- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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Injuries are part of the NFL. But in 2012 the Cowboys dealt with severe injuries to the defense that caused them to mix and match for the bulk of the season.
Moving forward we look at five players who need to remain healthy for the entire season to ensure success in 2013.
1. DeMarcus Ware. His talent and desire is unquestioned. But last year health was an issue. He played the last few weeks of the season with one arm and underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason that's going to keep him out of the bulk of the offseason programs. Ware also had elbow problems that forced him to wear a brace. He's moving from outside linebacker to defensive end and is going to need the practice reps in training camp to familiarize himself with the switch. The Cowboys need a healthy Ware to get the new 4-3 scheme moving.
2. Jay Ratliff. Ratliff played just six games before finally undergoing sports hernia surgery late in the season. It was a combustible offseason for Ratliff, whose roster status was questioned because of his DWI arrest. His place with the team is secure, but he needs to stay on the field. With the move to a 4-3, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin needs Ratliff to become that defensive tackle who can pressure the quarterback on three downs. Ratliff's production has slipped the last few years and a position switch might give him new life.
3. DeMarco Murray. Durability was a concern when he came out of Oklahoma and it's still an issue as a professional. Murray missed six games with a foot injury and the running game suffered in his absence. The Cowboys' front office has talked about finding a suitable backup in the draft, but are there underlining themes here about finding his replacement. Murray is a solid running back, but will his health raise issues about his long-term future?
4. Barry Church. He played just three games before tearing his Achilles tendon. Church won the safety position in training camp last season and the Cowboys like his cover and tackling skills. However, there is some concern about how he'll play once he returns from the injury. Church is on target to practice with the rest of the team in the offseason workouts, but once the games start will he be effective?
5. Sean Lee. Lee plays hurt, but that's the problem. He plays hurt and he misses games. He's yet to play a full 16 games and the Cowboys need him to become the leader of the linebackers as they move to a 4-3. The same can be said of Bruce Carter, who also missed games because of injuries last season, but Lee is one of the leading tacklers and his presence on the field is important.