ARLINGTON -- A year ago, Sean Lissemore was a seventh-round draft pick. You know what that means.
Filler. Might be OK. Who knows.
This year, he's "a guy you might win because of."
That's how defensive line coach Brian Baker describes the second-year player from William & Mary, a 6-foot-4, 305-pound defensive end who could safely be considered a project a year ago.
"He's at a position right now that we won't lose any game with Sean Lissemore in the game," Baker said. "He won't be the reason we lose. He won't ever hurt our defense."
That may sound a little like a left-handed compliment, but it says a lot for a low draft pick.
"It's a big point in my career," said Lissemore, who will turn 24 on Sept. 11, when the Cowboys open the regular season. "You've got to perform because this is a business. But I'm just focusing on what I can control. I'm focusing on working hard, playing well, trying to show my versatility -- trying to show to the coaches I'm a player that they want on their team."
Well, the Cowboys are already convinced of that.
In fact, they've got him in a lot of their plans.
He's a little light for nose tackle, but they plugged him in when Jay Ratliff missed time with a hip contusion. They've used him on both the right and left defensive end spots, where he got extra reps in the first week of training camp before re-signed free agents Jason Hatcher, Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman could practice.
Now that's paying off, because Spears is out with a groin strain, and Hatcher missed Sunday's preseason game with a bad toe.
Lissemore is "the only guy that's playing all the way across the front in both packages -- in the sub packages and the base package, both nose and end, and even in our goal-line package," Baker said. "He knows all the spots. So he's valuable that way. And I've not seen an appreciable difference at any of them, to be honest with you."
But to be honest, Lissemore is a seventh-round pick. He's got a long way to go to become an impact player in the NFL. But his intelligence, motor and agility -- he was a sprinter and shot-put thrower in high school -- have gotten the attention of his coaches.
He's become more than just a seventh-round pick in their minds.
"He understands what we're doing, which is paramount," Baker said. "He understands all the little CPs -- coaching points -- that we give him in terms of technique. Being able to play at a winning level, wherever you're put, for a defensive lineman in this league, No. 1, is rare, and No. 2, is really valuable in a system like this, where multiplicity is so important."
It's been a big leap in Lissemore's career. An NFL team is counting on him now more than it might have expected.
But he tries to think of it as just football.
"The big thing that I noticed when I first got on the field last year, from the sideline you see so much speed, so much size and strength, it's crazy," he said. "But when you get out there, you realize it's just football. It's the same game you've been playing since you were 5 years old, the same fundamental rules. It's just a little bit faster.
"I had to adjust to the speed, coming from Division I-AA. Once you get that down and you start to get a feel for it, it's just playing football again."
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407