Dec 17, 2011; Tampa, FL, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (95) sacks Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) during the third quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

Set for a Breakout Season: Sean Lissemore

With the vast majority of the Dallas Cowboy universe still focused on the 2012 NFL Draft and all the rookie free agents, I decided to review some of the games from last year and see which players showed signs of being able to make a more significant contribution to the Dallas Cowboys.  You can read about the previous players profiled (Victor Butler and Raymond Radway) here.

This week we will look at Sean Lissemore.  He was selected in the 7th round (234th pick) of the 2010 NFL Draft.

One of the things that has stood out about Lissemore since he entered the NFL Draft is his almost freakish athleticism for a man his size.  He is 6’4” and over 300 lbs., yet he has a 30 inch vertical jump and ran 4.8 in the 40.  He was a track star in high school; he ran the 100 meter in 11.2 seconds.  Many have described him as a DT with LB speed.  Given these raw skills, it should only be a matter of time, effort, coaching, and experience until Lissemore is ready to become a solid starter for the Dallas Cowboys.

Lissemore didn’t see much action as a rookie, but he played in all 16 games in 2011. His performance, beginning early in the season, earned him considerable playing time last year.

Dec 11, 2011; Dallas, TX, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) pressured in the pocket by Dallas Cowboys defensive end Sean Lissemore (95) at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Lissemore played 283 snaps in 2011.  In comparison, Jay Ratliff played 750, but Jason Hatcher, Marcus Spears, and Kenyon Coleman all logged between 400-425 snaps.

1.  If you look at what Lissemore, who is now just 24, did last year in limited opportunities, add in a full-offseason for conditioning, training, and learning Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan’s system, it seems natural that he will be a better and more complete football player this season.

According to ProFootballFocus’ advanced stats, Sean Lissemore was tied for 3rd on the team with Sean Lee with an overall defensive rating of 13.8 in 2011.  Only Demarcus Ware (32.5) and Jay Ratliff (18.6) graded out better. Somewhat surprisingly, Lissemore graded out much better against the run (14.3), than he did as a pass-rusher (0.2). A full explanation of ProFootballFocus grades can be found here.

Lissemore’s third place ranking obviously has to be viewed with the understanding that he played fewer snaps than many of the other defenders, and he therefore was likely used in specific situations that were intended to capitalize on his strengths as a defender.

Lissemore’s impressive statistics and rating suggest that Rob Ryan has already figured out effective ways to use him.  As he improves and learns the intricacies of Ryan’s system, it is presumable that Ryan will find new ways to effectively use Lissemore.

2.  Many people who follow the NFL believed that the Dallas Cowboys were going to draft or sign a rookie DT that would have the potential to man the traditional NT position in Rob Ryan’s 3-4.  You can read a good explanation of why the behometh NT is so important to the 3-4, and how the vast majority of successful 3-4 defenses have a mammoth NT. 

The Cowboys didn’t draft a NT, nor did they sign one.

Perhaps the reason that Jerry Jones didn’t draft a NT is because Rob Ryan knows that Sean Lissemore was stellar against the run last year, and therefore he has the ability to man the NT position on some running downs to help Jay Ratliff stay fresh.  Lissemore played 119 snaps against the run and 164 against the pass. He had 19 solo tackles, 9 assists, and 2 sacks.  That means Lissemore made a solo tackle on one out of every six or seven times the opponent tried to run the ball (assuming that most of his tackles came on running plays).

Stephen Jones acknowledged this off-season that Jay Ratliff got worn down last year.  Stephen’s comments about Ratliff were interesting because they marked a significant departure from what we have heard from the Cowboys front office regarding Jay Ratliff and the NT position for the past 4 or 5 years. We have always heard that Ratliff was the NT, and they had no intention of even considering moving him; when we heard about his decline in production in 2010, it was always framed in reference to an injury, as opposed to just wearing down as a natural part of the NFL season.

The Dallas Cowboys’ DLine coach, Brian Baker, made the plan even more explicit when he said:

“He will take all the third downs unless somebody proves they’re a better pass rusher inside. Until that happens, if he’s getting a little worn [down] we’ll save him for third down.”

It certainly sounds like the DL coach knows he has to use Jay Ratliff more sparingly if he is going to continue to play at NT.  Sean Lissemore and Josh Brent are the only reasonable explanation for the Cowboys’ decision to not acquire a NT.

December 17, 2011; Tampa, FL, USA; Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff (90) prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Everything from the Cowboys organization suggests that they know that Ratliff would be a better player if they had someone that could chew up space and stop the run on 1st down. Sean Lissemore will have the opportunity in camp and the preseason to demonstrate that he can play 1st down on a regular basis.

One of the keys to having a breakout season is having the skills to fulfill a major need for the team.  The Cowboys need a NT who can hold the point of attack on running plays so that Ratliff can be fresher on 3rd downs.

3.  Lissemore is versatile enough to play DE in some packages and/or replace one of the DE’s and play DT beside Ratliff when the Cowboys line-up in more of a 4-3 alignment.

If Rob Ryan continues to use a 4-3 alignment with the same frequency as last season (about 35% of the snaps), Lissemore should see increased playing time as the additional tackle.  In fact, the emergence of Lissemore coupled with the drafting of DE Tyrone Crawford could  spell the end for one of the veteran DE’s already on the roster.

In August 2010, Lissemore signed a four-year, $1.839 million contract. The deal included a $48,600 signing bonus. He will make $540,000 in 2012, and $575,000 in 2013, and become a free agent in 2014.

In July 2011, Kenyon Coleman signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract. The deal included a $700,000 signing bonus. He is scheduled to make $1.9 million in 2012 and become a free agent in 2013.

Also in July 2011, Marcus Spears signed a five-year, $19.2 million contract. The deal contained $4.2 million guaranteed, including a $3.5 million signing bonus. Despite the total over 5 years, Spears in only scheduled to make $2 million in 2012.

In August 2011, Jason Hatcher signed a three-year, $6 million contract, including a $2.5 million signing bonus.  He will make $1.5 million in 2012 and $2 million in 2013 before becoming a free agent in 2014.

While none of the contracts are huge, all of the DE’s are making considerably more money than Lissemore. Almost as important is the fact that they are all much older than Lissemore. Spears is 29 (7 seasons in the NFL); Coleman is 33 (10 NFL seasons); and Jason Hatcher is 29 (6 seasons).  Hatcher had the best season of the three in 2011; he graded out better according to ProFootballFocus and he was far more effective at rushing the QB.  Hatcher had 5 sacks and 6 QB hits, while both Spears and Coleman each had only 1 sack and 1 QB hit.

Although Hatcher is about the same age as Spears, Hatcher has far fewer starts and has played far fewer snaps over his career, which means that his body has not been subjected to the same pounding. The other thing about Hatcher is that he still seems to be improving from year to year.

It would not be surprising to see one of the DE’s released before the start of the season, but it would be shocking if it was Jason Hatcher.  He could also be poised for a breakout season.

Sept 1, 2011; Miami, FL, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (95) during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins won 17-3. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

4.  Sean Lissemore is extremely versatile; he can play all three DL positions in the 3-4.  Last season, he played at RE, LE, and NT.  As discussed above, he also played DT in the 4-3. Lissemore’s unique ability to play all the positions on the DL will likely translate into more playing time for him.  More importantly, it means there is a variety of different ways that Rob Ryan can utilize his specific talents.

When comparing Lissemore’s ProFootballFocus grades for each position, there is no significant difference in his grades when he switches from position to position.  He grades out just as well at NT as he does at RE or LE.

Lissemore’s value as a journeyman substitute along the DL means that he will not likely claim one of the starting jobs, but instead he will continue to be used in a variety of different packages all over the DL.  The value of having a DT who can play every position on the DL effectively is enormous: imagine an an effective backup OT who could also play center.

5.  The benefits of Jerry Jones’ and Jason Garrett’s decision to hire Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Woicik have been considered in a previous post.  Players like Sean Lissemore may benefit the most from the training and conditioning regimen imposed by Woicik because they are young, and while not ‘still growing’, are still adding mass to their bodies.  Similarly, young players, especially from small colleges, are often still developing the strength and endurance required to play in the NFL.

Sean Lissemore is going to have a much bigger impact on the Dallas Cowboys defense in 2012.  He will be a better player.  He should get many more opportunities to play this season because of the need to rest Jay Ratliff, his versatility, and the level of his play compared to some aging veterans who are earning more money. Lissemore played excellent in his limited role last season – if he improves and gets more chances to play, he will have a breakout season for the Dallas Cowboys in 2012.

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Tags: Dallas Cowboys Dallas Cowboys Break Out Season Demarcus Ware Jason Garrett Jason Hatcher Jay Ratliff Kenyon Coleman Marcus Spears Mike Woicik Rob Ryan Sean Lee Sean Lissemore The Wright Perspective

  • Californy

    First of All Nice Article CJ.  I also like Lissemore a lot .  I expect someone to be relase to give Lissemore more snaps.  It most likely going to be Coleman.  I really dont like for Coleman to be release considerining he had 2.5 times more tackles than Spears last year, and playing for half the money.   But I also understand Coleman was never the long term solution here in Dallas, he was holding the spot for a Rookie to develope behind him and Lissemore is that player.  Wow I didnt know he was a track star. I have yet to see the speed Lissemore has, I have seen the run stops made by him. In Coleman defense this was his worst year in the last 4, but even at his worst he had more stops than Spears and Hatcher. Lissemore I expect will continue to develope, but I feel this year you are going to see more bodies in the rotation. I expect to see players like Lemon, Albright and Geather more in the rotation.  I realise lemon and Albright are LB, but I feel they will be use as rushing ends, as well as the Rookies Wilber and hamilton and Whiteside should they make the squad. I am expecting alot of fresh bodies and more 4-3 fronts this year especially in long situations and passing down..

    • cjwright

       @Californy Thanks.  I agree that it seems most likely  that Coleman would be cut. I was surprised that he kept the starting job over Spears last season.
      Lissemore seems like he is ready.  He played really well last year.  I actually read an article about him in the pre-season last year, and so I tried to pay attention to his play throughout the year. He was quietly one of the most effective defenders on the squad.

      • Californy

         @cjwright Why do you expect Spears to start over Coleman.  In Spears career he been averaging 28.75 tackles per year.  Coleman 36 tackle  had a bad year last year, yet he average more than Spear career average.  In fact Coleman was averaging 60 tackles per season playing in a 3-4 defense, now factoring his 36 for last year, his new average is 55.5 tackles per season, almost double of Coleman career, yet Spear made double of what Coleman made. Spear only had 16 tackle in 16 games.  I would cut Spears first but that not what going to happen.  It going to be the other way around.  Do you now begin to understand why I hate JJ as this team GM.  I  dont hate people in my life, but in JJ case I learn to hate him.

        • cjwright

           @Californy I think part of it was just the amount of their contracts. When 1 player is making 2 or 3x the amount of another player, you expect that the one being paid more is better and therefore will be the starter.  I also think that Spears is a better player  (I don’t think that tackles is a very accurate/reliable way of comparing or judging defensive players.)

        • Californy

           @cjwright Yeah tackles can kind of be confusing, but for me it is still a strong indication what a defesive player has done. Spears to me has never done it, with the exception of his first 2 years in the nFL.  I love defensive number one can measure.  I like defensive tackles, but I rather have them for negative plays.  Brady James use to get a lot of stops for the boys but if you see where he was making the stop it was on the defense side of the ball.  This is not a good thing at all But when a player Like Spears only get 16 tackles and another player like Coleman get 36, I dont believe Spears is better than Coleman at all.  Yeah Money does to some extent point to the better player but not all the time.  If this was the case, then Roy William WR would still be here. 

        • CowgirlCas22

           @cjwright I agree. Ta’Amu had 1 primary function for Wash. That was to either create a pile in the middle, or collapse the pocket. He allowed the guys around him to make the plays and get the stats. Rat as a NT serves the same purpose, but he doesn’t have the size to collapse the pocket and doesn’t command a double team on every play. Many OG’s in the NFL can handle him 1 on 1.
          If you look at a true NT like Wilfork, he commands a double team every play. i watched a video on Haynesworth that showed what happens when he is 1 on 1, he sacked the QB with his own OG lol. ya he drove him all the way in to the backfield. I have never seen Rat be able to do this. Game after game I watch avg NFL QB’s step up in the pocket and pick us apart. Everyone uses the Rat pro bowl argument, but no one mentions that the Pro Bowl rules stipulate that they can only use a 4-3 defense. I have always said that Rat should be a 4-3 DT. If they were using a 3-4 Rat wouldn’t make it as a NT.

        • cjwright

           @CowgirlCas22 It would be interesting to see how often Ratliff is double-teamed, and how successful he is when only facing one blocker.

        • CowgirlCas22

           @cjwright what was amusing to me was when Broaddus did the Vid on on the DL the only film he showed on Rat was the only 2 sacks he had on the season lol.

        • Californy

           @cjwright  @CowgirlCas22 This can only be accomplish going to a 4-3 defense, yeah that what I been waiting for.  It look like NY Jets are in transition to a 4-3 as well.

        • Californy

          We need to protect Claiborne because they will attack his side.  It time to start putting more pressure on their QB with our front four.

        • CowgirlCas22

           @cjwright I am anxcious to see how he does against the rookie DeCastro when we play Pit.

        • CowgirlCas22

           @Californy I am not sure Claiborne will be good enough to start over Carr or a healthy Jenkins. I think he may be the nickel corner until he develops

        • Californy

           @CowgirlCas22 I heard Claiborne doesnt even need to compete, the job is his.  They say Jenkins will  not compete for Claiborne spot.  I hate this, that two jobs on this team where there no competition, the secound one is Jermey Parnell who has a 3 year deal for back up T position.

  • Californy

    I was looking over the Cowboy Roster and I notice the bos love to draft the athlete more so than the player.  The Player has already done in, the athlete mustdevelope into the position.  I was looking at Clifton Geather this morning and he has a whole bunch of family who played in the NFL.  But at no point has ever show he can do it consistantly.  Robert Calloway is in the same book, he can take the double team, but that doesnt mean he makes the tackle. Baraka Atkins look to be the ideal athlete to play the position 4.69 6’5″ 271 lbs for a 4-3 DE but it has never translated to the field.  I  couldnt get any figures for Ben Bass, but I know he played in one of the few college teams who run a true 3-4 defense, I just hope he can bring something because we need it.  I also been looking at this team LB nd I have been waiting on Alex Albright but a 4.86 40 times is not a good thing, and the same could be said about Orie lemon 6’1 243 LB, he did get one season of 90 tackles that great but as a former QB with 40 times in the 4.8-4.9 range is not a good thing at all.  Lissemore  is the only person who devleope, I like the fact he was a track star but even the quick feet has never shown it self in terms of sacks.

    • cjwright

       @Californy I don’t know much about Geathers or Calloway, but I think that Josh Brent will make the team and earn more snaps this season.

      • Californy

         @cjwright I know we had this discussion before.  I just dont see much in Brent at all.  I hear all the hype about him all the time.  What i see in Brent is in 28 games he has 22 tackle, that nothing to me. This is his college stats In 2007, as a true freshman, Brent played in 10 games in 2007. He recorded eight tackles and 0.5 sacks. In 2008 as a sophomore, he recorded 34 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 10 games with eight starts. In 2009 as a junior, he started all 12 games, recording 29 tackles and three sacks….  These number dont get my attention either.  IF you want number that I am interested in then look at his HS number his Senior year 90 tackles 19 sacks for loss and 8.5 sack.  What I see in Brent is declining number in his career.  There another number I dont buy is pressures.  What that, number in not getting it done.  I also dont think a defensive line should block anyone at all.  So I reject the concept of him blocking two two players.  A defensive player should not block anyone at all.  I played a NG position so I am very familiar what you can do and what you can expect out of this position, and blocking was something I never did as a defensive player.

        • cjwright

           @Californy I have to be honest, my opinion of Josh Brent is mostly based on his measureables, his size, his stats compared to snaps played, his ProFootballFocus grades, and the need that the Cowboys have for a NT.  I have not watched any tape and been focused on Josh Brent.

        • Californy

           @cjwright You would have to see alot of tape on Josh Brent to think that he was special.  I like his HS number the best, too bad he couldnt carry those number to this level.  It hard to find these 3-4 players, that why I suggest we do what NE did, and that go back to a 4-3 defense.  The ends would be Spencer, Butler and Spears, the DT would be Ratliff, Hatcher, Bowen and Lissemore.  These player would have to beat single coverage then.  Then you could always drop Ware Or Spencer into coverage just to throw them off and with all the OL stunts.  This defense can be better than the Giants this year should they be able to grasp the blitz packjages and line stunts.
          I back off of Ta Amu because when I look at his number of 16 tackles last year, there wasnt enough there to draft him for me.  I like this player but we just dont have a history of developing NT.  Rubin was already develope 1/2 year before RR got there in Cleveland.

  • Californy

    “bos  “Boys”

  • CowboysWin

    I was all about drafting Ta’Amu or Fangupo to man the NT/DT spot, especially in 3-4 fronts.  I am hopeful that Crawford pans out but I still wish we would have gone that way for giving Rat some breaks, but also to really add to the push on running downs.  We’ll see.  Lissemore’s improvement will move Coleman out – to the Redskins I would guess –  during TC.  

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