ryan said Sims looks like the same player he remembered from 2006, but Ryan doesn't want to overwhelm the linebacker in his first couple weeks with the team. The defensive coordinator said he doesn't need to teach Sims everything about his defense, just the portions that are in the gameplan that week.
"Not only is he really tough, he's really smart," Ryan said. "He's not really tall, but he's got everything else going for him. I love this guy. He's been what we thought he was. He's a tough kid. He's smart. He loves football. It looks like he really likes his new teammates, and we expect big things out of Ernie."
Sims admitted he didn't think he'd be this involved in the defense so quickly. Two weeks ago, he wasn't sure if he'd get a call from an NFL team at all.
"I'm human," Sims said. "That's natural. But still, I kept working out every day, training, taking care of my wife, my son, taking care of my business back home, doing the things I had to do to live life. At the same time, I was staying ready for the phone call, praying and hoping that one day I'd get my opportunity to prove myself all over again."
Sims got that opportunity and hasn't let it slip away. He said he didn't feel winded last week, despite his lack of NFL snaps this season, and the 3-4 defense didn't give him any problems.
"It's just different terminology and different alignments, but at the end of the day I'm just playing football," Sims said.
In addition to Sims, linebacker Orie Lemon also played a significant role against the Giants. Ryan said Lemon will get in the game this week, though his snaps will be limited unless another linebacker gets hurt.
Ryan credited Lemon for being prepared enough to step in with limited practice time and linebackers coach Matt Eberflus for developing the former practice squad player and the rest of the backups who've had to contribute in lieu of injuries.
"Eberflus, as we all know, is the best linebackers coach in football," Ryan said. "He's just proving it time and time again. We lost a great player, Sean Lee, but we're still playing games and we're going to keep playing well."