his ACL reconstruction rehab. Might not even be ready to start the season, and believe me, the Cowboys are in no hurry to rush him onto the field. They understand probably better than the North Carolina rookie what they were doing in the draft, taking advantage of a guy with first-round talent in the second round.
After that, the Cowboys have just a bunch of guys trying to make the squad as backups at inside linebacker. So when it comes to opportunity, Lee has the best shot.
We know all about his work ethic, and just how much he loves to play the game and how much pressure he puts on himself to improve. Maybe after last year's injury-riddled season he'll better understand you can't make the Pro Bowl in the third training camp practice; that you have to pace yourself to get through training camp in one piece.
Plus, we got a sampling, however small it was, of what last year's second-round draft choice can do once he got himself healthy. In the final five games of the season as a role player, and actually forced out of one of those with a concussion, Lee totaled 22 of his 45 tackles in 2010, so actually averaging 5.4 tackles in the four games he did play down the stretch.
Not bad for a guy playing mostly on third down, on the nickel and in some special situations.
Plus, who will ever forget the game at Indianapolis, where he totaled a career-high nine tackles (the Cowboys basically were in their nickel defense the entire game against Peyton Manning's multiple-receiver sets) and two interceptions, one returned 31 yards for a touchdown to give the Cowboys a 27-14 lead in the third quarter.
And as if that were not enough, Lee intercepted Manning the second time in overtime with the game tied at 35, returning the ball to the Indy 36-yard line to set up Buehler's eventual, game-winning 38-yard field goal six plays later for his first NFL career game-winner. (How 'bout those Buehler beans for the non-believers?)
Lee then finished off the season with a six-tackle performance in the Cowboys' 14-13 victory at Philadelphia to help leave a lasting impression.
Too bad this has been a lost offseason. Guys make their greatest leap between their first and second seasons, normally having the opportunity to train fulltime in the offseason for the first time in their lives, along with nearly 3½ months of hands-on instruction before reporting to camp. Plus, playing linebacker at this level, with all the intricate pass coverages, is complicated, as Lee found out during training camp last summer.
Now, this is not to say Lee is going to replace either James or Brooking in the starting lineup. But I'm willing to suggest he initially becomes a mainstay on the team's nickel defense, assuming new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan uses two linebackers on the nickel, and heck, maybe even if he uses just one if Lee can learn quickly enough.
Plus, the athletic Lee is exactly what Ryan is looking for in his unconventional alignments. He wants versatile guys who are athletic enough to do numerous things. That way offenses can't sit there in pregame preparation and say, well, when this guy comes in the game this is what the Cowboys are likely doing on defense. Who knows with Lee?
So even if he's a "role" player, me thinks he can be one heckuva role player as long as he stays healthy this time, authoring truly a breakout season.
What do you think?