Uncertainty at Linebacker in ’09

As of now, the Cowboys have a good, solid bunch of linebackers on the roster. That can change, though, very quickly.

Unrestricted free agents Kevin Burnett, Carlos Polk and Zach Thomas as well as Steve Octavien, Justin Rogers, Bobby Carpenter and Greg Ellis make up over half of the linebacking core from the 2008 season. Losing a large chunk of these players is a very real possibility.

So where does this leave us going into ’09? Let’s break it down starting with the star of the entire defense, Demarcus Ware.

Stephen Jones is said to be talking with Ware’s agent about hammering out a new contract. I believe, as they stated, this is THE number one priority of the offseason. It will get done and leave us with limited options, because of our current 10 million under the cap number, for the rest of the roster in ’09. So let it be written, so let it be done.

Backing up Ware on the weak side are Justin Rogers and Carlos Polk. Both are solid special teams contributors, but hardly solid starters on the weak side. I believe resigning at least one of them would be a given however, should, God forbid, Ware go down with an injury, our defense would suffer immensely.

On the strong side we have the Greg Ellis/ Anthony Spencer dilemma. Is the former 1st round pick ready to take over full time or do we stick with our proven but aging resident complainer? I know one thing, if the choice is to start Spencer, we won’t see Ellis on the roster in ’09. Tricky business.

The middle inside position was a strong part of our defense with Bradie James having the year of his career. His backup, however, played decent on special teams and average at best at linebacker. Bobby Carpenter, for all intents and purposes, is a first round bust. I believe he has another year on his contract and will likely, because of our cap situation, stay and finish it.

The biggest concern, as far as starting and depth goes, is the following position:

At middle outside linebacker in 2008, we saw the veteran Zach Thomas take over for an underachieving Akin Ayodelle. Switching Zach to a 3-4 role at this point in his career proved to be a dumb one as backup Kevin Burnett saw well deserved increased playing time as the season went on. Zach has since voided the final 2 years on his contract and the often injured but solid player Burnett is an unrestricted free agent looking for a big deal. Uh oh.

There are a lot of possibilities in free agency this year with a trio of linebackers from Baltimore headlining the group; Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott.
It is very unlikely that the Raven sign all three. My money says, because of resigning Ware, we don’t make a run at any of the high priced ones this year and settle for a lower priced Mike Peterson or Eric Barton, if any.

In the draft, if we’re talking from position 51 in the second round and down, I have compiled a list of 10 players worth considering.

The following player info is copied from walterfootball.com

Inside Linebackers:

Darry Beckwith, LSU
Height: 6-0. Weight: 233.
Projected 40 Time: 4.55.
Projected Round (2009): 3.
12/7/08: Darry Beckwith has missed some time with a knee injury. He has 48 tackles and a TFL.
5/11/08: A play-maker who had 63 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a pick in 2007.
2007: Darry Beckwith has announced that he’ll be returning for his senior season.
Beckwith could be one of the top outside linebackers in the 2009 class, so he should probably wait a year.

Dannell Ellerbe, Georgia
Height: 6-1. Weight: 235.
Projected 40 Time: 4.60.
Projected Round (2009): 3-4.
1/10/09: Injuries have slowed down Dannell Ellerbe, who collected six TFL and a pair of sacks as a senior.
12/7/08: A disappointing senior season, thanks to a knee injury. Dannell Ellerbe notched 29 tackles and five TFL.
5/16/08: Dannell Ellerbe finished with 93 tackles and 12 tackles for loss in 2007.
2007: Dannell Ellerbe, finally the full-time starter at Georgia, is a tackling machine; he led the team in stops the first two weeks of the 2007 campaign.

Jason Phillips, TCU
Height: 6-1. Weight: 234.
Projected 40 Time: 4.55.
Projected Round (2009): 4.
1/10/09: Finished with a whopping 13 TFL, as well as 84 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
12/7/08: Selected to the All-Mountain West First Team once again, Jason Phillips tallied 79 tackles, 12 TFL and 3.5 sacks this year.
2007: Jason Phillips led the Horned Frogs with 73 tackles, earning himself a spot on the All-Mountain West First Team.

Scott McKillop, Pittsburgh
Height: 6-1. Weight: 243.
Projected 40 Time: 4.69.
Projected Round (2009): 4-5.
1/10/09: Amazingly, an AP All-America Second Team member. Scott McKillop registered 137 total tackles, 17.5 TFL, four sacks and four passes broken up.
12/7/08: An extremely productive season for Scott McKillop – unless you’re not impressed with 113 tackles, 14.5 TFL, four sacks, three passes broken up and a pick-six.
5/11/08: Scott McKillop went from an unknown backup in 2006 to one of the premier linebackers in the nation. He had 151 tackles on the year, including the decisive stop against Steve Slaton in Pittsburgh’s shocking victory over West Virginia.

Worrell Williams, California
Height: 6-2. Weight: 249.
Projected 40 Time: 4.68.
Projected Round (2009): 4-5.
12/7/08: Worrell Williams is having an outstanding season and will be targeted by 3-4 defenses in April. Williams has 55 tackles, five TFL and six passes broken up.
5/11/08: After playing the weakside position as a sophomore, Worrell Williams finally moved to the middle, where he had 98 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.
2007: Didn’t see much action as a sophomore, but Worrell Williams has worked his way into the lineup after working extremely hard this offseason.

Daniel Holtzclaw, Eastern Michigan
Height: 6-1. Weight: 245.
Projected 40 Time: 4.65.
Projected Round (2009): 4-5.
12/7/08: Don’t blame Daniel Holtzclaw for Eastern Michigan’s poor season. Holtzclaw, one of the more underrated players in the nation, notched 107 tackles and 4.5 TFL. He has started every game in his collegiate career.
5/11/08: Daniel Holtzclaw finished his 2007 campaign with 125 tackles and two interceptions. He probably ranks as the top under-the-radar linebacker in this class.
2007: Daniel Holtzclaw had 10 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in an upset over Western Michigan. Holtzclaw leads the MAC in tackles.
Holtzclaw has bulked up from 230 to 245 pounds, and is now a first-day prospect.
Holtzclaw has a habit of dominating the MAC; he won Player of the Week honors after notching 13 tackles and a pick against Northern Illinois. Needs to either bulk up or get quicker to move up this chart.

Outside Linebackers:

Larry English, Northern Illinois
Height: 6-2. Weight: 254.
Projected 40 Time: 4.70.
Projected Round (2009): 2.
1/9/09: Larry English finished his senior campaign with 14.5 TFL, eight sacks and three forced fumbles.
11/16/08: Larry English is not going to match the 10.5 sacks he had in 2007. He has 4.5 sacks through nine games.
5/7/2008: Despite being the only talented defensive lineman on Northern Illinois’ front, Larry English still managed 10.5 sacks, giving him 22.5 the past two years. I don’t care whom you’re playing – numbers like that can’t be ignored. Look for English to shoot up draft boards like fellow MAC end Jason Jones did in April.
2007: Larry English recorded 12 sacks as a sophomore.

Tyrone McKenzie, South Florida
Height: 6-1. Weight: 244.
Projected 40 Time: 4.59.
Projected Round (2009): 2-3.
1/10/09: Look for Tyrone McKenzie, an All-Big East first-teamer, in the Senior Bowl.
12/6/08: A year after setting the school’s all-time tackle record, Tyrone McKenzie had “only” 94 tackles and 11 TFL.
5/16/08: Tyrone McKenzie set the all-time South Florida record in tackles last year with 121, though he had 129 as a sophomore at Iowa State.
2007: A transfer from Iowa State, Tyrone McKenzie was a member of the All-Big XII second team in 2006.

Clay Matthews, USC
Height: 6-3. Weight: 246.
Projected 40 Time: 4.72.
Projected Round (2009): 3.
1/10/09: A member of the All-Pac 10 Second Team, Clay Matthews (sounds like a guy on American Idol) managed 10.5 TFL, three sacks and six passes broken up.
12/6/08: Finally given the chance, Clay Matthews has given a name for himself, collecting 49 tackles, nine TFL and three sacks. He also has a blocked kick.

Marcus Freeman, Ohio State
Height: 6-2. Weight: 242.
Projected 40 Time: 4.60.
Projected Round (2009): 3-4.
12/6/08: Voted to the All-Big Ten Second Team, Marcus Freeman finished the season with 76 tackles, nine TFL and 3.5 sacks.
5/16/08: Marcus Freeman had 95 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss in 2007. He’s great against both the run and the pass. Should be able to play multiple linebacker positions in the pros.
2007: Another top 2009 prospect who should wait a year.


I hope this information sparks some conversation here on Starstruck. I’d love to hear what you all think. My next article will be concentrating on another area of concern, the defensive line.

  1. Josh
    Josh says:

    great article and i hope we get ware signed to a big contract but my belief is that some way some how jerry will find a way to get lewis on this team i pray that happens for the pure reason that he is a very inspirational leader that could help both sides of the ball improve as a team not and as a person

  2. Danny
    Danny says:

    I think you go after the lesser of the 3 LB’s from Baltimore and draft some LB’s to build. The problem with this team lately is that they’re going out there and getting the Big name just like Washington did for all those years. Build your franchise with draft picks and ghost signings like Romo. That’s how franchises are created, not signing Big Names. Just think of the 90’s.