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December 3, 2013

Cowboys thankful for the time off ahead of Monday matchup with Bears

IRVING, Texas — Jason Hatcher is happy to have the rest and not worried about accumulating rust.

The Dallas defensive tackle and his teammates were back at work Tuesday — but only for meetings — after having nine of the previous 19 days off thanks to a late bye and their annual mini-bye after Thanksgiving.

The Cowboys get another day away Wednesday and will have been off the field a full week when they return to practice Thursday.

Continuity heading into a Monday night matchup at Chicago? Who cares, says Hatcher. He’ll take the couch time.

“You need rest in a stretch like this,” said Hatcher, the team’s sacks leader with nine. “So to get everybody’s body healed up, this is awesome.”

That list starts with linebacker Sean Lee, who could return after missing two games with a strained hamstring from a blowout loss to New Orleans. Lee hurried out of the locker room without talking to reporters Tuesday, but said he was “ready to roll” and expected to practice Thursday.

The Cowboys (7-5) won twice without their defensive leader to keep pace with Philadelphia atop the NFC East with four games remaining, including the season finale when the Eagles visit Dallas.

Ernie Sims took most of the snaps at middle linebacker with Lee and his primary replacement, Justin Durant, both missing victories against the New York Giants and Oakland. Kyle Wilber played where Sims and Durant normally would have been.

Wilber was drafted as a pass-rushing linebacker when the Cowboys were using a three-man front last year. Dallas tried him at defensive end first in the new 4-3 alignment this year, then switched him back to linebacker when the health issues arose. Now there’s talk he might be a starter alongside Lee and Bruce Carter.

“To have two new linebackers in there, two of the three positions are new guys, different guys,” coach Jason Garrett said. “And that’s a challenge. And a real tribute to those guys, Wilber and Ernie, just kind of learning on the job and learning quickly. You literally could see them getting better within a game, recognizing things better in the second or third quarter than they did in the first quarter.”

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