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With McClain Returning, Hitchens' Versatility A Defensive Asset Once Again

IRVING, Texas – Playing one linebacker position one week, then another position the next, is nothing new for Anthony Hitchens.

As a fourth-round rookie last year, Hitchens started 11 games at all three linebacker spots in Rod Marinelli's defense: the 'Will' weak side (seven) the 'Mike' middle (three) and the strong-side 'Sam' (one).

With last year's starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain returning from a four-game NFL suspension, Hitchens – the 'Mike' starter for the first four games of 2015 – could be shuffling spots again.

If McClain indeed steps back in at 'Mike' this Sunday against the Patriots (he practiced Wednesday after missing all of training camp and preseason due to a knee scope) and if 'Will' linebacker Sean Lee returns from a concussion this week (he did not practice Wednesday), Hitchens' logical move would be the 'Sam' spot where Kyle Wilber and Andrew Gachkar have started games over the first month.

"Obviously, he (McClain) is one of our best defenders," Hitchens said. "He's probably going to be back in the middle. I've just got to be ready to go at all positions once again and go back to my 'Sam' rules again."

The Cowboys moved Hitchens all over the defense last year due to so many injuries, starting with Lee's season-ending knee injury in the spring of 2014. The team traded for McClain to play 'Mike' in Lee's absence, but the rookie stayed in his playbook all year long and emerged as a versatile asset for Marinelli.

Hitchens took most of the first-team reps at 'Mike' when healthy during training camp (a foot injury sidelined him about three weeks). Through four regular-season games, he ranks third with 35 team-credited tackles and leads the defense with two sacks.

"Those guys will all be in the mix to play," head coach Jason Garrett said. "Hitch as done such a good job for us. He's capable of playing the 'Sam' linebacker spot. We'll see how the week plays out, but Hitch is a good football player."

Changing positions as needed? It's part of his value to the defense.

"It's a little difficult, but I've been here before," he said. "The good thing about me is it happened to me last year before and I switched a little bit here and there in camp. I should be all right."

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