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August 2, 2013

Dallas Cowboys have high hopes for dynamic duo

OXNARD, Calif. — Sean Lee dismisses talk of how good the Dallas defense could be if he and Bruce Carter started together at linebacker for a full season.

It hasn’t happened yet. So until it does — and until the Cowboys get back to the playoffs — Lee’s not listening.

“Until you win a Super Bowl, until you’ve got it on tape week to week, it means nothing,” Lee said. “That’s all hype. If we lean on that hype, we’re never going to be good.”

The Cowboys are counting on this playmaking pair to be good.

Dallas won three straight games last season when both were sidelined by season-ending injuries — Lee with a badly damaged toe in the sixth game at Carolina and Carter with a dislocated elbow on Thanksgiving against Washington.

But the defense ultimately faltered without them. The Cowboys couldn’t stop Drew Brees’ passing game and got run over by Washington rookie Alfred Morris in a pair of season-ending losses that kept them out of the playoffs for the third straight year.

Carter and Lee aren’t watching anymore, though.

They’re at the center of a defensive makeover that started soon after the season, when the Cowboys fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and replaced him with Monte Kiffin so they could return to the more linebacker-friendly 4-3 defense after nearly a decade in the 3-4.

“When you’re playing the 4-3 defense, those ... (linebackers) are protected a little bit more,” coach Jason Garrett said. “They gotta get to the football and make plays.”

Both have shown they can. Lee has a knack for interceptions, something that was sorely missing last season on a defense that tied a franchise low with seven. Lee has that many in 35 career games, a high number for a linebacker.

Carter could have led the Cowboys in tackles last season if he hadn’t been injured. His strength is speed, and he’ll get his best chance to show it in the new scheme because one of the weakside linebacker’s biggest jobs is running down plays away from him.

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