Coach’s Corner: Turner West on Linebackers Poised to Make Big Jump in 2017
Assistant linebackers coach Turner West is excited about a young group of players who are poised to make the next big leap in their careers.
Jaylon Smith has garnered the majority of attention from Cowboys Nation as the former Notre Dame star works his way back onto the practice field after spending a year rehabbing from a career-threatening knee injury. But for West, Smith is not the only young linebacker who will team with All Pro Sean Lee to form an improved LB corps. West joined 5PB to talk about 3 young linebackers in particular.
Q: At this point last year, you told us that Damien Wilson was a guy who was going to make a big leap as he entered his second season. Then he suffered an eye injury during a freak accident while playing paintball with his friends; the accident occurred a week before 2016 Training Camp. Are you thinking this could be the year Wilson really has a “breakout” performance?
WEST: “Damien’s been working real hard and made a lot of improvement since last year. Missing training camp last year with the eye injury put him a little bit behind the rest of the group. This offseason he’s on the right path and hopefully stays healthy for a full training camp. He looks good, is working hard and moving well, and really progressing.”
Q: Is there an offseason addition that didn’t garner headlines and may be “flying under the radar” in terms of media attention, but is a guy who has a great shot at not only securing a spot on the 53-man roster, but a shot to make a solid contribution in 2017?
WEST: “We call him ‘Big John’, that’s easier than pronouncing his last name, Lotulelie. He’s a 4-year linebacker in the NFL, but this is his first with the Cowboys. I had an opportunity to work John out back when we were thinking of bringing him in at the end of last year. I’m really, really excited about his movement. He moves really well in space, he’s real quick. But what really sets him apart, in my opinion, is his football instinct. The guy is really instinctive in zone coverage and the run game.
“He’s got good instincts and that will help us, help the younger guys, too, by watching him.
He’s a good addition to the group. Because of his good instincts in coverage, he can play in the nickel & dime defensive packages as well as the base.”
Q: With all the attention focused on Jaylon Smith and the progress he’s making in returning from his knee injury, everyone in the media seems to look past Anthony Hitchens, the incumbent starter at middle linebacker. Through the offseason, Hitchens has remained 1st team linebacker; Smith has worked second-team. Is Hitchens one of the most underappreciated players on the roster, at least underappreciated by media and fans?
WEST: “He’s not underappreciated by those of us on the staff. He’s appreciated by us and his teammates. Hitch is a guy you want in your foxhole. If you were in battle, you’d want him right next to you. He comes to work everyday and is accountable to himself and his teammates. I’m really excited to watch him continue to grow as a football player. The best is yet to come.”