IRVING, Texas – The defensive injuries have become crippling enough that a rookie who still hasn't taken contact in four weeks since his neck injury is now lining up in drills as a starting linebacker.
DeVonte Holloman, who's never started a regular season game at linebacker, ran with the first-team unit during Wednesday's no-pads practice, while Ernie Sims manned the middle linebacker spot and Bruce Carter stuck at weak side linebacker.
"We don't know that for sure, but that's what we're looking at right now," said defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. "That's what I say about the bye week, we don't have to be ready Sunday. We've got some time."
The Cowboys will need all that time to see how Sims, who says he hasn't played middle linebacker in the 4-3 defense since his third year in Detroit in 2008, and Holloman can adjust. Holloman still isn't sure if he'll be ready to play against the Giants after what he described as a C3 and C4 spinal contusion, which occurred a month ago in practice.
He said the trainers and coaches are taking it slow with him and waiting until the team gets back in pads to take a couple hits and see how he holds up.
"I still haven't hit anything, so can't really say that yet," Holloman said. "But it felt good to be out there running around with the team again."
Holloman's been a special teams contributor this season, totaling four tackles and a fumble recovery, but moving to starting linebacker would be a colossal jump for the rookie. Head coach Jason Garrett said he liked what Holloman was able to do before the injury and that Holloman made "a very favorable impression" early in camp.
One of the main goals for Holloman now is to get back in shape and work out as hard as possible during the bye week so he can physically be ready to go if he's medically cleared. He's working in primarily at the strong side linebacker spot, but he's also played middle linebacker before.
"I'm just waiting on my chance," Holloman said. "Seeing how things played out last week, it looks like it's coming up. I'm just trying to be as prepared as possible."
Of course, all these possibilities have arisen because of injuries to Sean Lee and Justin Durant, who are both expected out at least for the Giants game with hamstring injuries. Garrett said the Cowboys have to explore every possibility with their current roster to see how to adjust, including looking at defensive end Kyle Wilber at linebacker.
The Cowboys had moved Wilber from outside linebacker to the defensive line to start the year, but this is the time to experiment with the bye week.
"That's not really a permanent move right now," Kiffin said. "We don't know. We're banged up right now at linebacker and we're short some guys. Some of the guys are going to be out for a while."
Regardless of what happens around him, it does seem like Sims will be given the first opportunity to take hold of the middle linebacker spot. He said he's excited for the opportunity ahead of him, but it's disappointing for him to see Lee, the leader of the defense, go down the way he did.
"Guys just got to step up to the plate," Sims said. "It's not going to come easy."
It took a while last week against New Orleans for Sims to even realize Durant had joined Lee on the injured hamstring list and off on the sideline.
"Last game it kind of happened on the run," Sims said. "Durant was in there at Mike. Literally, we were in the middle of a drive, and me and Bruce didn't see Durant in the game. It was just kind of second nature to me to just kind of take the initiative to put myself at Mike." [embedded_ad]
Though Carter had played the middle linebacker spot last year after Lee went down, Kiffin said right now they'd like to keep Carter at his current spot.
That means Sims will lean on Lee to teach him the intricacies of the middle linebacker position in this particular 4-3 defense. It's not all that different from the situation Sims found himself in last year, when the Cowboys signed him and he had to learn the 3-4 defense for the first time when Lee went out.
"This type of stuff happens all the time," Sims said. "Me and the other guys are going to have to step up to the plate. I'm going to have to really get some extra time with the coaches.
"I haven't played Mike linebacker in this scheme in a long time. Schemes have changed drastically. At the end of the day, I'm a football player, I'm a competitor, and I'm going to do whatever I have to do to study the details of Sean's position and try to help this team out to win ballgames."