Cowboys mailbag: The battle at linebacker


OXNARD, Calif. -- Every Sunday morning we'll answer some questions in a weekly, Cowboys mailbag. We'll pick the best questions, and we might even go on Twitter to take a few.

Here's the first one of camp.

Q: A lot of people are talking safety and wide receiver camp battles, but there isn't a lot of buzz regarding the battle for the linebacker spots. I think it's one of the more interesting ones. Can Alex Albright push Justin Durant? Who's better between Holloman, Magee, Lawrence, McSurdy and Reed? Does this team really need Sims? What are your thoughts going into camp? James Adams (San Tan Valley, Ariz.)

A: As of now, Durant is the favorite to win the starting job. Durant has too much experience here, and that's what the Cowboys need in the middle of the field with Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. Ernie Sims, Brandon Magee and Albright should make the roster and contribute on special teams. Caleb McSurdy is an interesting player. He missed last season when he tore his Achilles tendon in training camp. So we'll see how he'll perform this summer given another chance. DeVonte Holloman moved from safety to linebacker in college, so his progress at this position, linebacker, is continuing.

Q: Hi Calvin, it sounds to me that the (Dallas) District Attorney is out of the plea bargain mood with Josh Brent and wants to throw the full force of the law at him. Are you getting the same feeling? Is this a result of Brent failing to stay clean while waiting on his trial or do you think the D.A. has had this same attitude from the beginning? Sounds like it might have made him mad that he was overruled by the judge when Brent failed (two drug tests), and now he is not wanting to deal with him at all? Rod T. (Tulsa, Okla.)

A: Rod, I do believe Brent will do some prison time, but not as much as you think. There are countless of cases in which a person was charged with intoxication manslaughter and didn't get any prison time. In some, if not all, cases, probation and a suspension of license was the punishment. Brent going to trial doesn't bode well for him to avoid prison time, and that's part of the reason he elected to retire instead of remaining in the NFL.

Q: If Phil Costa is able to regain the starting center position, is there a chance that Travis Frederick could start at one of the guard positions? Jim Russell (San Antonio)

A: If Costa starts over Frederick at center, that's a bad thing for the Cowboys. Nothing against Costa, but the team wasn't excited about him starting the 2012 season at center, and his back injuries halted his development at that position. The Cowboys drafted Frederick to become a starter at center, not guard. The best case for the Cowboys is if Costa starts at center and Frederick starts at guard, it would mean only one of the other starting guards struggled in training camp. Now you could say play the best five linemen, and I would agree with you on that statement. But if Frederick, who hasn't played guard since 2011, is your starting center, something is wrong.

Q: My question probably sounds redundant, but if we continue to have subpar seasons, what is the next move in the front office? Will Jerry Jones delegate his roles and duties to a talent expert? What is the plan with our offensive and defensive lines? We aren't getting younger, and we need to continue to draft better talent. Who will replace Jason Garrett if this season is not a success? Stanley Hodge Jr. (Washington, D.C.)

A: Let's clear this up: Jerry Jones isn't going anywhere. He will remain the general manager of the Cowboys until he doesn't want to do it anymore. The offensive line is getting younger with the first-round picks of Tyron Smith and Frederick, and the team is trying to develop several other young prospects. The defensive line concerns me some. Three of the four projected starters are in their 30s and two enter the final year of their deals. The backups are unproven, but the Cowboys like the potential. Watch Ben Bass and Tyrone Crawford this summer as two players who could have an impact. In terms of Garrett losing his gig, well, it's hard to speculate who would take over if he gets fired. For now, Garrett is the head coach, and Jones said Saturday his job security isn't on the line.

Q: How much of a contribution can we expect out of Lance Dunbar this season as a return specialist and as a versatile offensive playmaker? Sam Owusu-Hemeng (Arlington, Texas)

A: Dunbar had a strong offseason, probably second best to Dez Bryant. Dunbar was a pleasant surprise to see. He's going to have some competition for playing time with Phillip Tanner and Joseph Randle. Dunbar's skill set: speed and ability to catch passes out of the backfield allows him to make the roster. The Cowboys will have four running backs on the roster, and behind DeMarco Murray and Randle is Dunbar.