Most of the attention and interest about the Dallas Cowboys is centered on new faces and some interesting camp battles. But as we are seeing the veterans undergo COVID testing to get ready for camp, there’s one very familiar name that deserves a bit of consideration. Linebacker Sean Lee is no longer a starter when the defense is in the nickel, which is really the base in today’s pass-centered league, but still serves as the SAM when they are in a 4-3 package. He also serves as a very good backup for both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.
This is his second year in that role, and last season provided some evidence that it is a great fit for him. After a pretty desultory 2018, partly due to injury, he rebounded with 86 tackles, up from just 30, and added an interception and a quarterback hit.
It makes sense that a reduced workload wound up making him more productive. He is the second-longest tenured player on the roster, behind long-snapper LP Ladouceur. He has played nine seasons and missed 2014 with an injury suffered in the offseason. That’s a lot of wear and tear for a player who is clearly in the senior citizen category by NFL standards, especially at a high-impact position. That he was still able to perform so effectively is a great sign for this year.
And despite his more limited role, he still contributed a lot of snaps for the team. On defense, he was in for 59% of the plays. That ranks ninth on the team. One reason was Vander Esch’s injury issues which had Lee filling in, but that is just more reason to value his contributions.
When he is on the field, he gets to use his extensive football intelligence. He is one of the smartest defenders in the league. Particularly impressive is how he diagnoses the offense and relays what he sees to the rest of the defense. It is an intangible that can lead to very real positive results.
There’s something else that portends well for The General, and that is new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Linebackers are kind of his thing. He is very good at using them effectively and can get creative with blitzes. Given the athleticism Lee still has, he could become a real asset in the pass rush, especially if Nolan gives him some freedom to make the decision to come after the passer in some situations. He also still has a real knack for fighting through the blockers and stopping the run.
While we don’t know how many more years Lee has, time is undefeated, there can’t be many left. He is also one of the fiercest competitors on the team, as evidenced by the All or Nothing season about the Cowboys where his reaction to the team being eliminated from the playoffs was to sit down and study video. That work ethic and leadership is just one more aspect of his value for this roster. You can be sure that no one wants to make a deep run this postseason more than he does.
He is not likely to be one of the stars of the team, but there should be some real highlights for him. Whenever he is on the field, expect his presence to be known in a positive way.
The Cowboys are set to open the season against the Los Angeles Rams, so here’s a highlight we would love to see repeated.