Cowboys second year linebacker Sean Lee might just be on the verge of a breakout season. Already firmly entrenched in the teams plans, Lee found out this offseason he will be part of an even snap split with Bradie James and Keith Brooking at the 3-4 inside linebacker positions. A early training camp injury to Brooking has allowed Lee to get extra reps with the first teamers, and from most reports he is not disappointing the coaching staff. Some observers have speculated that even without Brooking's injury, Lee had a great chance of surpassing him. Lee entered the league with the reputation of being a heady player, albeit with health concerns.
After the Bobby Carpenter flameout, there was trepidation by some Cowboys fans that Lee would not live up to his billing. Last season's game against Peyton Manning's Colts, in which Lee had two interceptions including a pick six, alleviated most of those fears. 2011 brings new coordinator Rob Ryan and his diverse schemes; something Sean Lee is definitely interested in.
On how different Rob Ryan's scheme is:
There are differences to it. From a 3-4 standpoint, it's more of a true 3-4, the way we line up and the way we play things. It's more like what New England plays and the Pittsburgh Steelers play. There's more variation, more packages involved. So that's what a lot of the learning is, trying to get all these packages locked in. The first three days they pretty much threw most of the defense at us, trying to see what we can learn and how fast we can learn it. From the rest on in camp, we're going to try and perfect it.
The increase in snaps should be a good thing for Lee. Pro Football Focus grades players on a per game basis. Lee accrued a cumulative grade of +9.4 on 169 snaps. Lee had his best performances in games where he amassed over 15 snaps.
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By comparison, Brooking had a +2.8 grade on 906 snaps, while Bradie James accrued a +12.5 rating on 960 plays.
On if this year's defense is more fun with all the different blitzing drills even just through walk-throughs:
That's what's so fun with [Rob] Ryan -- it's such a player-friendly defense. We're going to be blitzing and guys are going to be in different positions. There's going to be a lot of different packages. So just learning it and learning it with him is fun and going out and practicing. Once you learn it, you're excited to get out there and practice it. I think that's where you see we're excited to get out there and try to perfect this defense.
Rob Ryan made waves earlier this week, when he fired the first trash talking salvo from a Cowboys coach in recent memory. He referred (assumed) to the Philadelphia Eagles as the 'all-hype team', and using colorful language, iterated his desire to assault their donkeys. Lee for his part, loves it.
"I love it. I love it. I love his comment," Lee said Tuesday on ESPN 103.3's Galloway & Company. "Go ahead and say it, because guess what? That just makes us motivated to go out and prove it."
"He’s our leader and he’s out there saying what he says and I love it," Lee said. "The big thing of our defense is that [people] might have thought we quit, but I think it was about our confidence. Guys had just played so well for so many years and were certainly not playing well and [lost] that confidence.
"He brings that confidence, no matter what. No matter what’s going on, he’s going to bring that confidence. That’s what he had lost, and I think that’s what we’re really feeding off right now."
The Cowboys brass obviously agrees with Lee's assessment of what happened in 2010, as there have been very few changes to the top of the defensive depth charts. We're only a few weeks away from ending the speculation and seeing whether that evaluation is correct or not.