August 2, 2011

Cowboys' Lee has what it takes -- if he can stay on the field

Linebacker Sean Lee is a good fit for the Dallas Cowboys despite his injury history.

SAN ANTONIO -- Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee is trying everything to stay healthy. He has adjusted his lifting, stretching, eating and sleeping. He's using a hyperbaric chamber and taking fish oil supplements.

"There's so much I've done ...little details that help you to stay healthy," Lee said.

Now, if only he can get a little luck.

"Yeah, exactly," Lee, 25, said. "At some point, it's football, and injuries happen. But if they do happen, I've always said I know how to come back from them. I've had them."

Lee missed the 2008 season at Penn State when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a non-contact practice drill. He took a medical redshirt and returned in 2009 only to miss three games with a sprained left knee.

If not for his knee injuries, Lee might have been a first-round draft pick. Still, the Cowboys fell in love with him and drafted him in the second round, with the 55th overall pick.

"You hear me talk all the time about the right kind of guys, and we feel like Sean Lee is the right kind of guy," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "Sean Lee loves football. He loves it. He's very passionate about it. He's very committed to getting better each and every day."

But Lee spent as much time in the training room as he did on the practice field as a rookie. He missed 13 training camp practices and two preseason games with a quadriceps injury. He injured a hamstring in the season opener and missed two games. The end of the season was marred by a shoulder injury and a concussion.

Lee, though, needed only one game to show the Cowboys what he is capable of when he is healthy.

He intercepted two Peyton Manning passes in a Dec. 5 game against the Indianapolis Colts. Lee returned one 31 yards for a touchdown. The second led to the game-winning field goal in overtime as the Cowboys upset Indianapolis 38-35.

"That Colts game, things just came together," Lee said. "I was feeling good that day and had a good game, but I need to build on that. That's something I've got to take from last year, and I've got to do it every single game, and I've got to start from the beginning of the season and all the way through. A big part of that is staying healthy."

Keith Brooking, the veteran Lee one day will replace, has played in 160 consecutive regular-season games. Ironically, it is a hamstring injury that has Brooking out of the starting lineup, at least for now, and Lee in it.

Brooking's 14-year career got off to a similar start as Lee's with a quadriceps injury his rookie season. Brooking also missed most of his third season, requiring surgery to repair a Lisfranc ligament in his foot. He has been incredibly durable since, with the second-longest active consecutive games played streak among linebackers.

"The comparisons were there from the beginning as far as the way I was when I came into the league," Brooking said. "We are very similar in a lot of ways. I think it's just something that you have to learn, and hopefully he will. Some of it is just being at the wrong place at the wrong time, being unfortunate. It's not for a lack of strength or preparation, because he takes very good care of his body. That's part of it as well.

"He was a little snake-bitten his first year, but he seems like he's healthy now and feeling good, and hopefully he can continue on that path."

Soon after the Cowboys hired Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator and Matt Eberflus as linebackers coach, and before the four-month lockout began, Lee showed up at Valley Ranch seeking videos of the Cleveland Browns' defense. He wanted to study how Ryan and Eberflus used their inside linebackers last year in Cleveland.

Eberflus, who got to know Lee during the draft process in 2010, wasn't surprised.

"I had the opportunity to interview Sean Lee coming out of Penn State," Eberflus said. "I do a little test with the linebackers, and you could see he wanted to get everything right. He got 39 out of 40 questions correct, and he was upset he missed the one question.

"He just wants to work. He's one of those guys, come early, stay late, gym-rat kind of guy. That's exactly what he is. I'm sure he's been that way his whole life. He wants everything to be done right in the right way with the right intensity."

Lee also wants to stay healthy, but there are no guarantees of that.

"Everything I can control I've done, so we'll see what happens," he said.


The Cowboys released wide receiver Jeff Moturi and defensive lineman Lawon Scott on Tuesday. They also claimed defensive tackle Jimmy Saddler-McQueen off waivers and signed undrafted rookie kicker Kai Forbath.

Charean Williams


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