It’s been Dallas’ plan all along. When oft-injured Sean Lee returns from his hamstring injury, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones expects him to get his starting weakside starting job back.
Rookie Leighton Vander Esch has been a devastating playmaker in Lee’s absence, boosting him as the likely Defensive Rookie of the Year. Vander Esch, a first-round draft pick from Boise State leads the Cowboys and is tied for fourth in the NFL with 102 tackles despite starting only seven games.
Jones’ plan has been to rotate Lee, Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith in a rotation when all are healthy. The Cowboys’ recent four-game winning streak has not only catapulted them into the lead in the NFC East, but also apparently not changed Jones’ mind.
The Dallas Morning News reports the Cowboys have been 1-7 in the previous three seasons when Lee wasn’t playing. This season, they are 6-1 without him.
Lee’s availability for Sunday’s pivotal game against Philadelphia remains uncertain. The ninth-year linebacker has missed Dallas’ last four games and seven games this season with hamstring injuries. The Cowboys are taking their time in getting him back in the lineup.
Jones has been pleased with Vander Esch’s development.
“He’s improving,” Jones said on his weekly radio show on Dallas station KRLD-FM. “But Sean Lee, make no mistake about it, when he’s right, there’s nobody better. He’s such an integral part of adjusting on the field and making the big play.
“And then you look at what we’ve got in Smith, you just have to have those guys out there on the field. It’s a great problem to have.”
That defensive development is the prime reason for the Cowboys’ dramatic turnaround this season. ESPN.com’s Football Power Index gives them a 76.9 percent chance of winning the division heading into this week’s game with the Eagles.