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By the time the Cowboys got to their first preseason game this past August, rookie Lucky Whitehead was already becoming a household name.
With the Lions trying to protect a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter, Detroit quarterback Stafford threw a third down pass to Brandon Pettigrew with Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens trailing him in coverage. The pass was incomplete, but a flag was thrown for pass interference on Hitchens. Moments later the referees picked up the flag.
Preparation has been perhaps Hitchens’ best asset since entering the league in 2014 as a fourth-round pick. As a rookie, he filled in for an injured Sean Lee. This season, he stepped in again as the starting middle linebacker with Rolando McClain on the Reserve Did Not Report list.
The results in 16 starts, playing just under 55 percent of the defensive snaps in a rotation with Justin Durant: a career-high 104 tackles, ranked third on defense, and four for loss.
“Hitch has done such a great job since we got him,” Garrett said. “If you remember, his rookie year he played a lot at different spots as a backup player. He started at Mike, he started at Will, he started at Sam. And really just seemed to be ready for any of those opportunities. Again, he goes about it the right way, approaches it the right way, he’s a student of the game.
“He’s a very instinctive player. He’s a damn good player.”
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The Cowboys haven’t exactly been lacking from a production standpoint at receiver. But a strong and enormous receiver could certainly make an impact without catching balls. The Cowboys have a run heavy offense that also likes running reverses to Lucky Whitehead and Bryant. Mayle didn’t mince words when asked if he’d be willing to embrace the role of a blocking wide receiver.
“Yeah, look at my body,” Mayle said. “I don’t mind doing that. It’s fun to me.”
Mayle has the size to make a difference and authentic cowboys jersey Bryant thinks he’d be a handful for whoever has to deal with him.
Whether it was his blazing speed and quickness, or the long dreadlocks with the red tips at the ends, or even his No. 13 jersey that fits his nickname perfectly, Whitehead was turning heads in more ways than one.
Whitehead has averaged 23.8 yards on 10 kickoff returns and 8.8 yards on 19 punt returns this season. The second-year wide receiver also has two catches for 40 yards and eight carries for 86 yards.
Wide receiver Cole Beasley replaced Whitehead on punt returns (three for 3 yards), and running backs Lance Dunbar and Alfred Morris each returned a kickoff for 16 and 12 yards, respectively.
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Whitehead said he took accountability for his mistake.
“It definitely hurt me,” he said, “and I just apologized again to my whole offense just to let them know I’m going to take responsibility for my actions. I took the punishment and I move forward from here on.”
The Cowboys were pinned back at their own 3-yard line and just wanted to run out the clock. After two runs for a combined 9 yards, the Packers called timeouts after both to save time and get the ball back. But on third-and-1, the offense called a jet sweep to Lucky Whitehead, who ripped off a 26-yard run around the left edge. Now the Cowboys went on the offensive and drove the length of the field for a touchdown pass from Prescott to Brice Butler. Had Whitehead only picked up a couple of yards, it wouldn’t have given them the green light to press on. But 26 yards flipped the field and the Cowboys took advantage.