The Dallas Cowboys’ linebacking corps need to see some consistency going into the 2020 season. Everything that could have gone wrong last year for the Cowboys’ linebackers, did go wrong. The injury bug bit the Cowboys’ linebackers hard when Leighton Vander Esch was put on injured reserve. Vander Esch dealt with a neck injury for the nine games he played in last season. Dallas is looking to have all hands-on deck this season and we will discuss the options at linebacker the Cowboys have headed into the upcoming season.
Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith returning was never in doubt. However, the linebackers got a shot in the arm when veteran Sean Lee decided to return this season. Lee’s play in 2019 was solid, racking up 86 tackles and displaying the same quickness and instincts he has always had for the position. Lee coming back for the 2020 season was a big victory for the Cowboys’ staff.
The concern with Leighton Vander Esch is whether he is fully recovered from the neck injury that plagued him last season. Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors in his rookie season and big things were expected going into the 2019 season. From all indications, Vander Esch is ready to bounce back from his injury–shortened 2019 season and learn the new scheme that Mike Nolan is implementing this season. Nolan is a much more aggressive defensive coordinator, so Cowboys’ fans can expect an attacking defense this season.
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Jaylon Smith was all over the field for the Cowboys last season. Smith racked up 142 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and one interception. Smith has areas he would like to improve upon, specifically in the pass coverage area, but all-in-all he played a solid season in 2019. The blitz packages that the Cowboys come up with for Smith and the rest of the linebacking corps are going to be fun to watch this season.
Keeping everyone healthy will be a concern for the linebacking unit with Smith, Lee, and Vander Esch all having suffered major injuries the past few years. The reserves will be players to keep an eye on leading up to the first game against the Los Angeles Rams. Both Joe Thomas and Justin March-Lillard have been terrors for the opposing teams on the special teams’ side of things. Luke Gifford, Francis Bernard and Azur Kamara will all be battling for spots on the active roster. Should an injury occur look for Thomas and March-Lillard to be the first players to get an opportunity to fill the empty position.
The linebacking corps will counted on heavily this season and Smith, Vander Esch, and Lee could all have big years. With all three being healthy, the Cowboys’ linebackers should be very disruptive against opposing offenses. Should everything come together, and everyone stay healthy, this defense has a chance to be special.