Underappreciated Dallas Cowboys: Linebackers

This is part of the series on the All-Time Team of Underappreciated Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys have had some iconic players at the linebacker position, and the selection of Lee Roy Jordan, Chuck Howley, and DeMarcus Ware in ESPN’s poll was not surprising. The number of votes for others, though, was a bit surprising. Here is the final tally:

1. DeMarcus Ware (92.5%)
2. Chuck Howley (68.2%)
3. Lee Roy Jordan (57.8%)
4. Ken Norton (39.1%)
5. Dexter Coakley (14.3%)
6. Thomas Henderson (11.1%)
7. Dat Nguyen (8.6%)
8. D.D. Lewis (4.3%)
9. Bob Breunig (4%)

Norton was a solid player, but he was one of the first casualties of the free agent system in the 1990s. He does not rank as high as some others, several of whom did not receive votes.

Here is the list of AV ranks:

Rk From To G Pos AV ?
1 Chuck Howley 1961 1972 164 LB 132
2 Lee Roy Jordan 1963 1976 186 LB 129
3 Dave Edwards 1963 1975 181 LB 96
4 D.D. Lewis 1968 1981 186 LB 82
5 Bob Breunig 1975 1984 135 LB 80
6 DeMarcus Ware 2005 2010 96 LB 74
7 Dexter Coakley 1997 2004 127 LB 72
8 Mike Hegman 1976 1987 170 LB 67
9 Bradie James 2003 2010 126 LB 51
10 Eugene Lockhart 1984 1990 104 LB 50
11 Ken Norton 1989 1993 76 LB 43
12 Dat Nguyen 1999 2005 90 LB 41
13 Randall Godfrey 1996 1999 64 LB 30
14 Thomas Henderson 1975 1979 67 LB 30
15 Darrin Smith 1993 1996 57 LB 27
16 Dixon Edwards 1991 1995 75 LB 25
17 Jeff Rohrer 1982 1987 83 LB 24
18 Robert Jones 1992 1995 56 LB 23
19 Fred Strickland 1996 1998 47 LB 23
20 Anthony Dickerson 1980 1984 73 LB 21
21 Jack Del Rio 1989 1991 46 LB 20
22 Alshermond Singleton 2003 2006 53 LB 18
23 Vinson Smith 1990 1997 59 LB 17
24 Guy Brown 1977 1982 85 LB 16
25 Darren Hambrick 1998 2001 51 LB 16
26 Keith Brooking 2009 2010 32 LB 14
27 Akin Ayodele 2006 2007 32 LB 12
28 Jim Schwantz 1994 1996 39 LB 11
29 Godfrey Myles 1992 1996 73 LB 10
30 Ron Burton 1987 1989 34 LB 9
31 Kevin Hardy 2002 2002 16 LB 8
32 Harold Hays 1963 1967 70 LB 8
33 Markus Steele 2001 2003 42 LB 8
34 Kevin Burnett 2005 2008 61 LB 7
35 Scott Shanle 2004 2005 31 LB 7
36 Zach Thomas 2008 2008 16 LB 7
37 Bobby Carpenter 2006 2009 58 LB 6
38 Garry Cobb 1988 1988 16 LB 6
39 Steve DeOssie 1984 1988 75 LB 6
40 Bruce Huther 1977 1983 72 LB 6
41 Scott Fujita 2005 2005 16 LB 5
42 Barron Wortham 2000 2000 16 LB 5
43 Ryan Fowler 2005 2006 30 LB 4
44 Angelo King 1981 1983 40 LB 4
45 Jesse Penn 1985 1987 42 LB 4
46 Thomas Stincic 1969 1971 35 LB 4
47 Don Talbert 1962 1971 37 LB 4
48 Keith Adams 2002 2002 6 LB 3
49 John Babinecz 1972 1973 26 LB 3
50 Victor Butler 2009 2010 31 LB 3
51 Oliver Hoyte 2007 2007 10 LB 3
52 Garth Jax 1986 1988 32 LB 3
53 Cal Peterson 1974 1975 28 LB 3
54 Brian Salonen 1984 1985 32 LB 3
55 Rodrigo Barnes 1973 1973 14 LB 2
56 Darrick Brownlow 1991 1994 32 LB 2
57 Orantes Grant 2000 2001 23 LB 2
58 David Howard 1989 1990 27 LB 2
59 Ken Hutcherson 1974 1974 14 LB 2
60 Dale Jones 1987 1987 3 LB 2
61 Steve Kiner 1970 1970 14 LB 2
62 Jack Patera 1960 1961 4 LB 2
63 Justin Rogers 2007 2008 31 LB 2
64 Randy Shannon 1989 1989 16 LB 2
65 Dave Simmons 1968 1968 13 LB 2
66 Jesse Solomon 1989 1990 20 LB 2
67 Danny Spradlin 1981 1982 25 LB 2
68 Matt Vanderbeek 1993 1994 28 LB 2
69 Russell Wayt 1965 1965 9 LB 2
70 Reggie Barnes 1995 1995 7 LB 1
71 Joe Bowden 2000 2000 16 LB 1
72 Jamal Brooks 2001 2001 16 LB 1
73 Lee Roy Caffey 1971 1971 6 LB 1
74 Alan Campos 1996 1996 15 LB 1
75 Billy Cannon Jr. 1984 1984 8 LB 1
76 Warren Capone 1975 1975 5 LB 1
77 Quinton Caver 2005 2005 8 LB 1
78 Quentin Coryatt 1999 1999 4 LB 1
79 Willis Crockett 1990 1990 13 LB 1
80 Sonny Davis 1961 1961 2 LB 1
81 Chris Duliban 1987 1987 3 LB 1
82 Anthony Fieldings 1995 1995 4 LB 1
83 Lemanski Hall 1999 1999 10 LB 1
84 Darryl Hardy 1997 1997 12 LB 1
85 Mike Keller 1972 1972 5 LB 1
86 Sean Lee 2010 2010 14 LB 1
87 Bob W. Long 1962 1962 8 LB 1
88 Louis Mackey 2002 2002 15 LB 1
89 Keith O’Neil 2003 2003 15 LB 1
90 Steve Octavien 2009 2009 14 LB 1
91 Carlos Polk 2008 2008 10 LB 1
92 Bill Roe 1980 1980 16 LB 1
93 John Roper 1993 1993 3 LB 1
94 Russ Swan 1987 1987 5 LB 1
95 Kalen Thornton 2004 2004 16 LB 1
96 Louie Walker 1974 1974 8 LB 1
97 Mike Walter 1983 1983 15 LB 1
98 Leon Williams 2010 2010 11 LB 1
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/7/2011.

My votes go to Bob Breunig, Ken Norton, and Dave Edwards.

Breunig was a two-time Pro Bowl selection who helped lead the Cowboys to two Super Bowl appearances after Lee Roy Jordan retired.

Norton endured the 3-13 and 1-15 seasons of 1988 and 1989 before being a key part of the team’s revival. His performance in 1993 while playing with a torn bicep muscle was vital to the team’s Super Bowl title that year.

Edwards received far less fame than Jordan and Howley, but Edwards was a starter from day one and one of the reasons why Dallas had a Doomsday Defense.

 

Several others certainly deserve consideration. One of the problems, though, is that several of the better linebackers have had relatively short careers with the team. This includes Hollywood Henderson, Darrin Smith, and Dixon Edwards. Dexter Coakley and Dat Nguyen played their hardest, but they were stars at a time when the team was short of talent in general.

  • I go with Dave Edwards. He was a steady but not flashy LB who went about his business and was overshadowed by the likes of Lee Roy Jordan and Chuck Howley.

  • Timothyt

    I’m with Fred and Matt on Dave Edwards as being included. Most folks will not recall Bob Breuning as a starter for the Cowboys after Jordan retired and that for the most part, the defense did not miss a beat (at least at first). For the the last , I lean toward D.D. Lewis. He took over for Chuck Howley and also played as a starter for the SB teams of the late 70’s. He played 13 years and never made the Pro Bowl (per Pro Football Reference and my own scanty memory).

  • Anonymous

    I just realized that I failed to mention Lewis, which I should have. Underappreciated for several reasons, not the least of which was because we see him from the back approaching Joe Montana during “The Catch.”

  • Timothytrump

    On DD Lewis–thanks Matt for considering him. His prominence on that infamous play is unfortunate. Another player I rarely hear about but I considered vital was Kevin Burnett. Too bad we couldn’t hold on to him –great 3rd down LB.