In this story by Calvin Watkins on ESPNDallas.com, we hear from Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant and linebacker Sean Lee, who say their 2012 injuries are no longer of concern and they will be ready to go once the offseason program gets humming. There are a lot of players on a lot of teams saying the same thing right now, but the reason I note this story is that I think the significance of these particular players to this particular team makes it worth noting.
We have here two players, one on each side of the ball, who have proven their ability to operate among the very best in the league at their positions for short periods of time. Prior to his injury last year, Lee was as good an inside linebacker as the NFL had. His ability to make plays on the ball is stunning, and the Cowboys' switch to a 4-3 defensive alignment with him as the middle linebacker should only accentuate it in 2013. Bryant was a dominant performer even after he broke his finger, and the level of trust quarterback Tony Romo developed with him as their brilliant statistical season unfolded should carry into the coming season as well.
The key is, of course, health. Because when healthy, Lee and Bryant are not just players who fill roles and contribute. They are the types of players who care capable of elevating a team from good to great -- players whose individual performances can change and decide games. Bryant has to show he can do it week in and week out and not suffer the kinds of nagging injuries that keep him from being his most effective. Lee, put simply, has to find a way to get through the season without missing any games. He has yet to play a full 16-game NFL season, and his absence has been felt over the past two years in the games he's missed.
The perpetual question about the Cowboys is when they'll stop being a mediocre, 8-8 team and do something great. The answer lies in the ability of the most talented players on their roster to make the kinds of sustained, brilliant contributions their exceptional abilities allow them to make. Lee and Bryant are the kinds of players who can help take the Cowboys to the level they and their fans crave. They just have to make sure they stay on the field to do it.