Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spent a large portion of the offseason talking about his team’s playcalling situation and its highly paid quarterback. He also brought in Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli to revamp a defense that has annually been at bottom of the league in takeaways.
It will be impossible to make any evaluations on those decisions after Sunday’s Hall of Fame game against the Miami Dolphins. The Cowboys don’t plan on playing Tony Romo and several other starters. That begs the question of why Jones campaigned so hard to be in this game. And the short answer is the Cowboys thought an extra week of training camp would be beneficial to new playcaller Bill Callahan and Kiffin.
This is also a huge training camp for Cowboys linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. They were taken in the second round in back to back drafts (’10 and ’11) because the Cowboys felt like they had first-round talent. Lee, heading into his fourth season, was coming off ACL knee surgery when he was selected. Carter was in the same situation when he was drafted a year later out of North Carolina.
Lee showed flashes his rookie season, but he couldn’t unseat veteran Keith Brooking. Carter could only contribute on special teams after missing his rookie training camp while still recovering from the injury.
Though they won’t say it, Lee and Carter are a huge reason why the Cowboys felt comfortable transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3. In the 4-3, the two players will be afforded more protection from enormous centers and guards. Kiffin believes that Carter is perfectly suited to fill the same role that Derrick Brooks played on some great Tampa Bay defenses.
In last year’s training camp, it was Lee who set the tone in practice. He and running back DeMarco Murray had some tremendous collisions. Coach Jason Garrett marveled at how players responded to Lee’s example. Of course, the problem is that they’ve both Lee and Carter continued to struggle with injuries. Lee suffered a season-ending injury in Week 6 against Carolina last year and Carter missed the final five games with a dislocated elbow. They believe it’s ridiculous to talk about their potential until they make it through an entire season.
“Until you win a Super Bowl, until you’ve got it on tape week to week, it means nothing,” Lee told reporters in Oxnard, Calif. “That’s all hype. If we lean on that hype, we’re never going to be good.”
Lee has gone out of his way not to say anything negative about the Rob Ryan administration, but it’s obvious he’s bullish on Kiffin. He told me recently that players are already able to play a lot faster in Kiffin’s scheme because it’s not so complicated. It always seemed like Ryan was trying to prove how smart he was when it came to different looks.
Lee had 21 tackles in a game against the Seahawks last season. He’s drawn comparisons to Cowboys legend Lee Roy Jordan for his ability to pursue plays across the field.
But both players enter the 2013 season at a major crossroads. If they can stay healthy, the Cowboys have a major chance to challenge for the NFC East title.
So far, the injuries have kept them from becoming stars. That could soon change.