IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys' switch to a 4-3 defense has been well-documented since it was announced.
The ability of the Cowboys' outside linebackers to move down to defensive end, the need for defensive tackles and the concerns about depth were all prominent topics in the lead up to the draft.
One issue that seems to have been forgotten, though, is how the new-look linebacker corps will handle the transition after struggling through injury woes in 2012.
If preseason analysis is anything to go by, the mood right now is early optimism. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, both of the unit's established starters, had a chance to speak about the new system at last week's Reliant Home Run Derby. Lee, who was one of the Cowboys' top tacklers as an insider linebacker in the 3-4, said the team's personnel shouldn't struggle too much with the switch.
"The guys we have are suited great for it, on the D-Line, in the back end," Lee said. "I think we're making progress right now to be that consistent defense, something we weren't in the past."
The Cowboys can look to the linebackers, or lack thereof, for a role in that inconsistency. Lee and Carter were solid starters last year, but they missed a combined 16 games. That plus a hobbled secondary was a recipe for regression.
With any luck, those problems are behind the duo. Carter said last week that his elbow has recovered nicely after he suffered a season-ending dislocation, while Lee said he could suit up right now after undergoing surgery for the turf toe that killed his season in October.
Carter specifically might have something to gain with the switch to three linebackers. The third-year veteran made his name at North Carolina as a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.
"It puts us in positions – especially guys like me, Sean and the rest of the linebackers – to just go out there, make plays and fly around," he said. "That's what I did in college and that's what got me to this point. I'm just going to go out there – I feel natural, I feel comfortable. So I'm just going to go out there and play ball."
The Cowboys currently boast nine other linebackers aside from their established duo, which gives them plenty of bodies to try at the strongside spot. Lee seems like the natural fit at middle linebacker, be he wasn't willing to commit to that suggestion.
"Right now I'm in the middle, but you never know," he said. "When we come to camp, things could change. There's always going to be competition."
Ernie Sims, originally signed after Lee's injury, and offseason acquisition Justin Durant, are sure to have a say in the final depth chart, as will several rookies. With fewer linebacker positions the Cowboys should be able to find the necessary parts to make the switch.
Judging by their top two returners, it should be a change for the better.
"This new defense, I think everybody's excited about it, and they're going to go out and give it their all," Carter said.