(Editor's Note: Throughout the offseason, DallasCowboys.com staff writers will take a closer look at the roster, analyzing players' impact last season and how each fits into the team's 2012 plans. Today's Roster Rundown entry features linebacker Sean Lee.)
Name: Sean Lee
Experience: 3 seasons
College: Penn State
Key stat: Lee only played in six games, yet he still finished the season with 77 combined tackles, ranking him in the top three on the time. According to coaches' film, he recorded 21 combined tackles against the Seahawks.
Contract Status: Signed through 2013.
How He Played In 2012:I find myself getting in trouble with Cowboys fans all the time when I say that I feel like that the best defensive player on this squad is not DeMarcus Ware, but Sean Lee. I wrote the other day on DallasCowboys.com what I thought about Ware and how much more respect I had for his ability to fight through the injuries that he played with to try and get this team into the playoffs. People will say that Bruce Carter did a very nice job of filling in for Lee after he went down for the season in the Carolina game. I will agree that in fact that Carter was outstanding but as good as he is, he is not Sean Lee. Without Lee in the lineup you lost that ability for the defense to make those one or two stops that could get them off the field on third down or make that stop to end the game like they needed against Atlanta, New Orleans or Washington.
As outstanding as Ware is, Lee is just as difficult for offenses to have to prepare for because of his ability to not only read scheme but put himself in position to finish plays. There are times where he reads so quick that it would make Bruce Carter look like he was a step slow. With Lee, there is no difference in his game whether the ball is right at him or he is chasing it to the sideline. You are still going to get a player that is going to avoid blocks and make tackles. Where Lee is under rated in my view is his ability in pass coverage. He has an outstanding feel for how to drop, react and instinctively get his hand on the ball. He had a nice interception against the Buccaneers on a zone drop, then against the Panthers he reached behind him and knocked the ball away on a crossing route when Newton tried to fit the ball inside on third down. Where this defense might have missed Lee the most in 2012 was his leadership and accountability. I believe when the injuries started to mount, if healthy, he could have held this defense together down the stretch and found a way to get this squad into the playoffs.
How Does He Fit: As with guys like Ware, Spencer, Carter and Ratliff, I feel that this switch to the 4-3 scheme will be a great fit for a guy like Sean Lee. From what I have seen over the years that if you have a Mike linebacker that can really run and hit but also give you some depth in coverage, it can be a hard one to move the ball against. Lee has all the traits that Monte Kiffin is looking for when it comes to playing this scheme. It's a defense that is about being disruptive and that is what Lee is. If the one and three techniques do their jobs and occupy blockers, Lee could have a Pro Bowl season with the number of tackles he could potentially make.
Rowan Kavner– Apart from Ware, Lee's the Cowboys' prized possession on defense. With relatively few starts under his belt among starters around the league, he's already become one of the primary leaders of the team. Young linebackers look up to him, and when he's healthy and on the field, he's typically the one constant player consistently making plays. The problem last year and in the past is finding a way to keep him on the field. A freak toe injury held him out of the last 10 games last [embedded_ad]
season. Based on his work ethic, few people will question whether he'll be ready to get back to work in the offseason or by the start of next year. The Cowboys will need to figure out a way to get their most promising young defender extended for the future.