IRVING, Texas – One year ago, after the Cowboys finished their first OTA practice of 2013, any talk about the defense typically centered on about five guys. For this team to turn the corner and make the smooth transition to the 4-3 scheme, they needed their "ballers" to ball out.
That's DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer, Sean Lee, and at the time, it was probably Brandon Carr. And then after that, Jason Hatcher, Morris Claiborne and Bruce Carter were being counted on as well.
Man, what a difference 12 months can make.
Ware, Ratliff and Hatcher … gone.
Lee is now out for the season again. Spencer doesn't seem to be that close to returning from a microfracture knee surgery. And Claiborne and Carter are just trying to battle their way into the starting lineup again.
A year ago, these were your core guys on defense. And now, most of them are gone and the rest are not being counted on very heavily.
Good luck, Rod Marinelli.
You could say the new defensive coordinator has his hands full in trying to restore a defense that ranked dead last in the NFL last season. Then again, you might say things are rather empty in terms of players he can count on to right this ship.
Personally, I think this defense can recover from this injury. Yes, Sean Lee is one of the best players on this team when he's healthy. But obviously, he's not always healthy.
It's not easy to diagnose this loss because on the one hand, Lee gets hurt all the time. This team has certainly gotten used to playing without him. On the other, though, they don't really play very well when he's not in the lineup.
Since Lee took over as the starter in 2011, he's started 32 games and the Cowboys are 15-17.
In the 16 games without Lee, the Cowboys are 9-7, including a 3-2 record down the stretch last season.
Let's be clear about something. I'm not suggesting the Cowboys are better without him. These records are pretty close whether he's in the lineup or not. That's just the nature of this team over the last few seasons. [embedded_ad]
But you can't ignore the fact that the Cowboys have had to battle their way without Lee for a lot of games here in the last three seasons. Over that time, he should have 48 starts, but he's missed 16. That's a whole season. And now you're going to add 16 more missed games.
My point is, the Cowboys should've had a real plan for this scenario all along. And hopefully the plan wasn't strictly to draft Anthony Hitchens in the fourth round.
To me, I think I'd hand it over to DeVonte Holloman and tell the kid to become a middle linebacker. We saw it the last two games of last year and he was very impressive considering his limited time at the position.
I would hand it over to Holloman and let him grow up and learn on the run. If there is a silver lining to this Lee injury, it's that we're still early enough in the game to groom someone else.
I know you guys want to throw out the Jonathan Vilma and Brian Urlacher talk, and who knows, the Cowboys might be looking for that, too. But I'd start within and I'd start with Holloman with Hitchens getting increased reps as well.
Yes, this team better find out quick how to play without Sean Lee. Then again, they've already had plenty of experience.