The loss of Sean Lee is devastating. He is the best young ILB, if not the best ILB in all of football right now. He is the linchpin in our defense that holds everything together, calling plays, leading by example, and doing everything from making tackles, to catching interceptions to pressuring the quarterback. Replacing him will by no means be an easy process; however, I believe this gives Rob Ryan the ability to get creative in his defensive schemes.
The simple plan would be to put Connor in Lee's place and just change play-calling responsibilities to Bruce Carter who Lee was training to be able to call plays during the preseason. This would be the easiest transition because it would cause the least change to the team as it is now in terms of simply substituting one player into a new position instead of schematic changes that alter the responsibility of multiple people.
There are 2 Schematic Changes that I think could be interesting and possibly work.
The first that is being said by a lot of people is to run some more 4-3 looks, especially with the signing of Ernie Sims. The Cowboys could start Ware and Spencer at DE with a combination of Ratliff, Hatcher, Brent, and Lissemore at the DT positions. Ernie Sims would be an OLB, and Connor and Bruce Carter would play MLB and OLB, not sure who would play which position. I would personally like Connor in the middle with Carter roaming from OLB and having to cover a lot of area on the outside. He was projected as a 4-3 OLB initially when declaring for the draft.
I do not believe that this is the system the Cowboys should use because it takes some of our better defensive players off the field. We would only have 2 of Ratliff, Hatcher, Brent and Lissemore on the field instead of a possible 3. The only way that this would work would be if Spencer could be a 4-3 OLB but I do not think he moves fluidly enough to play that position.
I would advocate for a more radical move that may not be liked by many people. I would like the Cowboys to play more of a 3-3-5 in terms of personnel, but have it look like a 3-4. What I mean by this, is that instead of having a second MLB, I would move Danny McCray down as a MLB/S hybrid and start Charlie Peprah or Jenkins at Safety with Sensi. Our starting D would still have the same 3 down lineman, Ware and Spencer at OLB and Carter at ILB. The changes would be moving McCray down into the box and adding a Safety over the top. (This would prob work better with Sensi because he is a bigger body, but I think we need him at the backend.) I do realize that this would possibly hurt from a run stopping perspective as we would have a Safety in a MLB spot who could get easily blocked by Guards, FBs and TEs. However, I think it would help us from a pass defense perspective since McCray would be more adept at covering TEs and RBs than Connor. Also this would help against a team like the Redskins who run a lot of Read Option and Play Action plays as Connor got caught a lot on Play Action against the Panthers and did not have the speed to catch up after making a wrong read. McCray would have that speed.
I would love to hear some other thoughts on this approach as it is something I have been thinking about since Lee was ruled possibly out and liked more once he went on IR.