NFC East: Sean Lee

OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 6 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

Johnson
1. Matt Johnson is never going to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

He has yet another hamstring injury -- this is three training camps in a row -- and he’s expected to miss at least a week. That said, who among us will be shocked if he misses more than that.

The Cowboys have liked Johnson’s potential so much that they’ve kept him on the roster, even though the former fourth-round pick has never appeared in a game in his first two seasons.

He’s been good in practice, according to coaches and teammates, but will that be enough?

It’s hard to believe they would keep him for another year, which means paying him for a third year, if he can’t stay healthy and compete for a job. The competition at safety is taut. Every day he misses diminishes his slim odds of making the team.

Lee
2. Sean Lee is the kind of player you hope has success because he’s the epitome of what coaches want in a player and what players want in a teammate.

Yes, he’s been hurt frequently. Too frequently. And the reality is the Cowboys can’t really depend on him because he hasn’t shown an ability to stay on the field.

But his injuries are the result of bad luck -- not poor conditioning or training -- and you can tell he’s miserable about the missed time. He doesn’t have to be at training camp.

He could be rehabbing in Dallas, but he wants to be around his teammates. He’s sitting in on meetings and film sessions. He’s doing everything the other linebackers are doing except playing.

Not many other players would do that.

Melton
3. Henry Melton's knee is essentially fine from a structural perspective. Any athlete who’s had a knee injury will tell you the most difficult part of recovery is trusting the knee again.

That’s why the preseason games will be so important to Melton, especially as an interior lineman. He must get used to players falling on his legs or banging into them.

He must get used to the game’s physicality, and he must become adept again at maintaining his balance and staying on his feet when guys around him are falling down.

When he does -- no matter how long it takes -- that’s when he’ll return to being a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive tackle.

Key Number: 71

The Cowboys gave up 71 pass plays of 20 yards or more last season. No team allowed more.

Super Bowl champion Seattle allowed 30. The 12 playoff teams yielded an average of 51.

The Cowboys have no chance to win if they don’t stop the big plays. It makes it too easy for the offense. Improved safety play will help, but the Cowboys must figure out how to rush the passer and remove quarterbacks from their comfort zone.

Player to Watch: Cole Beasley

This is the first time Cole Beasley has ever entered training camp with outside expectations.

He seems ready to meet them.

He caught 39 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns last season. More important, he earned Tony Romo's trust.

On third down, he caught 14 of the 18 passes directed toward him for 146 yards, 11 first downs and a touchdown. When the Cowboys use Beasley in the slot on third downs along with Jason Witten at tight end, it gives Romo a pair of players with good hands who can work underneath and make first downs.

Beasley played only 247 snaps last year. Miles Austin, who had 541 snaps, is gone. Look for Beasley to gobble up a bunch of Austin’s playing time, which means he could easily catch 60 passes this season.

Camp preview: Dallas Cowboys

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's Todd Archer examines the three biggest issues facing the Dallas Cowboys heading into training camp:

The health of Romo: Ever since he became the starter in 2006, how Tony Romo goes is how the Cowboys go. He is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year, but he was able to do much more this offseason than he did in 2013, when he had a cyst removed. The Cowboys kept Romo out of any competitive drills in the spring in order for him to be fully healthy by the time they got to training camp. Using last year's camp as a guide, Romo did not miss a day of work, and the Cowboys don't believe he will need to be eased into the full practice load this summer either. Because a big part of Romo's game is his ability to move and create in open space, however, they will be cautious if there even hints of more soreness than just the aches and pains of training camp. All offseason, the Cowboys have not expressed any worry about Romo, who turned 34 in April, being able to return to form. He will get his first chance to show it on the practice fields in Oxnard, California. If he can play at a high level -- he had 32 touchdown passes and 10 picks in 15 games last season -- then the Cowboys should be able to contend for a playoff spot in a division that is not as strong as it has been in the past.

Marinelli to the rescue: The Cowboys' defense was historically bad in 2013, and they enter this season without their all-time leader in sacks (DeMarcus Ware), last year's leader in sacks (Jason Hatcher) and their best playmaker (Sean Lee). Rod Marinelli takes over for Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator and will bring subtle changes in coverages, fronts and blitzes, but the core of the 4-3 scheme will remain the same as when that coaching duo was together at Tampa Bay. The Cowboys did not make any splash signings in free agency, but their most important was Henry Melton. If he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and play the way he did under Marinelli in Chicago, the Cowboys have a chance. Marinelli also plans to lean more on cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne in man coverage, but Carr and Claiborne have to play much better in 2014 than they did in 2013. There could be as many as seven new opening day starters on defense this season than in 2013, and it is up to Marinelli to make it work. He had more talent with the Bears when he was running their defense, but the players believe in what he is selling.

Plan of attack: From 2007 through 2012, Jason Garrett called every offensive play. In 2013, Bill Callahan was the playcaller, but he was forced to run Garrett's offense, and there were hiccups. Scott Linehan will be Romo's third playcaller in as many years, and he will have the autonomy Callahan did not have. The Cowboys are not changing schemes, but Linehan has brought on alterations to an offense that struggled on third down in 2013. Linehan leaned toward the pass in his time with the Detroit Lions, but he did have a 1,000-yard rusher in Reggie Bush last season. With the Cowboys, he has a better offensive line, better tight end (Jason Witten) and better running back (DeMarco Murray). The Cowboys aren't about to become a run-first team under Linehan, but they need to run more, especially when they have a lead in order to help end games, protect a defense filled with questions and protect Romo, who is coming off two back surgeries. Because Romo did not take any team or seven-on-seven snaps in the spring, they will need to play a little bit of catch-up in what each other likes and, perhaps more importantly, doesn't like in situational football. The Romo-Linehan relationship might be the most important the Cowboys have. They have to make it work.
IRVING, Texas -- It's a week before the Dallas Cowboys arrive in Oxnard, California, for training camp and we already know just how big of a year it is for Bruce Carter.

It's been written and talked about countless times in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Bruce Carter
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesCowboys linebacker Bruce Carter, a second-round pick by Dallas in 2011, is set to become a free agent after this season.
Carter is entering the final year of his rookie contract, set to become a free agent after the season. At one point he was viewed as a core player, vital to the future growth of the Cowboys' defense. After a frustrating 2013 season, he is not viewed that way anymore.

But it doesn't mean he can't be viewed that way again.

In 2011, Anthony Spencer was in a contract year and tied his career high with six sacks. He also had 31 quarterback pressures and four forced fumbles. His overall game made him a valuable player in the Cowboys' 3-4.

The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Spencer for the 2012 season.

In another contract year, Spencer had his best season, putting up a career-high 11 sacks and earning his first Pro Bowl bid.

The Cowboys put the franchise tag on him again for 2013, guaranteeing him nearly $20 million over the two seasons in which he was tagged.

Last season, he played in only one game because of a knee injury that required microfracture surgery and might keep him out of the beginning of this season. Once again he is in a contract year, having signed a one-year deal that could be worth as much as $3.5 million.

Jason Hatcher was in a contract year last year and responded with his best season. He had 11 sacks -- after putting up just 16 in his previous seven -- and was named to the Pro Bowl. His age -- he turned 32 on Sunday -- kept the Cowboys from making a play at re-signing him, but the Washington Redskins signed him to a four-year, $27.5 million deal as a free agent.

Way back in 2007, Ken Hamlin joined the Cowboys on a one-year deal. He put up a career-high five picks and was named to the Pro Bowl. Prior to the 2008 season, he signed a six-year, $39 million deal with the Cowboys that included $15 million guaranteed. He was cut after the 2009 season.

Some contract years have not been as productive. Cornerback Mike Jenkins saw the Cowboys add Brandon Carr in free agency with a $50 million deal and draft Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick. Jenkins was coming off shoulder surgery, did his rehab elsewhere and started only two of 13 games in 2012. He signed with the Oakland Raiders.

Gerald Sensabaugh played on three straight one-year deals with the Cowboys from 2009-11 before cashing in at the end of the 2011 season with a five-year, $22.5 million deal that included $8 million guaranteed. He was cut after the 2012 season.

Which brings us back to Carter, the club's second-round pick in 2011.

"That's certainly a cliché thing in all of sports, that people talk about, 'He's in a contract year and he's going to take a different approach than he had up till this point,'" coach Jason Garrett said. "I don't know if I buy that with guys that I have been around. I think Bruce Carter wants to be a really good football player. I think that's independent of anything that is going on in the business side. I think getting comfortable in this scheme for the second year -- I think Sean Lee's absence will help him. It will force him to step up a little bit more. It will force Justin Durant to step up a little bit more. Sometimes you can have a player as strong as Sean Lee is -- such a great leader like Sean is -- sometimes you defer to that guy. I think it's really important for those guys to understand he's not here right now. They have to step up. They've done a better job of that throughout the OTAs and minicamp."

Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said Carter has "ramped up," the meetings with the position coach in the offseason.

"I think he's taking steps in the right direction," Eberflus said. "And he's putting the work in. He's meeting with me as much as he can. Studying the tape, giving him clear and concise goals daily for practice and he's doing a good job of attaining those goals each and every day so when he does that he takes steps in the right direction to improve his fundamentals and his game."
IRVING, Texas -- A year ago, Barry Church was something of a question mark.

He was coming off a torn Achilles and played in parts of only three games in 2012.

This year, the safety might be the Dallas Cowboys' most established defender.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church
AP Photo/James D SmithMore will be asked of Barry Church this season.
Anthony Spencer is the most tenured, but he might not play until the seventh game of the season. Orlando Scandrick has the most Dallas experience among the defensive backs, but he will be pushed for a starting job by Morris Claiborne. Bruce Carter has more career starts, but the linebacker is enigmatic to say the least.

That leaves Church, who led the Cowboys with 147 tackles from his safety spot. He also had five tackles for loss, an interception, six pass deflections, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown.

“You never want to get too complacent or take things for granted,” Church said. “I feel like I have a role on this team now, especially at the safety crew because I’m one of the oldest guys out there in the secondary, me and Orlando and Brandon Carr. It’s a different role coming in being one of the old guys.”

Church came to the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He worked his way up from special-teamer to sub-package player to a starter.

This year he figures to add another role: leader.

With Sean Lee out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Cowboys are in need of a defensive leader. Church deferred to Lee, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher last year, but now the younger players (as well as his peers) will look to him.

The coaches have asked him to be more vocal.

“I pretty much know the defense front and back, so the more I can communicate to the other guys and get people lined up, the better. I definitely feel like I can do it. I could’ve done it last year, but Sean was the designated leader and the vocal captain, so you roll with him. He was the guy. He proved himself. I was coming off an injury and had to re-prove myself.”

Church is a player coach Jason Garrett often cites as an example to younger players trying to figure it out.

“He loves to play,” Garrett said. “People respond to him. And he does a lot of positive things. He’s around the ball a lot. He makes a lot of plays. So he has that way about him where people kind of gravitate toward him because of his personality and because of his play. Just needs to play more and keep doing that. In regards to the absence of Sean, he absolutely needs to step up as a leader. Your best players need to do that. When you play a position like safety, you’re a big communicator back there with everybody else in the secondary. So being strong with his [voice] and being strong with his mannerisms and getting everybody squared away, I think that’s a big part of what his job is.”

Cowboys' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Since Tony Romo took over as quarterback, the success of the Dallas Cowboys has mostly centered on Romo's effectiveness.

Romo
He has played well enough in the past three seasons to throw 90 touchdown passes and get intercepted 39 times, but the Cowboys have not been able to finish better than 8-8 and have missed the playoffs. They have not qualified for the postseason since 2009.

As the Cowboys look to end the drought in 2014, Romo will remain the central part to their success, but the core of the team has changed.

While Romo and Jason Witten remain, the core of the team has become players like Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Barry Church and Sean Lee. The Cowboys have transitioned from an older team to a younger team.

Starting next year, the Cowboys will be in much better salary-cap space. The days of the Cowboys setting the market on free agents might be over. They signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal in 2011 and have not received the payoff. They parted ways with DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin this offseason. They did not attempt to re-sign Jason Hatcher. For a team that did not hesitate to pay age often, the Cowboys have turned almost frugal.

They have drafted better and smarter. Three of their past four first-round picks have been offensive linemen. Their drafting will never be perfect but it has been better. They have found more role players after a disastrous 2009 draft. They are trying to build the roster from the inside out as opposed to outside in.

For the Cowboys to make the jump from 8-8 to a consistent playoff team, they honestly need to continue down the same path. Patience has never been one of owner Jerry Jones’ strong suits, but the team has shown a willingness to change its ways.

If they continue to build smartly and avoid the costly mistakes that come about in free agency, the Cowboys could find themselves beginning to open up another window of opportunity as Romo and Witten wind down their careers.
IRVING, Texas -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

The defensive coordinator liked that he has more players along the defensive line. He likes the linebackers’ “movement skills.” He likes how cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne can play man-to-man. He likes the growth J.J. Wilcox made at safety opposite Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsDallas defensive backs Barry Church and Morris Claiborne didn't have much to celebrate during 2013.
But there’s something else Marinelli likes about the group.

“I think there’s something to prove a little bit,” Marinelli said. “Not something to prove from last year, but there are some guys coming here off the street with something to prove. There are some guys in contract years with something to prove. There are some guys coming out saying, ‘I want to be a better player,’ who have something prove.

“You get that many guys wanting to prove something, then you can become better. Right now what I like is how hard they’re going after their craft.”

Last season was a mess for the Cowboys' defense. It has been referenced so many times this offseason that “32nd-ranked defense” has been tattooed on everybody. The Cowboys gave up 6,279 yards in 2013 a year after giving up a franchise-record 5,687 yards. Five quarterbacks had four-touchdown games against the Cowboys. Two times in a three-week span, they allowed more than 620 yards. The New Orleans Saints had 40 first downs.

“It definitely bothers us,” Church said. “I’m speaking for myself, but it definitely bothers me. But there’s nothing we can really say or prove different. We were 32nd in the league and we weren’t that good on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the only way we can counter that is by playing good and becoming one of the better teams in the league at taking the ball away and against the run and the pass.”

It’s not just the players. The tag falls on the coaches, too.

“Nobody wants to look at last year and take ownership of that, but we have to,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “And we’ve got to get better from there, and we cannot let that happen again.”

Oh, and now the Cowboys have to show they can be better in 2014 without the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, who was cut, last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher, who signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, and their best playmaker, Sean Lee, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in organized team activities.

But the sense is that Marinelli likes it this way. He had ubertalented defenses with the Chicago Bears with guys like Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch and Ronde Barber.

He doesn’t have an Urlacher, Sapp, Brooks, Briggs, Rice or Lynch with this group.

He has Henry Melton, whom he coached to the Pro Bowl with the Bears, trying to prove he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has Bruce Carter trying to prove he is a big-time player in a contract year. He has Claiborne, a former sixth overall pick in the draft, trying to prove he is not a bust. He has Carr trying to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million contract he received in 2012. He has George Selvie trying to prove he was not a one-year wonder after putting up seven sacks last season. He has Tyrone Crawford trying to prove he can come back from a torn Achilles.

He has low-cost free agents such as Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye trying to prove they can be prime-time players. He has Justin Durant trying to prove he can be a middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber trying to prove he can be a strongside linebacker. He has Rolando McClain trying to prove that a player who has retired twice in the past year has the desire to keep playing. He has DeMarcus Lawrence trying to prove that a second-rounder can make an impact as a rookie. He has Wilcox trying to prove he can play strong safety.

He has guys like Church and Scandrick trying to prove that they can put up solid seasons in back-to-back years.

So much to prove. So much to forget.

“The first thing you do is you take it as coaches and players and you take accountability for it,” Marinelli said. “And no excuses. Now we look forward. Now it’s about the expectations of this group and with expectations you have to execute. It’s that simple. That simple, yet that hard.”

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' search for a possible replacement for Sean Lee has led them to Rolando McClain.

In 2010, the Oakland Raiders made McClain the eighth pick of the NFL draft. It never worked out for him with the Raiders for a variety of reasons, including some of his misdeeds. It never worked out for him in two short stints with the Baltimore Ravens that led to him retiring twice.

But he doesn't turn 25 until July 14.

The Cowboys are looking at a low-risk chance for a high-ceiling talent.

“He sounds as excited about football as I've ever heard him,” said McClain's agent, Pat Dye.

McClain
If that holds up, then the Cowboys might have found the guy to man the middle linebacker spot that opened when Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in May. The Cowboys mostly worked veteran Justin Durant at Lee's spot in the organized team activities and minicamp, but dabbled with rookie Anthony Hitchens and second-year linebacker DeVonte Holloman at the spot.

Durant is an outside linebacker masking as a middle linebacker even if the coaches believe he can play all three linebacker positions. Holloman started two games at middle linebacker last year as a rookie out of desperation. Hitchens, a fourth-round pick, has a lot to learn.

McClain comes with a better resume than any of them, but his off-field issues -- a number of arrests since being drafted -- are a concern. The fact that he retired twice is a concern, but Dye's words offer encouragement that McClain, who ended Jason Witten's preseason in 2012 with a hit in a exhibition game that led to a lacerated spleen, knows this might be his last chance.

“I see, and Rolando sees, the Dallas situation as a great opportunity given Sean's injury, and you're talking about a great franchise and a great organization,” Dye said. “I've described to any of the clients we've had through the years there -- Emmitt Smith, Dexter Coakley, DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Keith Brooking, DeMarco Murray -- that playing for the Cowboys in football is kind of like playing for the Yankees in baseball. Just an iconic franchise. With kind of what he's done going back to his time with the Raiders, I think that all of this has led him to a point where he feels like the game is too important to him to give up. He's just 24 years old. He's very talented. He's very bright. Tough. Competitive. There's a reason he was a top-10 pick at a position that is almost impossible to be a top-10 pick. Hopefully this situation will go smoothly.”

Patience will be required. McClain has not played in a game since November 2012, after he was suspended for two games for conduct detrimental to the team. He has not taken part in a full offseason program. He will have to learn a new defense and a new team.

The Cowboys have taken these sorts of chances on former high draft picks before. In 2005, they signed Marc Colombo, who was the Chicago Bears' first-round pick in 2002, after he suffered a serious knee injury. In 2006, Colombo became the Cowboys' starting right tackle and held the spot through 2010.

Asking that of McClain is too much. He's on just a one-year deal and the Cowboys believe Lee will be 100 percent in 2015, but this is a chance worth taking.

And it falls in line with how the Cowboys have conducted their offseason business, spending wisely if not exorbitantly on guys such as Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey, Anthony Spencer and Amobi Okoye.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys began their offseason without DeMarcus Ware for the first time since 2005. They saw their best defender, Sean Lee, tear the anterior cruciate ligament on the first organized team activities (OTAs) session and their quarterback, Tony Romo, not take a competitive snap because of back surgery.

The offseason ended Thursday when rookie cornerback Terrance Mitchell intercepted a Dustin Vaughan pass in the final minicamp practice.

“We had a really good practice to finish a really good minicamp to finish a really good offseason program,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We have the right kind of guys on our football team. They work the right way. They’re coming together. We have a long, long way to go and we all know that. We’ve made great strides here over the course of the offseason. I like how our team works and now it’s time for them to get away from it and come back recharged, ready to go, and get ready for training camp.”

The Cowboys will travel to Oxnard, California, on July 22 and will hold their first practice on July 24.

The team that ended Thursday’s minicamp might not be the team that travels to California. The Cowboys worked out four players on Wednesday and will look for help at multiple spots, potentially at tight end, interior offensive line and linebacker.

“We’ll continue to make evaluations of individual guys, where they stack up, if they belong on the roster, who else is on the landscape,” Garrett said. “You’re always trying to do that. Feel good about how guys have come in here and worked. A lot of young guys got a lot of work over the course of the OTAs and minicamp. A lot of veteran players worked hard, felt competition. That’s a good thing for our team and we want to continue to do that. Whether the competition comes from within or without, it’s our job to make sure we’re always trying to put the most competitive situation available out there on our roster.”

Players can continue to work out at Valley Ranch until 10 days before training camp and the rookies will continue through June 27 at more structured workouts.

Even on vacation, football won’t be too far from the players’ and coaches’ minds.

“It’s time we all need to get away and get recharged mentally, physically, emotionally so you want to take advantage of that,” Garrett said. “You want to embrace every day away, but for all of us we’re really locked into this. We care a great deal about it. We’re all very much invested in it, so you’re always thinking about it … Whether that makes (the time) go quickly or slowly I don’t know because you’re always fighting that balance.”
IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones is the eternal optimist, as we all know.

The Dallas Cowboys defense will be without DeMarcus Ware (offseason release), Jason Hatcher (free-agent defection) and Sean Lee (torn anterior cruciate ligament), but the owner and general manager sees a defense that will be better in 2014 than it was in 2013 when it finished last in the league in yards allowed.

Jones
Jones
Why?

"Because we were so bad last year, there's no place but up," Jones said.

So there is that. The Cowboys made modest moves in free agency with the signings of Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye. They re-signed Anthony Spencer, who is not likely to be ready to start training camp as he recovers from microfracture knee surgery. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round.

Mostly they are hoping for serious improvement from within.

The Cowboys finished 19th overall in defense in 2012. Injuries ravaged the defense by the end of the season, but that did not save Rob Ryan's job.

Last year the Cowboys made a scheme change, switching from the 3-4 under Ryan to the 4-3 scheme under Monte Kiffin. They did not make serious personnel additions (Will Allen, Justin Durant) and were hoping not only for improvement from within but scheme flexibility from players drafted to play in Bill Parcells' or Wade Phillips' 3-4.

It seemed as if the Cowboys thought 2013 would be better because it could not be worse than it was at the end of 2012, but Jones disagreed with the assessment.

"I can say it this year, we are better right now," Jones said. "And I think better on the field. We're certainly better on paper than we were at the end of the season last year. Not on paper at the beginning of the season last year, but on paper right now relative to how we ended up last year."
IRVING, Texas -- With middle linebacker Sean Lee out for the season because of a torn ACL, the Cowboys are using Justin Durant and Anthony Hitchens as possible replacements.

Lee
There are options on the free-agent market, but for now, the Cowboys are trying internal replacements.

"No, I'm not confident," owner Jerry Jones said about what he has on the roster at that position. "But there is a good chance we will be able to stay within the personnel we've got, but I don't want to preclude anything because a lot of the evaluation of where we are there is going on right now as well as when we get to training camp. It also has to do with any circumstances that may come up away from the team. All of that is a given. If we had to play with the players we've got, I feel good that we could line up against San Francisco."

Lee was hurt on the first day of the organized team activities last month and has already undergone surgery. Team officials refuse to rule Lee out for the season because a roster move isn't needed at this stage of the offseason and there is a slim chance he could return late in the 2014 season.

With Lee gone, the Cowboys are mixing and matching several players at different linebacker spots.

"It's disappointing to lose any key player out there, but certainly he's a very key player for us," Jones said of Lee. "But we've had to get used to playing without him, so I can't say it's a complete shocker that we're going to be lining up the first part of the season and playing without him because we have had in our plans for the last several years, what if you lose a guy like him in the middle of the season or down near the end of the season. As much as we'll miss him, we'll go on and I'm confident we're going to line up and do well at our linebacker (position), one way or the other. I don't have the answers on how we're going to get there. Some of it is going to have to develop with some of these guys who are here and how they progress in training camp."
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee is scheduled to undergo surgery on Thursday for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Coach Jason Garrett said he anticipates the surgery to be done by the Cowboys’ medical staff and would not close the door on Lee returning later in the season.

“We’ll see what the surgery indicates and we’ll make our decisions from there,” Garrett said.

If the Cowboys place Lee on injured reserve, it would end his season. The Cowboys could put him on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, which would keep him out of the first six games and give him another six-week window in which to potentially practice and return.

The Cowboys will not have to make a decision until it is time to go to training camp. Lee remains on the 90-man roster. The normal recovery is 8-10 months.

Lee suffered the injury on May 27 in the Cowboys’ first organized team activity when his knee buckled as he attempted to track down a running back on a screen pass. Rookie guard Zack Martin landed on Lee, but the Cowboys believe Lee suffered the injury before there was contact.

San Diego Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram tore his ACL last offseason and returned for the final four regular-season games and two playoff contests. Ingram is younger and does not have Lee’s injury history.

Lee suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in spring practice in his senior season at Penn State, causing him to miss the year. He partially tore his left ACL in his fifth year, which played a part in why the Cowboys were able to select him in the second round of the 2010 draft.

Lee has yet to play in a full season with the Cowboys. He missed two games as a rookie with a hamstring injury. He missed one game in 2011 with a dislocated wrist but played most of the year with a bulky cast. He missed 10 games in 2012 because of a toe injury that required surgery. He missed five games last year with hamstring and neck injuries.

The Cowboys are working Justin Durant, DeVonte Holloman and rookie Anthony Hitchens at Lee’s spot.

“I just think we want to go in there and do the surgery, get it done right, get him well and then make those kinds of decisions,” Garrett said. “Typically doctors will give you a timetable and you see what’s reasonable and you make your best roster move.”
Orlando Scandrick has been one of the better cornerbacks on the Dallas Cowboys' roster the last few seasons.

Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys' 2012 first-round pick, has been inconsistent. Brandon Carr, the veteran corner with the high-priced salary, hasn't made enough plays.

Scandrick
That leaves Scandrick, who emerged as a starter over Claiborne and turned himself into more than a slot corner. His ability to play in the slot and outside and cover the opponent's best receiver makes him a valuable member of the secondary.

"I'm trying to get a little better. I'm a veteran player and I just need to get better," he said. "I don't feel like I've reached my ceiling yet. I've just got to continue to get better and I need to focus on making the plays that I can make. Start watching the tape in the offseason, and I can think of games where I dropped interceptions -- Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia -- these are plays where I've got to make the play."

Scandrick doesn't have the best hands on the team -- he had just two interceptions in 2013. He had 12 pass breakups and allowed four touchdowns but according to Stats Inc. was burned 50 times -- tied for 14th in the league and second on the team to Carr, who was beaten 62 times.

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Who will be the Cowboys' money player on defense?

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One of the main things the Cowboys' defensive coaches have preached the last two seasons is snagging the ball. Turnovers have become a point of contention around Valley Ranch because -- well, let's be honest -- they're a rarity with the team.

During practices, whether it's an organized team activity, training camp or minicamp, you hear coaches yelling at defensive players to create a turnover by snatching the ball out of a receiver's or running back's hand, trying to scoop up a fumble or pick the ball off.

"Just focusing on catching the ball and looking the ball in," Scandrick said. "When you catch it, you've got to see it into the pocket. And those were some of my issues last year. I was catching the ball and turning my head. But I'm just trying to come out here every day and stay positive and just be humble."

With Sean Lee (four interceptions in 2013) out for the season with a torn ACL, more pressure is placed on players like Scandrick to create turnovers in a pass-happy league.

Leadership is also lost with Lee on the sidelines. This is where Scandrick comes in.

"It's a lot, it's humbling," Scandrick said of losing Lee. "I feel like with Sean, I look around, [and] out of all these faces, I've been here the longest. The onus is kind of on myself. I gotta just work every day. Leadership ain't all about screaming and hollering. You can get anybody who can scream and holler and tell you what they've done and what the accolades are ... . I put it on myself to try and figure out a way to motivate and motivate our defense and motivate our secondary and motivate our corners. Losing Sean Lee was a tough pill to swallow."
IRVING, Texas -- The NFL Players Association has decided not to pursue any action against the Dallas Cowboys as a result of Sean Lee's season-ending knee injury, according to ESPN's Ed Werder, but the NFL has had contact with the club.

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"They have evaluated a couple of our practice sessions and given us some pointers, but I don't think we've done anything (wrong)," executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "Jason (Garrett) has always done a good job of playing by the rules and I think obviously they looked at that and say that we were but at the same time I think we all have to take notes and get better. We need to do it better and hopefully do it to where you don't have anything unfortunate happen."

Jones would not divulge what those pointers were.

"More than anything it's just remembering that they are OTAs and there's a standard that they recommend," Jones said. "In some cases, any time you get men who are competitive then the intensity level can rise and it's up to our coaches and up to them to keep everything in check ... We're all on the same page to keep these guys healthy."

Jones confirmed on Tuesday that Lee suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during the Cowboys' first organized team activity on May 27. On the play, Lee's leg buckled before he was hit by guard Zack Martin, who was attempting to make a block on a screen pass.

Per in the collective bargaining agreement, there is to be no contact during OTAs and minicamp. Players are not in pads. If teams are in violation of the offseason rules, they are subject to fines.

Jones and coach Jason Garrett said they believe Lee suffered the injury before the contact with Martin. Garrett said he starts every team meeting reminding players about the need to practice the right way.

"We don't want the contact," Garrett said. "We don't want guys going to the ground. We've evaluated that play. We think that the injury happened before the contact, but again we don't want it to be that physical."
GRAPEVINE, Texas -- You can most likely scratch free agent linebacker Brian Urlacher off the Cowboys’ list of potential players to replace Sean Lee.

“No,” was Jerry Jones’ response Tuesday afternoon when asked if the Cowboys are working on a deal for Urlacher.

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Lee is out for the season with a torn ACL and team officials are still determining when surgery will occur.

“We’re working through it,” said Stephen Jones, the Cowboys’ executive vice president. “I mean obviously we’re not playing football games tomorrow and we’re not going to training camp tomorrow. We’re just taking a long hard look at anything.”

Replacing Lee will be difficult.

Fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens, DeVonte Holloman (a 2013 sixth-round pick), and eight-year veteran Justin Durant are the in-house candidates to replace Lee.

The Cowboys are working with their current roster first to see if a starter can emerge for the 2014 season. If not, then signing a free agent is a possibility.

Linebacker Ernie Sims, who played with the Cowboys last season and is another possible replacement, signed with the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday.

“Until we decide one way or the other what we’re going to do with players that are on our team we really hate to comment on things like that,” Stephen Jones said.

Urlacher, a 13-year veteran with the Chicago Bears, didn’t play last season but is open to returning for the right opportunity. Urlacher knows the 4-3 scheme because he played under it in Chicago with Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

“Someone actually tweeted me something about it,” defensive tackle Henry Melton said when asked about his former teammate with the Bears. “I haven’t heard any truth behind (Urlacher playing) it but 'Lach' knows the defense and he would be a good replacement, I feel like he would fit in.”
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:

If you want to read Part 1 of the mailbag, click here.

Away we go:

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