Broaddus Breakdown: Inside linebackers

Eighth in a series breaking down the Cowboys by position (previous entries):

Roster locks: Bradie James, Keith Brooking, Sean Lee

Good bet: Jason Williams

On the bubble: Stephen Hodge

Long shots: Leon Williams, Donovan Woods

This is a solid group with a nice mix of established veterans and promising young players.

I’m not surprised by the type of year Keith Brooking had. He’s always been a guy who has been well prepared and kept himself in good physical condition. He’s a pro’s pro. He’s a relentless player with great effort, intensity, intelligence and leadership ability. I think he helped Bradie James more than Zach Thomas did. Brooking didn’t wear down, like Thomas did the previous season. This guy still has more than enough left in the tank.

James is very good as a run-at guy. He’s a physical, point-of-attack player who is adequate sideline to sideline. He has his shaky moments in coverage, though, which is why he’s on the field less often in passing situations. You can’t jump up and down about him, but you have to admire how steady he’s been.

Sean Lee is instinctive, active and smart. He’s got an understanding of where to fit, and I like what he brings as a nickel linebacker. He should be an immediate upgrade over Bobby Carpenter. He moves well in coverage and does an excellent job making breaks on the ball. He’s also big and physical enough to be a factor in the running game. He’s got the perfect guy to learn from in Brooking and looks like a guy who has a bright future as an NFL starter.

Every time I see Jason Williams, he’s getting yelled at by somebody. But he’s a guy who was hand-picked by Wade Phillips, so he’ll have an opportunity to play. This training camp will be huge for him. He can handle the physical load, but is the mental load going to bring him down? He has to translate his athletic ability into production on the football field.

Hodge played at TCU while I was on the staff there, and I had really high hopes for him. But the knee injury has potentially robbed him of this opportunity. If healthy, he could be a dynamic special teams player. He’s crazy, he’s always around the football, and he’s physical. He’s really not a very fluid moving guy. He’s more of a stand-in-there-and-be-physical type of player. He’s a tough son of a gun.