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Cowboys LBs can change tone of defense

IRVING, Texas -- A year ago at this time, Dallas Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus had Sean Lee as the leader of his group, while Rolando McClain wasn’t even a thought.

But Lee then suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during the first organized team activity of the offseason and would be lost for the season. On July 1, 2014, the Cowboys made a trade for McClain, the former eighth overall pick of the 2010 draft, and he ended up being credited with 108 tackles in 12 games by Eberflus.

Now Eberflus has Lee and McClain available to him, giving him two playmakers that can help the Cowboys greatly improve their No. 19 overall defense ranking from 2014.

When the Cowboys start OTAs next week, Lee will be back on the field for team drills for the first time getting hurt but will be moving to weak-side linebacker. McClain, who will remain at middle linebacker, will be taking part in his first OTAs since 2012.

Eberflus doesn’t foresee any issue in Lee’s slight position switch.

“A few years back before we went to this defense he played Will linebacker,” Eberflus said of the Cowboys’ 3-4 scheme under Rob Ryan. “We were in a lot of under fronts and he was playing behind the three technique (defensive tackle) and you kind of saw what his capabilities were there. If you marry him to the three technique, he’s going to be more of a run and hit guy, and that’s where his instincts and natural abilities sort of lean that way. So he’ll be really successful at that position.”

Lee has yet to play a full season because of injuries but had 121 tackles in 11 games in 2013 before his season came to an end with a neck injury. He also led the Cowboys with four interceptions and had five tackles for loss, two quarterback pressures and six pass deflections.

The ball has a way of finding him, just as the ball had a way of finding McClain last season.

In addition to the 108 tackles, he had one sack, nine tackles for loss, five quarterback pressures, two interceptions, five pass deflections and a forced fumble. And he did so without the benefit of any offseason work. When he arrived for training camp, McClain had to work himself into physical and football condition.

Eberflus believes McClain’s work in the spring will make him better when the season starts.

“Just really the strength and conditioning part of it,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing and really getting a foundation of the calls and the fundamentals that we’re teaching here: how to take on a block, how to drop to a zone, how to set up on the quarterback and all of those things. Just being here, strength and conditioning, fundamentals, that’s only going to get better.”