Sean Lee is the leader of the Dallas Cowboys’ defense, even when he’s injured.
Linebacker Jaylon Smith, who will call the coverages and set the defense in place of Lee against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, makes no bones about Lee’s leadership.
But Smith will wear the helmet receiver instead of Lee, who is out with a hamstring injury. Smith, who is in his second full season after missing 2016 because of surgery, took a similar role a season ago when Lee missed five games. Smith, however, is a much improved player with 2017 under his belt.
And taking a leadership role comes naturally to Smith.
“I’m a leader at heart. It’s not something I have to try hard to do,” he said. “My role is to set the defense, set the tempo. I prepare for it, being a natural born leader myself. I have great relationships with all of the guys.”
Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said Smith, who has knee surgery after an injury in his last college game for Notre Dame, was still working at his lateral quickness in 2017. His ability to change direction on a dime in ‘18 has been the biggest improvement, Marinelli said.
“Running in a straight line last year he was fast. And he knows what he’s doing now. When you don’t it’s hard to play with great speed,” he said. “Jaylon has a couple of years under his belt and he’s been playing well. We have a lot of confidence in [rookie Leighton Vander Esch] coming in. We like the men we’ve got.”
With the receiver in his helmet, calling out checks to his teammates, Smith said he enjoys being the quarterback of the defense.
“It’s a responsibility I’m ready for. I’ve learned so much from Sean. He’s still the leader of the defense but when he’s not able to play or whenever he decides to retire in the next four years, it’s going to be my defense. I’m ready for it.”