Sean Lee was the first person that I thought about when Monte Kiffin was announced as the new defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys. Lee was among the best college linebackers in recent years; he had the athleticism and his hunger and passion for the game was truly remarkable. He had all the ingredients to be a star in the NFL. Just a few seasons later, Lee has arguably become the leader of the Cowboys' defense.
Under Rob Ryan, Lee grew into one of the best middle linebackers in the game today. I won't say Lee is the best, but his name shouldn't be too far down the list from Patrick Willis. With Ryan leaving Dallas, Lee took the time to thank his former coach for everything he did for him the past two seasons.
"I owe so much to Rob because he made be a better football player," Lee said. "I learned so much from him about all aspects of football, but it’s one of those deals that the Cowboys wanted to move in a different direction defensively and wanted to move from a 3-4 to a 4-3, and we brought in a great guy in Coach Kiffin to learn from."
Lee learned a lot from Ryan, so it was good to see him paying his fallen coach some respect. With the 3-4 system on its way out, the Cowboys will be moving back the 4-3 defense. Lee should be the "Mike" or middle linebacker in that system. Monte Kiffin will require him to turn around and run back up the middle of the field on pass plays. By using the middle linebacker in coverage like that, it takes away the throws down the middle of the field.
Lee has tremendous coverage ability, so he should have no problem learning this new scheme. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to watch him continue growing into one of the best players in the NFL. This Tampa-2 system will also allow Lee to use his leadership skills. Kiffin will probably count on Lee to make all of the calls and adjustments in the huddle.
Entering this new system, the comparisons to Brian Urlacher are beginning to pop up, but Lee easily shrugged them off.
"We’ll see what different variations are and how the defense is, but (Urlacher) is the guy who changed the way you play it and set the precedent for many years," Lee said. "So that’s a great guy to look at but we’ll see what the defense is. Until I learn it I can’t say for sure what we’re doing, but Urlacher is a guy for sure in this defense that’s had a ton of success and a lot of people look to."
Since the Cowboys hired Kiffin, it's been brought up that the creator of the Tampa-2 defense never had a middle linebacker as talented as Lee is. If that's true, then Lee is going to flourish under Kiffin and the 4-3 scheme. In Tampa Bay, Kiffin did coach Shelton Quarles, and he was probably the best Mike linebacker Kiffin ever had there, but Lee is probably the more unique player.
We haven't even begun to discuss the role that Bruce Carter will play in Kiffin's Tampa-2 defense in Dallas. It's going to be a long time before we see this new look defense from the Cowboys, but it doesn't hurt to think about the possibilities of seeing Lee and Carter running the field in a 4-3 defense.
Kiffin will be inheriting a lot of good defensive talent, but he does have his work cut out for him in Dallas. Regardless of what we need on the defensive line, at safety and at Sam linebacker, the Cowboys have themselves a good foundation to build their house with in Lee.