FRISCO, Texas – A year ago, Joe Thomas was on the other side of the coin when the Cowboys tried to win a game without Sean Lee.
A member of the Packers at the time, Thomas was able to benefit from the fact Green Bay's offense moved up and down the field against a Lee-less defense, and came away with a 34-30 win at AT&T Stadium.
Thomas could tell the defense wasn't the same without Lee, a fact the Cowboys have been known to deal with over the years.
However, Sunday, Thomas is part of a crew hoping to buck that trend.
With Lee now expected to miss not only this game Sunday vs. Detroit, but perhaps the next 2-4 weeks, the backup linebackers such as Thomas know they must pick up the slack.
"I haven't been here, but being from another organization looking in, that was the issue that people were saying about the team," Thomas said. "They say stuff like, 'When Sean Lee is down it's not the same defense.' But I don't think that's the case this year. The defense has changed. Kris Richard has brought a lot of energy in. a lot of the young guys have stepped in. Jaylon and Leighton have done a good job. We have a good depth and I think we'll be able to change that."
And while guys like Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are getting plenty of attention for having to step in for Lee, some of the defensive players aren't forgetting about Thomas.
"I think he's probably the most underrated free agent we got this offseason," safety Jeff Heath said. "He comes in and knows all the positions. And he's one of the most physical guys we've got on the defense. I think Joe is going to help us if Sean is out."
However, while the Cowboys are certainly going to miss Lee, who missed five games with two separate hamstring injuries last year (Cowboys went 1-4 in those games), they at least prepared better for that this year.
In training camp, Lee sat out several practices to keep him fresh, which allowed Thomas to get more reps from the start.
"I feel a lot more confident with the defense because of that," Thomas said. "I think a lot of the reason for that is the situation that just occurred. I'm definitely more comfortable now that I learned the WILL position in training camp. Now I know all of them, and it's allowed me to be ready for this moment."