Sean Lee the key to Cowboys' LB success

With Dallas Cowboys' training camp starting next week in Oxnard, California, we offer up a position-by-position preview.


Who's back: Sean Lee, Rolando McClain, Anthony Hitchens, Kyle Wilber, Cameron Lawrence

Who they added: Jasper Brinkley (free agent), Andrew Gachkar (free agent), Keith Rivers (free agent), Justin Jackson (free agent), Damien Wilson (draft pick), Mark Nzoecha (draft pick), Donnie Baggs (undrafted free agent)

Who's gone: Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Keith Smith, Dekoda Watson, James Anderson

Roster spots available: Six or seven

Key question: Can Lee make it through the season healthy?

Since he hasn't played a full season in his career, then the easy answer might just be no. He has missed games with hamstring, wrist, toe, hamstring, neck and knee injuries. He missed 2014 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and has played in just 17 of the last 48 regular-season games. He hasn't played a game since Dec. 9, 2013 when a neck injury knocked him out in the first half of a loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Perhaps the odds favor Lee to make it through a full season. He certainly is hoping he got rid of the injury bug and can be on the field a lot more than he has been off it in his first five seasons. He saw his workload increase throughout the offseason program and took his first team snaps in the June minicamp. He does not expect to be limited in any way when training camp practices begin July 30.

When he is on the field, Lee is the Cowboys' best defensive playmaker. He has a nose for the ball as evidenced by his 11 interceptions, 374 tackles, 18 pass breakups and three fumble recoveries.

He will be making a position switch, moving from middle linebacker to the weak-side. In Rod Marinelli's scheme, the weak-side linebacker is given the opportunity to make the most plays. He is protected by the defensive line, allowed to roam free.

Having a healthy Lee and an improved pass rush should improve the Cowboys' defense immensely from their No. 19 overall finish in 2014.

Quick thought: McClain accomplished more last season than anybody could have imagined after sitting out the 2013 season and not getting acquired by the Cowboys until right before camp. In 12 games, the coaches credited him with 108 tackles. He recorded a statistic in every defensive category but fumble recoveries.

But he will miss the first four games of the season because of a suspension. He knew in February one more violation of the league's substance abuse policy would lead to missing games, not just checks, and could not hold up his end. He had knee surgery in the offseason and chose to do his rehab in Alabama rather than with the Cowboys' medical staff.

The Cowboys committed just $500,000 in guaranteed money to McClain. Could their best defensive player in 2014 actually be on the bubble in training camp this year?

The Cowboys were patient with McClain last season. They might not need to be as patient with him in 2015.