IRVING, Texas – With just one season under his belt, DeVonte Holloman’s career seems to be over.
Head coach Jason Garrett delivered the sad news during todays (Thursday’s) press conference, stating the second-year linebacker has a neck injury that will likely prevent him from playing another down of football.
Holloman, 23, missed six games last year with a neck injury and has battled through some neck issues the last few weeks, including a setback in Saturday’s preseason game. After getting three different medical opinions, including one in San Antonio this week, it appears continuing his playing career won’t be in Holloman’s best interest.
Garrett chose not to get into the specifics of the injury and said Holloman would address the matter later in the day.
“DeVonte got information back from the doctors back he visited with regarding his neck and it doesn’t look like he’s going to be able to play football anymore,” Garrett said. “It’s in relation to the injury he had last year and he had a similar injury this year. I’ll let him speak more to that. But the information we have doesn’t look he’s going to be able to play football anymore.”
Garrett said he spoke to Holloman, who was actually on the field in practice wearing his No. 57 jersey although he was not dressed in uniform like his teammates.
“It’s a very challenging, difficult thing for a young man who has dreams of being an NFL football player (and) achieves those dreams,” Garrett said. “I told him this morning, ‘you’re a 10-year player in my mind. You’ll be for a long, long time.’ He just has everything you want. He has physical ability, he’s tough and has good feel for the game.
“But this becomes an easy decision for him and his family when you’re dealing with that kind of an injury. He had a good visit with him this morning. He had a smile on his face. He’s certainly welcome to be part of our football team.”
Holloman, a sixth-round pick in 2013, is now the second linebacker expected to contribute this year that will be out for this season, along with middle linebackers Sean Lee. Holloman actually replaced Lee in the starting lineup for the last two games of last season, but he was playing more as an outside linebacker this year. Garrett said he was one of the team’s top special teams players as well.
RELATED: Former coach, players react to Holloman’s retirement
IRVING, Texas – Some players had more time than others to digest the devastating news on DeVonte Holloman’s likely career-ending neck injury.
For those such as Barry Church, who heard only a few minutes prior to talking to the media today, the reaction was particularly somber. But most of Holloman’s teammates – regardless of when they got the news – felt sympathy, empathy and a realization of how quickly the game can be taken away.
“I just heard about it maybe three minutes ago,” Church said. “That’s devastating, real devastating. But like I said earlier, it’s a neck injury. You can’t really mess around with neck injuries. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you as a young guy.”
Church said all of Holloman’s teammates have his back and the linebacker knows all of his teammates are there for him if he needs anything. It also put into perspective for Church how important every play is, as well as the importance of life outside the game. Church said he understood Holloman’s decision given the circumstances.
“I mean, you could play here a couple more years or be in a wheelchair the rest of your life,” Church said. “You’ve got to make that decision. He made the right one, but it’s a tough one.”
Jason Witten’s had the benefit of playing 11 seasons in the league and is entering his 12th this year, so he knows the disappointment Holloman has to feel to get this news entering just his second season in the league.
Holloman’s only 23 years old and was a rookie standout last year competing for time at linebacker. He stood out in last year’s regular season finale, filling in at middle linebacker and compiling double-digit tackles and two sacks.
“Obviously, here’s a young player I thought had a great future ahead of him,” Witten said. “Really good cover guy. Just can never take it for granted, the opportunity we have to play this game, even in these dog days of camp. Sad to hear that, obviously you want to reach out to him and pull for him… It provides perspective, and we wish him the best.”
The news didn’t only affect the veterans.
Fellow linebacker Anthony Hitchens didn’t know Holloman long, but Hitches said it was a sad moment when he found out the news.
“I actually reached out to him yesterday and gave him a text,” Hitchens said. “You know, I’ve known him for a couple months here. He’s a good guy. It’s just sad to see things like that happen. I just wish the best for him.”
Holloman’s college coach, Steve Spurrier, also wished the best for his former player – one that he called one of his favorites during his time at South Carolina.
“He did everything the coaches asked him and a little bit more,” Spurrier said. “Outstanding player, played safety, sort of nickel back/linebacker. Unfortunately, these things happen in football. Injuries occur. We’re hoping that this injury will still allow him to live a normal life and resume whatever career he’s going into.”
RELATED: Linebackers continue position shifts in aftermath
IRVING, Texas – Losing one linebacker for the season was a tough blow for the Cowboys, but losing another forever is another matter entirely.
The Cowboys’ linebacker corps, already in disarray after losing Sean Lee to a torn ACL, took another blow today with the revelation that DeVonte Holloman’s neck injury is likely career-ending.
Holloman left Saturday’s loss to Baltimore with a related injury to the one that forced him out of the lineup for seven games last season. He returned for the final three weeks of his rookie season, and he showed enough flash to make him an offseason contender for a starting role in 2014.
“He was such a good role player for us last year,” Garrett said. “If you think about his progression from college, he played kind of a strong safety position and then he came in here last year and really took it by storm right from the outset.”
The scrutiny on the Dallas Cowboys linebackers was already substantial – not just because of Lee’s absence, but the arrival of a top-10 draft pick to offset that loss. Rolando McClain has undoubtedly been one of the key figures of this training camp, with attention focused on his legal issues back in Alabama, his multiple retirements and his capability of assuming a starting role.
McClain’s progress has been such a major storyline in training camp, it’s easy to forget the Cowboys narrative from the team’s Organized Team Activities. In the immediate wake of Lee’s injury, it was rookie Anthony Hitchens, a weak side linebacker from Iowa, who was tabbed to man the middle while Justin Durant recovered from injury.
“We felt like, given our team on draft day, he has a chance to be a Mike linebacker because of his physical traits,” Garrett said. “We did that and he did that a lot through the spring, and I think he played some Will in the spring and mostly Mike.”
Hitchens had been a Will throughout training camp as Durant and McClain split reps, but he re-joined the conversation at Mike today when he took first-team snaps. It was his first time running with the first-team since before training camp.
“It’s a big opportunity, mentally and physically, to see where I stand,” he said. “It’s a lot different pace from the ones to the twos in practice. It’s a big opportunity for me, I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
The shuffling comes as the Dallas Cowboys continue to search for their best combination of linebackers.
“Some other guys are more capable of playing Will, some other guys are more capable of playing Sam — he’s suited to play Mike,” Garrett said. “That’s where we had him and let’s put him back there.”
The Cowboys haven’t been afraid to try anything to this point. The concept of cross-training at multiple positions applies to everyone, as linebackers coach Matt Eberflus has described. Durant has spent time at both the strong side and weak side this week, in addition to his usual duties in the middle. Before his injury, Holloman played on the outside and was a backup in the middle.
That loss reduced the linebackers even more, and it compounds the question of who will play ever so slightly. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Dallas Cowboys sign a new linebacker – they worked out former Eagle Jason Phillips earlier this afternoon.
For now, the shuffling looks likely to continue as the Cowboys try to solve the issue.
“Each of those linebacker spots we have kind of moved guys around, playing different combinations both with the ones and twos,” Garrett said.