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A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Training Camp Battles, Part I: Jason Williams vs. Sean Lee

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By Jonathan Bales

As Cowboys training camp approaches, somewhat of a paradox surrounds the team.  Excitement and confidence are plentiful, yet there are a multitude of question marks for the Cowboys on offense, defense, and special teams.

Who is going to be starting at left tackle?  How about in the slot?  Who will return punts and kicks?  Will David Buehler win all kicking duties?  Who will be the nickel linebacker?  The free safety?

The Cowboys, as one of the league’s most talented squads (perhaps even the creme of the crop), sure do have a lot of question marks.  But it is important to differentiate between a “question mark” and a “hole.”  At this point, there are no obvious holes on the team–no blatant weak spots.

Instead, there are positions where dependable play has been replaced by potential.  But why the switch?  Why substitute an unknown commodity for dependability?  Well, if you can only “depend” on a player for mediocre play, then plugging in the ‘potential,’ even if it is a risk, is probably the right move.

For example, who would you rather have starting at left tackle: a player who the Cowboys can count on for average play (Flozell Adams), or a player who has, say, a 75% chance of being a tremendous player, but could also flop (Doug Free)?

There is no right or wrong answer.  Perhaps it is savvy to fill a team with both high risk/high reward players and more dependable ones with less upside.  One thing I know, however, is that teams with mediocre players don’t win championships.  Organizations that take chances win it all, and the Dallas Cowboys are taking a lot of calculated gambles heading into the 2010 season.

One such gamble is heading into camp with various positions “up for grabs.”  In our new “Cowboys Training Camp Battles” Series, I will analyze these positional battles, detailing who I think will win each job and why.

In this first installment, I will take a look one of the Cowboys’ backup positions (albeit an important one)–the nickel linebacker spot.

Battle for the Nickel Linebacker Job

The Cowboys were ensured a new nickel linebacker in 2010 after Bobby Carpenter was traded to St. Louis.  Second-year man Jason Williams, who is practically a rookie, will battle with Penn State’s Sean lee for the job.

Jason Williams Scouting Report

Taken from my article on the potential impact of second-year players:

Williams is an athletic freak. He ran a 4.4 forty-yard dash at his Pro Day. Had Williams had all of 2009 to learn, that kind of speed could have really helped Dallas.

He may not be as instinctual as Lee, but if Williams can reach a point where he is fully comfortable with the mental aspects of his position, watch out.  He would then be able to let his athleticism take over, and he is undoubtedly the most athletic inside linebacker on the team.

Williams is also a competitor who will embrace the challenge laid before him.

Sean Lee Scouting Report

Taken from my post-draft analysis:

Positives: One of the hardest workers you will ever meet, surprisingly athletic, great in coverage

Negatives: Slightly undersized for a 3-4 defense, coming off of 2008 knee surgery, may not have a very high ceiling

Lee is a much different player than Williams.  His athleticism will surprise you, but he is nowhere near Williams in terms of speed or explosion.

There is a lot more that goes into player linebacker then speed, however, and Lee has all the intangibles.  He is intelligent, hard-working, and a great leader.  His upside might be limited, but so is his downside.

Pros/Cons of Starting Williams

Williams is a high risk/high reward player.  I feel confident in saying he is much more likely than Lee to give up a big play, but also much more likely to make one.  For a Cowboys defense that did everything right in 2009 besides force turnovers, Williams may be the smart pick because he offers the Cowboys more playmaking ability.

Pros/Cons of Starting Lee

Lee is the opposite of Williams–a low risk/medium reward player.  I love Lee’s character, but I can’t seem him making a ton of game-breaking plays.  On the flip side, he also won’t give up many big plays.  I compare him to a young Zach Thomas.

Advantage

This one is a coin toss right now.  As I said, Williams and Lee are different players.  It is possible the Cowboys could utilize each player in different situations (Lee in normal game situations, Williams when a big play is needed), but one guy figures to receive the bulk of the nickel snaps.  I am putting this battle at 50/50 right now, although if forced to select one, I would choose Lee due to his sensational spring workouts.

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20 Responses to Cowboys Training Camp Battles, Part I: Jason Williams vs. Sean Lee

  1. Mark says:

    Wow!! Many pundits predicted that Lee would have been a 1st rounder had he not gotten hurt, and yet based on what I read you see him as average or slightly above average? Don’t discount the mental aspect of the game, Martellus Bennett is extremely athletic, but yet can’t seem to grasp the mental aspect of the game. John Phillips on the other hand seems to be fundamentally aware and knows his position, not as much as Witten, but enough to get looks from Romo.

    I am comparing Apples to Oranges, but my point is that the mental aspect is much more important than you seem to want to acknowledge. Until Williams proves that he can pick the mental aspect up…I’ll take Lee.

  2. Hey Mark,

    Thanks for the comment, and I definitely see your points. I am actually a big proponent of having intelligent football players: http://dallascowboystimes.com/2010/03/how-important-is-intelligence-in-football/

    I loved players such as Marshall Faulk and Steve Young who used their intelligence to become outstanding football players.

    Nonetheless, I see Sean Lee as a guy who always be good, but never great. I don’t think he will be average by any means. He has the potential to be a really good football player, and probably the Cowboys’ LB of the future.

    Right now, though, in 2010, Dallas might benefit from taking the risk on Williams. They are in a position to go for it all, and rolling the dice is sometimes the savvy move. That was all I meant.

    Good comment though and I definitely agree with what you think.

  3. Kevin Keithley says:

    looks like a win-win situation with these 2 young LBs. if your analysis is correct both will get playing time this season, and both will benefit from the competion. If I had to chose one I would go with Lee. Granted williams has more speed, but that isn’t better than the one thing that you can’t teach – instinct. As a rookie, if Lee can get to the point that he reacts instinctively, rather than having to think about his responcibilities in this defense he will truly shine. I’ll take instinct over speed

  4. Agree Kevin. I think 2010 is the one time when Williams’ short experience and superior athleticism could put him ahead of Lee.

  5. Tom says:

    These are the kinds of problems you like to see. Which young stud will get on the field first. I think it comes down to Williams comfort level with the mental part of the game. If he’s even close, he should get the early playing time. It will only help accelerate his development to get as many snaps as he can. This guy could be the wow factor the defense needs. He should be able to help in the turnover dept. Williams tied the NCAA record for forced fumbles in a career (14).

    As for Lee, I think he’ll have his role down cold by the 1st pre-season game. The guy is looking like the future captain of our defense. He’ll get some snaps as well in relief, and if Bradie or Brooking go down with injury, Lee probably fills in. I’m excited to hear he’s not only smart and technically sound, but also a bit faster than I thought he’d be (at least from the mini camp and OTA reports I’ve read) Wade seems to really like this kid, and that is good enough for me.

    Maybe at some point in the season we’ll see both guys coming in on passing situations. It would give the Cowboys more speed in the middle of the field, and give the older vets some needed rest.

  6. I was actually unaware of that fumble stat on Williams. Good stuff. You also raise two other points with which I totally agree:

    1. Even if Williams wins the nickel job, Sean Lee could fill in due to injury.

    This is a good point because Lee does look like he could be the better all-around player, while Williams is more of a play-maker. He could be the spark the defense needs, while Lee could be the less risky play.

    2. Both players could come in during passing situations.

    This is really dependent on their development, but I like the idea (particularly from the POV of giving the vets rest). Of course, it is more likely to occur on long 3rd downs than, say, 3rd and 5 when the offense could still run.

  7. john coleman says:

    I’m thinking at this point Lee has the edge. I’m a huge fan of speed and athleticism, as you know. However, great instincts translate to speed. Give me game speed at the LB position. Give me the blazers at CB, WR, and KR. Not saying that these positions especially CB don’t need instincts. Williams could end up being a Derrick Brooks type of guy. I just feel he’s not quite there yet. It’s not as natural as with Lee. Our future seems secure at the position for the first time in years.

  8. Lee definitely seems more instinctual than Williams, which is why I think he is a better long-term fit. I really like Tom’s idea of bringing both players in during nickel situations. That could potentially help the defense during those situations, and later in the game with a refreshed James and Brooking.

  9. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Only 1 problem – both are essentially rookies.

    We all know Brooking is leaving soon but that only free’s up 1 ILB slot for the next 3-5 years. Bradie James isn’t going anywhere (I hope) so whomever loses the battle this year will essentially be the next Bobby Carpenter…with a salary much higher than should be garnered by a nickel LB only.

    I don’t know how long each of their contracts spans, but we may end up trading one of them prior to becoming RFAs to really get any value.

  10. Well, neither of their contract are going to be too ridiculous as 2nd and 3rd round picks. I think you could be right about a future trade, but I don’t think it’s guaranteed. I could see Williams’ career in Dallas being similar to Kevin Burnett’s, though.

  11. john coleman says:

    Let’s keep in mind that James is already an 8 or 9 year guy. So to have his replacement in place is a good thing. He may go 4 or 5 more years, but the odds are against him. You guys may know the answer, but I’m thinking longevity like Brooking or Zach Thomas is an exception rather than the rule. Bradie barring injury certainly has a couple of years in him, but do you ridr him into the ground. We have traditionally waited too long before looking to move guys. In order for a player to be attractive he must still be effective. We have also been good at milking a year or two out of guys like Brooking.

  12. Yeah, it is certainly the exception. LBs can play longer than, say, RBs of course, but the punishment is still there. I might take a look at LB longevity stats if I get the chance.

  13. Omar says:

    to be honest i’m a little dissapointed with Williams i was high on him last year, by now he seems still far from being able to reach the mental part of the game, he needs to pressure himself more

  14. Well, we still need to see him play in a game. Preseason could actually have a lot of meaning for a bunch of players this year.

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