In the climactic scene of Howard Hawks' Red River (1948) the cattle drive organizer Tom Dunston (John Wayne) rides into a Kansas stockyard to confront his adopted son Matthew (Montgomery Clift). Wayne demonstrated his presence by dismounting at the far end of a crowded stockyard and then gliding, powerfully, through a mass of cattle.
At first only his head is visible behind the cows, but they part as he makes his angry, relentless charge towards a confrontation:
The Duke's supernatural charge came to mind as I watched a modern-day Cowboy, 2nd round pick Sean Lee, step out of rehab and immediately work his way into several successful confrontations on the Alamodome turf. One Wednesday sequence in particular stands out.
Lee took the field in a late 11-on-11 drill with the 3rd defense, which faced Tony Romo and the first offense. On one of the first of the Romo group's six plays, Lee timed an inside blitz perfectly, and shot into the backfield. A couple of plays later, a Felix Jones run to the left was called. Lee mirrored Jones, floating a couple of steps to his right, before gliding, like Wayne, through the traffic at the line of scrimmage. He wrapped up Jones for no gain.
On the last play of the sequence, Romo faked a reverse to Jones, who started the play on a wing right. Jones then floated into the left flat and caught a screen pass -- and was immediately wrapped up by Lee, who sorted through the misdirection and again charged relentlessly, and untouched, to his target.
Three plays, three zeroes for the offense. Three notches on Sean Lee's belt.
This sequence made clear why Reggie Herring has been so high on Lee since Dallas drafted him last April. Why Dallas ranked Lee in its top 20 overall. Lee has a different feel for the game. He finds the ball. He glides through traffic. He stops the play, on seemingly every play.
Compare him to last year's top linebacking prospect and you'll see a contrast in instinct. Jason Williams does not lack for physical skills. He's big, he's fast, and he can chase. He'll explode a play when he recognizes it. Some of the time, you can see him straining to make sense of his play duty. That's when he'll chase the wrong back, make the wrong cut or hesitate for a play-turning instant.
Lee, by contrast, has no wasted motion. Lee will find his back, and have him roped and tied before he gains the line of scrimmage.
There are plenty of rookies and second year players I'm eager to see Sunday night, but none more than Sean Lee. He missed almost a week with a quad strain, then jumped onto the field and cleared the yard. Just what you would expect from an old Cowboy.
Lee's play will earn him a nickname, and if you see the the decisiveness and playmaking ability I saw this week, you may think "The Duke" fits.