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Sims, Connor Prepare For Starting Roles At Inside Linebacker


IRVING, Texas – One player was sitting on his couch the first seven weeks of the season. The other lost a competition for a starting spot to Bruce Carter and missed time with an injury. Now, both of those players are starting linebackers in Dallas.

The Cowboys will prepare for their game against the Eagles with Ernie Sims, who joined the team in Week 8, and Dan Connor manning the inside of the defense. Connor was a backup to start the year after Carter, who's now on injured reserve, won the job in training camp.

"It was tough losing Bruce," Connor said. "He was leading us when Sean (Lee) went down and was doing an unbelievable job all season, so there're a couple of us in the linebacker room with experience and we'll  have to step up and try to fill that role."

Connor missed the Atlanta and Philadelphia games with a neck injury before returning to face Cleveland. His playing time should skyrocket now that Carter's joined Sean Lee on injured reserve, but Connor still expects defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to use everyone at his disposal.

"Me, Ernie, Alex Albright, Kyle Wilber, he'll use them all," Connor said. "He's got different packages, and that's kind of how Rob game plans. He keeps you guessing."

Sims and Connor face a daunting task of replacing Carter and Lee, who remain the team's top two leading tacklers.

Connor's the most experienced healthy inside linebacker in Ryan's system, despite missing a couple of weeks and starting the season as a reserve defender. While Connor's roster spot was solidified in training camp, Sims was searching for his next NFL stop. The former 2006 first-round draft pick, who started all 16 games in his first year in Detroit, couldn't believe he was out of the league to start the 2012 season.

"I never thought I'd be in a situation like this right here, sitting at home," Sims said. "Now that I've got this opportunity, I know that God has a plan for me. He didn't give me this ability for no reason. I'm a talented player, I grew up very talented and my story's not over. I'm excited. I can't wait. Good things are going to happen."

Sims remains optimistic that his career will go on after this season. One way for that to happen is for him to take advantage of his chance in Dallas.

He'd never played in a 3-4 defense before, but he said the adjustment wasn't difficult once he figured out the alignments. When he joined the team and Garrett asked him if he was ready to step in immediately, he couldn't say no.

"I was at home taking care of my family four weeks ago," Sims said. "Now I'm starting. I'm just embracing the opportunity. I'm excited and I can't wait to play."

Switching out two of the most exciting young talents in the game at inside linebacker wasn't part of the Cowboys' plan, but it's a challenge that allowed Sims to continue his career, much like it has for Brady Poppinga.

Sims is practically a veteran in the Cowboys' system, considering the lack of snaps the healthy inside linebackers have received this year. But he's not the longest tenured NFL inside linebacker on the team. Poppinga arrived this week to add depth to the shorthanded group, and Sims offered a couple of tips for the newcomer, who has played in the league since 2005.

"Just take as many notes as possible," Sims said. "That's what I did. I learned over my career you just can't go out there and just play off of ability. You've got to study the game. I've got that binder, and it's almost filled up. I'm just absorbing as much as possible. That's my suggestion to him, just absorb as much as possible and get ready, because you never know what could happen."

Judging by the way the inside linebacker position has been bruised and beaten, it wouldn't be shocking to see Poppinga helping out Sims, Connor and Albright on Sunday. 

"Those guys have got to be ready to play, regardless of what their role is," Garrett said.

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