Cowboys playing it smart with Sean Lee early in camp

OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys are keeping the big picture in mind when it comes to Sean Lee.

Before training camp started, the Cowboys learned Keith Rivers did not want to play football anymore, so they had to place him on the reserve/retired list. Before the first practice, they placed Rolando McClain and rookie Mark Nzeocha on the physically unable to perform and non-football injury lists with knee injuries.

They added linebackers Keith Smith and Will Smith to make up for the slack, but during Saturday’s special teams walk-through they lost Justin Jackson to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Instead of turning Lee loose in practice as he returns from missing last year with a torn ACL of his own, the Cowboys have gone to their organized team activity and minicamp progression plan with Lee. Through two days of full pads, Lee has been kept out of team and 7-on-7 drills.

“As Sean gets older, and Sean’s been through some adversity, I think he’s learning and I’m learning to have the ability to understand what the final product needs to look like and also understand the process to get there,” linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said. “I think he’s understanding of that and I’m doing a better job, I hope, of understanding as well. It’s a work in progress. We’re going to work to the final product.”

The Cowboys need Lee to be at his final product for the Sept. 13 opener against the New York Giants, not the first week of full-padded practices in training camp. The Cowboys know that Lee approaches practices with game-like intensity and they almost want to protect Lee from himself.

So even with the dearth of linebackers available to practice and the addition of new players, the Cowboys have not altered their plan with Lee.

“He’s made a lot of progress,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We don’t want big setbacks so we’ll kind of incrementally up his work and hopefully he can handle it and we’ll just keep making progress.”