Same Round & Position Flex, Cowboys Hope Wilson Can Produce Like Hitchens

IRVING, Texas - A hard-hitting linebacker drafted in the fourth round from a Big Ten school. It worked for the Cowboys last year in a major way.

If only the Cowboys can recreate the same success in 2015.

Now, the Cowboys aren't exactly expecting the same first-year success from Damien Wilson as they got from Anthony Hitchens last year, but even if it's somewhat close it will be a huge steal for a team that has experienced its share of injuries at linebacker.

The Cowboys have been trying to add depth at the position for the past two years and a pick like Wilson should help that initiative.

Getting him on the field right away might not be the easiest thing, though, considering veterans such as Sean Lee, Rolando McClain, Kyle Wilber, Jasper Brinkley and now Hitchens are expected to be ahead of him. But again, counting on these linebackers to stay healthy throughout the whole year is a dicey proposition for the Cowboys, who saw Lee miss the entire 2014 season while McClain missed most of the two playoff games and stayed banged up all year. Justin Durant, who is now in Atlanta, also missed 10 games after a hot start to 2014.

That injury actually helped Hitchens get on the field more, as the rookie from Iowa registered 100 tackles, the third most in the NFL. Hitchens had 18 tackles against the Rams in Week 3 and had three straight double-digit tackle games in the middle of the season.

Hitchens set the bar high for rookie linebackers, but the Cowboys have high hopes for Wilson, a standout at Minnesota.

What they both have in common is position flex, as Hitchens played all three positions last year as a rookie.

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett never likes to compare players but said Wilson has the similar ability to play different spots.

"We like his position flex. He can be a Mike and a Will. He is a run-and-hit guy," Garrett said of Wilson. "We had him in here for a visit and spent a lot time with him. We like how he plays, we like his potential going forward. He plays the right way. He certainly has an upside, and he has some position flex for us."

Shedding blocks is a key for any linebacker, especially if he plays in the middle. Wilson said that's a part of his game that he enjoys.

"I'm definitely willing to take on blocks," Wilson said. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get the defense off the field and create more opportunities for our offense."

Wilson actually went on two visits to Valley Ranch to meet with the Cowboys and said his second trip might have set him apart.

"Me and Coach [Matt Eberflus], we talked a lot of football that day. We spent probably at least two hours just talking football," Wilson of the Cowboys' linebackers coach. "I felt like things went great when I came to visit with them. Coach Eberflus, Coach [Rod] Marinelli are two really good guys and I think I left a really good impression on them."

Eberflus said Wilson will start out at the Will, likely backing up Lee as the Cowboys begin OTA practices next week.

Wilson will already have a different look from his rookie minicamp, where he donned No. 44. With the Cowboys re-signing fullback Tyler Clutts on Monday, the team gave the veteran his jersey from last year with Wilson jumping to No. 45.

But if Wilson can produce anywhere close to the level of Hitchens' rookie year, he'll be sporting a traditional linebacker number in the 50s like his teammates before too long.

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