Despite completing four weeks of OTAs and mini-camp practices, several things remain unsettled for the Cowboys. When the team reports to training camp on July 28 in Oxnard, Calif., several questions still need answers.
The staff writers at DallasCowboys.com – Rob Phillips, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus – will attempt to answer these questions before the start of training camp.
Today, the staff continues the series trying to figure out if Sean Lee's move to WILL from the MIKE position will help his durability issues.
Will The Move To Outside LB Improve Sean Lee's Durability?
Bryan Broaddus: Where this plan is going to help Sean Lee is that instead of having to deal blockers at the point of attack, he will be freed up to play more on the move. If you look at the style in which he plays, he has always been a fast flow linebacker. For that position, this is exactly what is needed. Where Lee will best take advantage of the switch is instead of having to read, extend on a blocker, shed him and then find the ball, he can just read and go to the ball. By eliminating that step of having to shed the blocker there less collisions that he has to absorb, which in turn saves the wear and tear on his body. Two of the most important positions in this scheme is the under tackle and the "Will" linebacker, and by moving Sean Lee to that spot this coaching staff is putting its most instinctive linebacker in a position to make the majority of the tackles, which is right in Lee's wheelhouse.[embeddedad0]
David Helman:It certainly can't hurt, right? The past two seasons, Lee has missed 23 total games – five in 2013, and all 18 games last season while he rehabbed his torn ACL. You can't do worse than missing an entire season. But yes, it seems like a fair assumption to say this move will take Lee out of the fray, where he's taking direct shots from several different angles. The 2013 Bears game comes to mind when I think about the type of beating a guy can take in the middle of the defense. Maybe the most intriguing thing for me is that Lee should be freed up to play a bit more in pass coverage this year, where he has obviously excelled. He had a league-best four interceptions when his injury problems crept up in 2013, so I'm not ruling out another strong effort on that front. I don't think I'm optimistic enough to predict a full season from Lee, considering he's never had one in his career. But if the Cowboys can get 12 or 13 games out of him, and have him healthy at the end of the year, I think it'll pay dividends for their defense.
Nick Eatman:If you're going to get hurt, you're going to get hurt. I really don't think the move outside will help that much. I know there is a lot more traffic inside that outside, but let's not forget he got hurt in a non-contact OTA practice last year on a freak play. So just because he's moving to the WILL doesn't mean there won't be lots of contact. We're talking about a guy who flies to the football. So he'll get to the ball often and will probably be at the bottom of a lot of piles. With Lee, the injuries have been torn ACL's or broken hands – things that can happen at the MIKE, WILL or in the backyard maybe. So in theory, Lee will be involved in slightly less things, but he's too physical of a player to avoid much contact. He's doing all the right things to get his body ready to play this year. I know I won't be the only one who's rooting for him to play a full 16 games because nobody deserves it more.
Rob Phillips: In theory, yes, the move should help Lee. Unlike the middle "Mike" spot, there aren't as many blockers in front of Lee and he's covered up a bit more on the weak side. Lee is what Bill Parcells called a "catalytic" defender – he's a difference maker, and he's a difference maker because he's always in the middle of the action. Factor in his size – he's bigger than, say, a middle linebacker like Zach Thomas, but he doesn't have the biggest linebacker frame – and injuries can happen as active as he is play to play. I do think Lee simply has had rotten luck in some cases, like 2011 when he dislocated his wrist trying to make a tackle. Last year's ACL injury was probably inevitable, too, since he partially tore it in college and didn't have surgery until it fully tore last spring. The move to Will could be a double-win for the Cowboys: it's a high-production position in Rod Marinelli's scheme, and yes, it could protect Lee more. But I don't see him slowing down his intensity level. That's who he is.
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