OVER BEFORE IT BEGAN: Dallas Cowboys LB DeVonte Holloman’s suffers career-ending neck injury | Former coach, players react | LBs continue position shifts in aftermath
MUDDLED IN THE MIDDLE: Dallas Cowboys scrambling to set linebacker unit without star anchor Sean Lee | 2014-2015 linebacker position outlook | Eleven LBs Remaining | Analysis
What’s the Deal?
SHAKEUP AT VALLEY RANCH: Sean Lee’s injury leaves every LB spot in question | DeVonte Holloman is currently the best option at MLB | Dallas Cowboys roster 2014
IRVING, Texas – One practice into Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and the perceived weakness of the defense shifts entirely from one position group to another.
LINEBACKER SHAMBLES AND GAMBLES: Bruce Carter expected to return; Rookie may start at MLB | Cowboys Cross-Training
IRVING, Texas – There isn’t a spot on the team more in shambles than at linebacker.
Earlier in the season, it was the defensive line, a position that has seen nearly 20 different players take the field at some point.
But it’s never been as bad as it was, or is right now, at linebacker.
What the Dallas Cowboys finished with Sunday against the Packers should be worse than what they will play with this week in Washington. The main reason for that is the availability of Bruce Carter, who all but guaranteed he will play this Sunday, despite missing last week’s game with a hamstring injury.
Not only playing, but Carter is expected to wear the defensive headset in his helmet, something the Cowboys played most of the second half without last week against the Packers. Carter will make the defensive line calls despite staying at weak-side linebacker.
That means DeVonte Holloman, a rookie who had missed five straight games until last week with a neck injury, and a player who played both outside linebacker and safety in college, will be the Dallas Cowboys starting middle linebacker this week.
Holloman has played other positions before in his collegiate and high school days, but never in the middle. He’ll get that shot Sunday with perhaps the season on the line for the Cowboys.
So what’s the hardest thing for Holloman?
“Knowing what to look for before it happens. Guys have been in the fire before, they can see things coming a lot faster than guys that are just thrown out there or their first time out there,” he said. “Just seeing a couple things before they come at you.”
Holloman was thrown into action last week after both Justin Durant and Ernie Sims left the game against the Packers. And because both players had the headsets, it left Holloman having to get relayed signals from the coaches on the sideline.
“Hopefully we’ll have a guy with a microphone this time and we won’t have to do too many signals,” Holloman said. “Bruce will have the mic to start, and I’ll be the backup with it.”
Durant has been placed on IR with a hamstring injury and it’s unlikely Sims (hip/groin) will play. The Cowboys signed Orie Lemon to the roster and will get rookie Cameron Lawrence ready as well. Lawrence had to play most of the second half on the outside.
They certainly can’t afford any more injuries at linebacker. The team is preparing to play again without Sean Lee, who is dealing with a neck injury that likely keeps him out the rest of the regular season.
As for Carter, who missed one game already due to his hamstring, he knows both time and linebackers are running out.
“We understand we don’t have really any depth right now at linebacker, so if we can get guys back healthy like me, try to get Ernie there, he’s been banged up,” Carter said. “We just need to get anybody, really.”
And while Carter’s season hasn’t lived up to the high expectations set for him in the offseason, he knows he has a job to do, especially if he’s the only experienced starter out there, with Kyle Wilber on the strong side.
“My job is to try to lead the defense to a victory and just play as good as we can. When things get out of hand, try to get everybody to calm down and just try to get back to our game plan and play sound,” Carter said. “I’m up for the challenge. I know what’s ahead of me. We’ve just got to go out there and execute.”
And facing the Redskins won’t be easy, simply because of the way they run the football. Washington ranks third in the league at 140.9 rushing yards per game. Even with Kirk Cousins now in for Robert Griffin III, the Redskins will still rely on Alfred Morris, who ranks fifth in the league at 1,125 rushing yards.
RELATED: Cross-Training allows the Cowboys to shift linebackers during roster crisis
IRVING, Texas – To the Cowboys, the term “cross-training” means learning multiple positions to be ready at a moment’s notice.
They’ve put that term to full use this year. Head coach Jason Garrett said it was essential particularly in training camp to cross-train the linebackers, and that could pay off now with all the mixing and matching to adjust for injuries.
“Sometimes you do it out of necessity in training camp to get through a practice or get through a preseason game,” Garrett said. “But you always want to cross-train your guys because it’s a long season. We understand that injuries happen.”
DeVonte Holloman’s getting set to start at middle linebacker for the first time in his career. Next to him on one side will be Bruce Carter, who many thought would shift to the middle after Sean Lee’s injury, considering he’s gotten experience there before.
Next to Holloman on the other side at strong side linebacker is Kyle Wilber, who began the year as a defensive end. Justin Durant, who played middle linebacker last week, had started the year as a strong side linebacker.
“Sometimes you can’t just simply put the next guy in,” Garrett said. “You have to find the next best guy from somewhere else. So we have done that in the past and it’s benefiting us now.”
That goes to show just how much versatility has been necessary for a defense searching for any possible answers at the tail end of the season.
Holloman said he’s been learning middle linebacker all season, but he never played the position before coming to the Cowboys. He was used to playing more of a hybrid safety/linebacker role in college.
“Coming from a safety to a hybrid guy and then finally playing linebacker, I’ve been learning since I got here, so it’s not much different,” Holloman said.
Holloman was forced into action last week after injuries to Durant and Ernie Sims. That was a tough circumstance for Holloman, but the brief experience he had earlier in the year helped out some.
“We all cross-train each others’ positions, so I was familiar with it, but I hadn’t done it,” Holloman said. “It was going out there and just learning on the fly.”
Garrett hopes Holloman can take what he learns from this experience moving forward.
“He’s a smart guy, he cares about football and he works very hard at it,” Garrett said. “Like some of the other young guys we’re talking about, he’ll learn from the experiences. When you get a chance to play Mike for the first time in the NFL, he’ll go back and reflect on those 60, 70 plays that he was in there and he’ll learn from them because he goes about it the right way. I think it was a good experience for him. He did a lot of good things, and hopefully he can build on that.”
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said earlier this week he can’t worry about what personnel is on the field for the Cowboys, because in the NFL it’s such a common occurrence for one player to go down and another to have to step up and that everyone’s in the league for a reason.
With his band of backups, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said he still has confidence in his group with only two regular season games remaining to turn things around.
“You go in your defensive room and split up and away you go,” Kiffin said. “You ain’t walking, get your heads up, let’s go. That’s the way it works. There ain’t no pouting around. We’ll be ready to play.”
COWBOYS VS. GIANTS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Jason Garrett press conference | Wednesday practice | DeVonte Holloman | Miles Austin
The Dallas Cowboys aren’t going to hold back on rookie linebacker DeVonte Holloman this week. They need him to play, and now that he’s healthy, he’s going to play.
“We feel good about where he is physically. We’re going to let him go,” coach Jason Garrett said (see below). “We’re going to let him practice and see how he responds.”
Holloman was sidelined by a spinal contusion for five weeks. He returned to practice last week.
“Even when you’re in those shell-type practices, there’s a physical nature to those, and he seems to be pretty comfortable,” Garrett said.
Holloman is expected to play some at middle linebacker in the nickel defense and at strong-side linebacker in the base defense as he and veteran Ernie Sims try to make up for the absence of Sean Lee and Justin Durant.
“He’s an inexperienced player. He hasn’t played that much for us,” Garrett said. “But when he’s played, he’s done some good things, you know, as a special teams guy, spot play on defense. Has a good instinct for playing. Seems to be around the ball and makes a lot of plays.”
Holloman has four tackles in the regular defense and four on special teams, plus a fumble recovery. In preseason, the Dallas Cowboys sixth-round NFL Draft pick out of South Carolina had 15 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and two pass breakups.
Jason Garrett: Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants road game (15:28)
- (David Moore missing from media room)
- DeMarcus Ware and Morris Claiborne practice status
- Differences in NY Giants scheme as compared to earlier in the season
- Ernie Sims evolution into the Texas 2 defense
- Intangibles that veteran LB Ernie Sims brings to the team
- Confidence level in rookie LB DeVonte Holloman
- Concerns about Holloman’s spinal contusion
- What will Miles Austin bring to the offense that Terrance Williams could not do
- A trait in rookie WR Terrance Williams that makes him a special player
- How NFL teams change when the weather changes
- Mackenzy Bernadeau progress and consistency
- Has Tony Romo’s mechanics played a part in reduced completion percentage
- View on returning defensive players compared to new concerns in the middle
- J.J. Wilcox development and film takeaways
- Weather satisfied with the physical effort from the team this season
- How losing a player like Brian Waters has affected the team / locker room
- Orlando Scandrick chip on his shoulder; matchup with Victor Cruz
- Difference between NFL game smarts and raw instincts
- (David Moore enters room)
- Teams value on Scandrick as a slot CB and how he’s skilled up as outside CB
- How does Victor Cruz success impact Orlando Scandisk’s mindset and confidence
- Difference in covering Victor Cruz compared to players like Wes Welker
- With Sean Lee out, what opportunities are there for Bruce Carter
- What’s been seen on latest film with Eli Manning compared to early in season
- Ex-Cowboy Will Allen’s comments about alleged micro-managing by coaches
Editors note: There were some audio issues with the video today. If the problem is not resolved, try listening to the audio link instead. As always, if you have any type of problem with audio/video on your smartphone, makes sure you have checked the option ‘Desktop View” within your browser. Enjoy!
Spread the word about The Boys Are Back website! Use the SHARE buttons below!
IRVING, Texas – The defensive injuries have become crippling enough that a rookie who still hasn’t taken contact in four weeks since his neck injury is now lining up in drills as a starting linebacker.
DeVonte Holloman, who’s never started a regular season game at linebacker, ran with the first-team unit during Wednesday’s no-pads practice, while Ernie Sims manned the middle linebacker spot and Bruce Carter stuck at weak side linebacker.
“We don’t know that for sure, but that’s what we’re looking at right now,” said defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. “That’s what I say about the bye week, we don’t have to be ready Sunday. We’ve got some time.”
The Cowboys will need all that time to see how Sims, who says he hasn’t played middle linebacker in the 4-3 defense since his third year in Detroit in 2008, and Holloman can adjust. Holloman still isn’t sure if he’ll be ready to play against the New York Giants after what he described as a C3 and C4 spinal contusion, which occurred a month ago in practice.
He said the trainers and coaches are taking it slow with him and waiting until the team gets back in pads to take a couple hits and see how he holds up.
“I still haven’t hit anything, so can’t really say that yet,” Holloman said. “But it felt good to be out there running around with the team again.”
Holloman’s been a special teams contributor this season, totaling four tackles and a fumble recovery, but moving to starting linebacker would be a colossal jump for the rookie. Head coach Jason Garrett said he liked what Holloman was able to do before the injury and that Holloman made “a very favorable impression” early in camp.
One of the main goals for Holloman now is to get back in shape and work out as hard as possible during the bye week so he can physically be ready to go if he’s medically cleared. He’s working in primarily at the strong side linebacker spot, but he’s also played middle linebacker before.
“I’m just waiting on my chance,” Holloman said. “Seeing how things played out last week, it looks like it’s coming up. I’m just trying to be as prepared as possible.”
Of course, all these possibilities have arisen because of injuries to Sean Lee and Justin Durant, who are both expected out at least for the Giants game with hamstring injuries. Garrett said the Dallas Cowboys have to explore every possibility with their current roster to see how to adjust, including looking at defensive end Kyle Wilber at linebacker.
The Cowboys had moved Wilber from outside linebacker to the defensive line to start the year, but this is the time to experiment with the bye week.
“That’s not really a permanent move right now,” Kiffin said. “We don’t know. We’re banged up right now at linebacker and we’re short some guys. Some of the guys are going to be out for a while.”
Regardless of what happens around him, it does seem like Sims will be given the first opportunity to take hold of the middle linebacker spot. He said he’s excited for the opportunity ahead of him, but it’s disappointing for him to see Lee, the leader of the defense, go down the way he did.
“Guys just got to step up to the plate,” Sims said. “It’s not going to come easy.”
It took a while last week against New Orleans for Sims to even realize Durant had joined Lee on the injured hamstring list and off on the sideline.
“Last game it kind of happened on the run,” Sims said. “Durant was in there at Mike. Literally, we were in the middle of a drive, and me and Bruce didn’t see Durant in the game. It was just kind of second nature to me to just kind of take the initiative to put myself at Mike.”
Though Carter had played the middle linebacker spot last year after Lee went down, Kiffin said right now they’d like to keep Carter at his current spot.
That means Sims will lean on Lee to teach him the intricacies of the middle linebacker position in this particular 4-3 defense. It’s not all that different from the situation Sims found himself in last year, when the Cowboys signed him and he had to learn the 3-4 defense for the first time when Lee went out.
“This type of stuff happens all the time,” Sims said. “Me and the other guys are going to have to step up to the plate. I’m going to have to really get some extra time with the coaches.
“I haven’t played Mike linebacker in this scheme in a long time. Schemes have changed drastically. At the end of the day, I’m a football player, I’m a competitor, and I’m going to do whatever I have to do to study the details of Sean’s position and try to help this team out to win ballgames.”
RELATED – WEDNESDAY PRACTICE UPDATE: DeVonte Holloman returns
IRVING, Texas – With Sean Lee sitting out for a few weeks, the Dallas Cowboys showed a new look for their depleted linebacker corps at todays bye week practice.
Ernie Sims took Lee’s place in the middle of the unit, while Bruce Carter remained outside (weak side linebacker). In a surprise move, rookie DeVonte Holloman, who has been injured since the Cowboys’ Oct. 13 win against Washington, returned as a starter at outside linebacker (strong side).
The trio of Carter, Sims and Holloman got all of the first-team reps during the portion of practice that was open to the media.
Holloman wasn’t the only injured player to return to practice during the Dallas Cowboys’ bye week. Miles Austin and Jason Hatcher both participated in the practice, which was not padded, after missing last week.
Dez Bryant, who missed last Wednesday’s practice with back problems, was also participating with the Cowboys’ offense.
Several remaining injuries still lingered, however, as the team is still struggling to get healthy. Lee’s absence was a given, but DeMarcus Ware, Morris Claiborne and J.J. Wilcox also did not participate.
INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE: 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings | DeMarco Murray back in lineup
ARLINGTON – DeMarco Murray will be active today against the Vikings after missing each of the Dallas Cowboys’ previous two games with a sprained knee.
DeMarcus Ware, on the other hand, highlights the inactives list, which also includes wide receiver Miles Austin, cornerback Morris Claiborne, safety J.J. Wilcox, linebacker DeVonte Holloman, tackle Darrion Weems and tight end Andre Smith.
Wilcox (knee), Holloman (neck) and Claiborne (hamstring) were all ruled out after Friday’s practice. Ware (thigh) and Austin (hamstring) were both listed as doubtful. Along with Murray, Ware’s also missed each of the last two weeks after getting injured against the Redskins, and he’ll now miss his third straight game.
Austin has been given rest and sat out last week after trying to give his sore hamstring a try against the Eagles on Oct. 20.
All the Cowboys players who were probable entering the weekend will be active, including Jason Hatcher (neck), George Selvie (shoulder) and Barry Church (hamstring).
Guard Brian Waters was also ruled out after Friday’s practice with a triceps injury, which has since moved him to injured reserve. Defensive back Micah Pellerin took Waters’ spot on the 53-man roster and will be active.