This is the third installment in ESPN Dallas' five-part series on things that went right for the Dallas Cowboys in 2011.
No. 3: Sean Lee takes over at inside linebacker
The plan before the lockout ended was for the Cowboys to split the inside linebacker snaps between Bradie James, Keith Brooking and Sean Lee, but Lee’s play quickly changed that plan and developed into one of the NFC’s best inside linebackers.
Lee’s rookie season was muddled in part because of a knee injury at Penn State and assorted leg injuries early in the season but he showed flashes of his skill with a 31-yard interception return at a Peyton Manning pass for a touchdown at Indianapolis.
In 2012, Lee led the Cowboys with 132 tackles, according to the coaches, and his 89 solo stops were more than the total stops made by the team’s second-leading tackler, Gerald Sensabaugh, who had 78. Lee, a second-round pick in 2010, also tied for the team lead with four interceptions with cornerback Terence Newman.
Lee also displayed toughness by playing through a dislocated left wrist suffered Oct. 30 at Philadelphia. He missed one game before returning with a bulky cast for four games and a smaller one for the final four games.
With James and Brooking unlikely to return, Lee will have to step up into a leadership role on defense, which should not be difficult because he is already the one relaying Rob Ryan’s calls to the rest of the defense.