NFL Wire News

Return of LB Lee injects life into Cowboys’ defense


The Sports Xchange

IRVING, Texas — When the Dallas Cowboys talk about the moves they made to improve their defense in 2015, a lot of it has centered on the additions of free-agent pass rusher Greg Hardy and rookie draft picks Byron Jones and Randy Gregory to be impact players at cornerback and defensive end, respectively.

Not to be overlooked is the return of linebacker Sean Lee, their best defender going into last season and team captain who suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first day of OTA practices.

Lee is back healthy and ready to go, although the Cowboys are being cautious by limiting his work to individual drills.

He was already a Pro-Bowl caliber linebacker, but now they hope to get a Pro-Bowl performance by moving him from the middle to the all-important weak-side linebacker spot in coordinator Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 scheme.

The weak-side linebacker is covered by a tackle and is the player expected to run around and make plays while being the team’s leading tackler.

“He’s just a hell of a football player,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s a good fit really anywhere. Probably his greatest strengths are his instincts and his ability to read and recognize what’s going on on the other side of the ball.

“He’s just one of those guys who just sees things so quickly. He processes the play and gets to where he needs to get really instantaneously. He does that in the run game. He does that in the passing game. It’s a tribute to him.

“I’ll bet if you watched him play Pop Warner football when he was seven years old, he was the guy making all the plays. So I think he has that as part of his DNA, but he works very hard at the game.”

The Cowboys were able to move Lee to weak-side linebacker because of the emergence of Rolando McClain in his place at middle linebacker last year. But McClain is missing from OTAs because of off-season knee surgery.

The focus for the Cowboys is to keep Lee safe and healthy for the start of training camp.

“He’s excited,” linebacker coach Matt Eberflus said. “He’s champing at the bit to get back in there. We’re just kind of holding him back a little bit right now.”

Lee is cool with the situation though he hates to be reminded about last year’s injury or his history of ailments that have limited his time since he was drafted in the second round in 2010.

“It’s one of those deals (that) it’s hard to forget that,” Lee said Wednesday. “But I’ve been through a lot of OTAs in the past. I’ve been through a ton of practices in the past where everything has gone fine. You can’t really focus on getting injured. You have to go out, work hard, trust it and play.”

In his five-year NFL career, Lee played 46 games and missed 34. He sat out two games in 2010 (hamstring), one in 2011 (wrist), 10 in 2012 with a toe injury that required surgery, five games in 2013 (hamstring, neck) and all 16 in 2014.

“The injuries and all of that stuff, hopefully that’s in the past,” Lee said. “That’s something you can’t focus on. You just have to focus on getting better.”

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