IRVING, Texas – The optimism that is flowing through Valley Ranch these days stems from two forms of reality:
1) The Cowboys are tied for first place in the NFC East despite their 5-5 record and own the tiebreaker advantages currently having beaten all three teams in the division. They've also beaten the Eagles, the team currently tied for first, on the road just a few weeks ago.
2) The Cowboys should get plenty of players back from injury after this weekend's bye and heading into the Nov. 24 game with the Giants.
However, there is one position that won't be settled just yet and that's at middle linebacker.
So imagine the frustration Sean Lee has as he knows his current hamstring will sideline him for at least the next game with the New York, if not the Thanksgiving Day game with Oakland four days later. And if that's not enough, Lee's main backup Justin Durant also has the same injury with the same 3-4 week timetable.
"It's frustrating. I want to be on the field," said Lee, who missed 10 games last year with a toe injury that required season-ending surgery. "Obviously I've had trouble staying on the field. I take a lot of pride in rehabbing and making sure I'm recovered and ready to go. But I just have to battle back from it."
Lee signed a six-year, $42 million extension back in August that could be up to $51 million based on playing-time incentives. Obviously, Lee isn't excited about missing any time, not just for the contract but also as the team's leader in both tackles and interceptions.
"We'll see how the rehab goes. It's just a pull," said Lee, who also had a hamstring injury that kept him out two games as a rookie in 2010. "It's similar. I just have to make sure I rehab properly and get back as soon as I can."
So the Cowboys will head into the bye week unsure what will happen at middle linebacker. Jason Garrett said on Tuesday the club is still evaluating the position with both Ernie Sims and Bruce Carter viable options to play in the middle. The other will likely start on the weak side, however with Durant out, the Cowboys will probably turn to Kyle Bosworth, Cameron Lawrence or possibly, rookie DeVonte Holloman, who has been out the last several weeks with a neck injury. [embedded_ad]
Linebacker has been one of the deepest positions on the team through the first 10 games and now it's one of the weakest.
The Cowboys should be in better shape in the secondary, as Morris Claiborne (hamstring) is expected to return. He likely won't replace Orlando Scandrick as the starter, but will be on the field in nickel situations. The Cowboys have used B.W. Webb and Micah Pellerin as the third and fourth corners. Safety J.J. Wilcox (sprained knee) should be able to return, resuming his spot. Jeff Heath started the last three games and had a night to forget in New Orleans.
Jason Hatcher (stinger/neck) should be able to play after missing his first game of the season last week.
And on offense, Miles Austin has missed six of the last eight games with a hamstring injury but is slated for a return against the Giants.
However, linebacker is now the one position that has the Cowboys scrambling to fill the void.