Although it is very hard to find anything “good” about a Tibial Plateau Fracture to linebacker Anthony Hitchens, would it make you feel a little better if I told you they originally thought it was a torn ACL? An 8 week recovery period sounds a heck of a lot better than an entire wasted season now doesn’t it? With under a minute remaining in the first half of Saturday’s game against the Oakland Raiders, Anthony Hitchens went down with a fractured Tibial. Time for more wizardry from defensive Guru Rod Marinelli.
Obviously an injured player is always bad news. When you take into account the fact that Hitchens was part of an already depleted linebacker unit, things only get uglier. With Damien Wilson most likely awaiting punishment from the NFL due to summer road-rage, Dallas is left with little wiggle room at the linebacker position. Jaylon Smith is still recovering from a horrific knee injury during the 2015 Fiesta Bowl, and Sean Lee would be grateful to string together consecutive healthy seasons. Although there is no evidence to suggest either Lee or Smith cannot continue in good health, an injury to either player this season would be nothing short of catastrophic.
I wrote a piece a little over a month ago about how the linebacker position was going to be surprisingly strong this season. With suspensions along the defensive line, and a batch of rookies in the secondary, linebacker looked like the one unit within the defense that could potentially scare an opposing offense. What a difference an injury makes. Now, with Hitchens out, the remaining linebackers may have to play different roles than anticipated.
My Solution To The (Latest) Linebacker Dilemma
Keep Sean Lee Right Where He Is
Although some will say that the next step for the Cowboys is to move Sean Lee over to middle linebacker, I have a different idea. Leave him at ROLB. While I have no doubt in my mind that Lee could play middle linebacker I don’t think it is Dallas’ best play here. With different players recovering from injuries, out with new injuries, or simply suspended, Dallas is going to need every ounce of productivity they can possibly squeeze out of Sean Lee. The multi-time pro bowler makes the biggest impact at outside linebacker. Dallas simply cant afford to put Lee anywhere that hinders him in the slightest right now.
Give Justin Durant MLB Duties
He’s no scrub. Entering his 11th season in the league, Justin Durant has the experience and football IQ necessary to be a middle linebacker. Serving multiple stints with the Dallas Cowboys, Durant has the understanding necessary to start immediately within the Dallas defense. While he is the same age as Lee (31), I don’t think he still has the explosiveness necessary to contain runners/receivers in the flats. Of course I could be totally wrong on this, the last time we saw Durant in action was the middle of last season. But I simply don’t know who would be a better fit in that position moving forward. Star Lotulelei? Mark Nzeochoa?. Dallas needs Lee on the outside, and Jaylon Smith needs to be gradually introduced to that position.
Put Jaylon Smith at LOLB
Before I proceed with this suggestion, it is critical for me to remind you that Jaylon Smith wasn’t supposed to start this season. Anthony Hitchens was going to start at middle linebacker, allowing Smith time to grow into the positon. Then, when Smith was ready, he would become the middle linebacker. Which would ultimately move Hitchens to outside linebacker. Dallas has been too patient with Jaylon Smith’s development to rush him into something he isn’t ready for. Put him at the outside linebacker position, that way he can ease his way into the season (he has only played 30 snaps this preseason). Allow him to learn from experienced vets such as Lee and Durant, in a position he is comfortable playing.
What About Rotations?
I’m not even going to sit here and pretend I know how the cowboys will substitute at the MLB and LOLB positions. I’m simply going to say its all hands on deck, and whoever Rod Marinelli puts out there will be competitive. Marinelli champions hustle, toughness, and position flexibility. Marinelli will get the linebackers to rally behind him, and give maximum effort on every snap (as cliché as that sounds, it doesn’t always happen in the NFL). If the Dallas defense has proven anything over the past couple seasons its that hustle determines the outcome of a game, not talent.
Cowboys nation should put confidence in the defense, no matter who is out their on the field. They have certainly earned it after they exceeded expectations in previous years.
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