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Cowboys turn attention to Andrew Gachkar at middle linebacker

Andrew Gachkar was expected to be a special teamer and backup, but circumstances might have him as the starting middle linebacker in the opener. Brandon Wade/AP

IRVING, Texas -- If the Dallas Cowboys' season opened this weekend, Andrew Gachkar would be the starting middle linebacker.

Before a few weeks ago in Oxnard, California, Gachkar had never played middle linebacker before.

The Cowboys signed Gachkar in March to a two-year deal after a four-year run with the San Diego Chargers with the idea of him being a major special teams contributor and backup to all three linebacker spots.

With Rolando McClain missing the first four games of the season due to a suspension, Anthony Hitchens out with a sprained foot and Jasper Brinkley not in the mix, the Cowboys have looked at Gachkar. He had five tackles against the Minnesota Vikings in his first start at middle linebacker.

Not bad for a guy who spent part of the spring at weakside linebacker and the early part of camp on the strong-side.

“It’s just cross training,” Gachkar said. “They want me to learn every single position. It’s actually nice because once you start to learn every position you kind of understand your position better. It’s actually progressing me faster I think than it would be if I stayed at one position the whole time.”

Gachkar started eight games over the last two seasons in the Chargers’ 3-4 scheme. San Diego made him a seventh-round pick in 2011 at the urging of then-special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, who is now with the Cowboys.

“I think they knew about my versatility,” Gachkar said. “I think they knew athletically I’m gifted and I’m a fast player. What they like is speed, so every single position uses speed and I fit in well in those spots.”

Hitchens could still be back in time for the opener, but time is running out. Kyle Wilber started the second preseason game at middle linebacker with Gachkar on the weakside. With Sean Lee playing last week against Minnesota, Gachkar shuffled into the middle.

“Until you get a guy here and you put him in those spots, you never really know,” Garrett said. “And that game the other night was a good game for him, to play Mike linebacker and be as productive as he was, and really look as natural and as comfortable as he did, I thought that was really important in the game. Sometimes a guy will take some plays, but then if you look at the whole body of work across the game, it was like, ‘Boy, he didn’t really have an understanding there, he kind of missed the gap there.’ I don’t know that we had very many of those, so I thought it was an impressive performance.”