Brandon Carr couldn’t find the right words. Neither could Barry Church.
It’s difficult to comprehend and grasp that 23-year-old DeVonte Holloman is likely done playing football before his career ever really began.
Coach Jason Garrett delivered the unfortunate news Thursday — that Holloman’s neck injury is severe enough that doctors have advised him to give up his football dreams to preserve his long-term quality of life.
“I’m lost for words right now, trying to take it all in,” Carr said. “I’m sad to see that happen. Just offer him words of encouragement to keep him moving and take that same attitude he had within these walls into the next chapter of his life.”
Said Church: “Words can’t explain it. He made the right choice, but it’s a tough one. He is a strong guy and I’m sure he’ll be able to fight through.”
Holloman, the Cowboys’ sixth-round pick in 2013, had a spinal contusion that forced him to miss seven games last year. When he played, though, he proved to be more than capable on special teams and also started the final two games of the season in place of Sean Lee.
Holloman went into this season as a candidate for more playing time, especially with Lee out for the season, but the neck injury resurfaced and has been bothering him for a couple weeks. He tried to play through it, but couldn’t finish Saturday’s game against the Ravens.
Holloman got a couple of medical opinions on his neck this week and is coming to the realization that his playing days are over. He spent Thursday morning on the sidelines in his No. 57 jersey and talking with teammates, but didn’t comment publicly on what appears to be a career-ending condition.
“It’s a very challenging, difficult thing for a young man,” Garrett said. “I told him this morning, ‘You’re a 10-year player in my mind. You’re going to play for a long, long time.’ Just has everything that you want. Took advantage of his opportunity here last year whenever we gave it to him. And he has physical ability, he’s tough, he’s got instincts and a feel for the game.
“But this becomes an easy decision for him and for his family when you’re dealing with that kind of injury. We had a good visit this morning about it.”
For the Cowboys, it’s another loss for their linebacker corps. They continue to scramble to find the right three as the season approaches.
It appears that Justin Durant is the only linebacker who has locked down one of the three starting spots. Rookie Anthony Hitchens was taking first-team snaps at middle linebacker early during Thursday’s practice with Durant and Bruce Carter on the outside.
The most often used trio has been Kyle Wilber on the strong side, Durant in the middle and Carter on the weak side.
Rolando McClain has also gotten some first-team snaps at middle linebacker with Wilber at strong and Durant sliding to weak. But questions have been raised about McClain’s durability, as he’s missed practices with several issues.
McClain declined to speak with reporters Thursday, saying he had to go get “treatment.”
But Hitchens was more than happy to talk about raising his profile and becoming part of the first-team mix. The fourth-round pick out of Iowa played mostly weakside linebacker in college, but has shown aptitude and a willingness to learn from veterans such as Lee.
The first-team bump was partly due to Hitchens’ impressive practice Wednesday, and he might make a push for more playing time with Holloman out of the mix.
“Something like this is very difficult for [Holloman], but it provides an opportunity for somebody else,” Garrett said. “We have a lot of young players who are vying for spots on this team and for roles on this team, so it’ll give them a chance to step in there and take advantage.”