(Reuters) - The Dallas Cowboys' defense was dealt a severe blow on Wednesday as leading tackler Sean Lee was ruled out for the rest of the National Football League (NFL) season because of a toe injury.
The 26-year-old linebacker, the team's defensive leader, was placed on injured reserve and will need surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right big toe, according to Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett.
"I can't tell you how well he's been playing since he's been our starting inside linebacker," Garrett told reporters. "He's the leader of the defense. He makes the calls.
"He plays the right way in practice. He plays the right way in the game. He defends the run. He defends the pass.
"He's a bell cow for us and a guy that really, really everybody on our defense and football team looks up to. He goes about it the right way and he's an outstanding person as well."
Lee, who calls the defensive signals for the Cowboys, had a team-high 58 combined tackles this season and will continue to be a motivating force from the sidelines, Garrett said.
"You rally around it on your football team, and Sean Lee's the kind of guy that will stay engaged in our football team, and we appreciate that about him," Garrett added.
"He will have a positive impact on our team, even though he won't be out there."
With Lee and punter Chris Jones (knee sprain) both put on injured reserve on Wednesday, the Cowboys filled their roster spots with veteran linebacker Ernie Sims and safety Charlie Peprah.
Sims, a first-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions in 2006, played 13 games last year for the Indianapolis Colts.
The Cowboys are 3-3 this season and play their next game at home on Sunday against the New York Giants.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)