PHOENIX –Kyle Wilber could be the answer at strong side linebacker by the start of the season.
Speaking at the annual NFL Owners Meetings in Phoenix, Cowboys executive vice president and director of player personnel Stephen Jones said he hopes Wilber, a 2012 fourth-round pick, can earn the starting job next to Sean Lee and Bruce Carter.
"I think it's time for Kyle Wilber to step up," Jones said. "There's a lot of things we liked about him last year, and we're hoping that he can step up and take that challenge."
Wilber was inactive for six games last season, the first two a result of a thumb injury, and compiled just three total tackles on defense and six on special teams. But the Cowboys didn't draft him to sit out.
Wilber is one of few players who actually played in a 3-4 scheme in college at Wake Forest. But his size (6-4, 246) gives him the versatility to play outside linebacker in either scheme. Jones said Wilber can earn the starting job in the offseason while competing for the spot with Alex Albright and the newly re-signed Ernie Sims.
The signing of Sims to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum provides insurance in case Wilber and Albright don't work out. The Cowboys were only $177,000 under the salary cap before taking on Sims, who was signed to the minimum salary benefit. Without much spending money available in free agency, the cap-strapped Cowboys may need the third linebacker spot to be developed from within.
Jones hopes they can do the same at safety, as well.
"We think our two starters probably are on our team," Jones said about Barry Church and Matt Johnson. "We may get some insurance there, just like we did with Ernie, and then of course we're going to draft. We've got some players to draft and college free agents to get, but we do think our two young guys could start for us."
The Cowboys will have to hit on their draft picks this season and will need to get more from their draftees from last year, including both of their fourth-round picks in 2012 in Wilber and Johnson. Jones knows it can be dangerous to rely on injured or inexperienced draft picks from recent years, but the team has to be able to develop its talent.
"That's where we are with it," Jones said. "At some point it wouldn't surprise me if we end up with a veteran safety, if not one in the draft as well somewhere. That doesn't mean we take one out of need, but if we see one at the right place, right time, and he fits well where it is, you've got to look at it."