The Forgotten Importance Of Sean Lee
As a second round pick, 55th overall, Sean Lee wasn't expected to be much of a player for the Cowboys. Then he came in and at the end of the 2010 season, placed a strong impression on then Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips, and was named the starting inside linebacker in 2011.
From then on, Lee's career would blossom as he would have a ton of success, continuing in 2012 when he had his breakout season. However, plagued by injuries and simply being on the wrong end of the stick, Lee has been a nonexistent player for the Cowboys ever since.
His latest injury, a torn ACL, forced him to miss the entire 2014-15 season. That brings us to today, where Lee is brace-less and back on the practice field and ready to make an immense impact like he did when he first started as inside linebacker for Dallas.
The injuries have not been something foreign to Lee, as it was also an issue during his college football days. He would eventually become the starting linebacker for Penn State under Joe Paterno in 2008.
However, in April of that year Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a non-contract drill at spring practice that forced him to redshirt for the 2008 season. These injuries would all combine and eventually have a strong impact on his pre-draft image as well.
Lee was bothered by injuries during his time with Penn State, but he still showed enough talent to be selected by the Cowboys in the second round.
In the 2010 NFL Draft, Lee dropped big time because of the major injuries to both his knees in his final two years of college football. Towards the end of the season, Lee saw an increase in playing time, which resulted in big-time performances such as his two-interception game against Peyton Manning and the Colts.
He returned one for a touchdown, and the second pick set up the game-winning field goal. At this point, people began to take note that Sean Lee could be a big-time player.
At the start of his second season in the league, Lee was named the Cowboys' starting inside linebacker and he immediately continued his success. By week three he led the team in tackles and earned NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors, becoming the first Cowboy in franchise history to win the award.
A dislocated left wrist would attempt to slow down Lee's dominant season, but he would opt against surgery and play on. He ended up finishing what was known as the "breakout season" for his career, becoming one of the defense leaders for Dallas and calling all the plays. Lee led the team with 131 tackles and tied for the team lead in interceptions with four.
Lee was everywhere on the field, making big plays such as this interception against the Eagles.
Another odd stat that Lee accomplished was that he became the second linebacker to have ever intercepted both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. An injured right big toe would place him on injured reserve for the 2012 season when he ended up playing just six games.
Again, Lee would bounce back from his injury the following year in 2013, registering 52 tackles and 3 interceptions in the month of October, earning him NFC Defensive Player of the Month.
To continue the pattern of a little success followed by a big injury, Lee wouldn't step on the football field for the 2014-15 season after he suffered a torn ACL during OTAs. That brings us back to today, as he's completely healed and participating in all team activities.
For the first time in his career, Lee is looking to play all 16 regular season games. However, he knew that the torn ACL he suffered in 2014 was bound to happen:
"I played on pretty torn ACL for a couple of years. That's what the main injury was with me coming in. The right (knee) was fine. But when I came back for that fifth year at Penn State, the third game in, I partially tore it. I took off about three games and then played with it. It would shift every once in a while. The further I got away from the injury, the less it would shift. It happened maybe a couple of times a season to maybe once or twice a season. I thought it would be fine and then when I slipped last year the knee went on me. It was a matter of time."
To think Lee was battling these knee problems even throughout his first couple years in the league is not only a testament to his strength and morale, but also to the fact that he can be even better. He missed 18 games with hamstring, wrist, toe, and neck injuries in his first four seasons, yet he was able to record two 100-tackle seasons, come up with 18 tackles for loss and intercept 11 passes.
Lee's looking better than ever at OTAs and is ready to make his return for the Cowboys.
Entering the 2015-16 NFL season, Lee wants to prove that he's more than a player that helps out by wearing a headset and leading players off the field. He knows he'll have to regain his position as a leader on the field, but he is already fired up to be back and healthier than ever.
"I think I'm ready to go, full go," Lee said Wednesday following the team’s fifth voluntary OTA of the off-season. "If I’m out there doing a drill or any part of practice, I feel completely comfortable. I feel like I could play again tomorrow if need be.
"I think anytime with an injury, you never want to skip a step in the progression. You always want to progress properly and that’s what they’re doing for me."
The Cowboys' coaches and athletic trainers are still limiting his work this spring to make sure he doesn't overdo anything in anticipation of his return, but the sight of Lee back on the field doing what he does best is extremely encouraging for Cowboys fans. Head coach Jason Garrett has mentioned that Lee will likely move to the weakside linebacker position, something that will help decrease the chances of Lee acquiring the injury bug.
A position change like that usually causes worry to some, but for people that know Sean Lee, they know it will be a flawless transition. He has impeccable instincts and a high football IQ, and he reads quarterbacks better than most players, using his speed and awareness to cover somebody in front of him or apply pressure.
While there is a lot of positivity surrounding Lee's return, the 28-year-old knows that he still has to go out and prove that he's healthy and can play at a high level. There's a lot of pressure surrounding Lee, but he will once again have the chance to prove the critics wrong and return with a bang to help the Cowboys make a run at the playoffs once again.
Sean Lee may have been forgotten by many football fans, but those in Dallas didn't forget and are surely excited to have him back.