IRVING -- Sean Lee knows what he wants to be when he grows up: The Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker wants to be the next coming of Ray Lewis.
The Baltimore Ravens linebacker is Hall of Fame-bound, with 13 Pro Bowls, 2,629 tackles, 31 interceptions and 20 fumble recoveries in 227 games over 17 seasons. But it isn't just the numbers.
Lewis is the player everyone in the NFL points to when the question of leadership arises. He is the definition of "leader."
"He's a complete package when it comes to player and leader," Lee said. "He's a lead-by-example guy, but he's also a vocal guy, and he's gained so much respect because of the way he plays, because of the way he leads. That whole franchise has really been shaped by the way he's set the tone. That's a testament to him. They've won a ton of games because of the attitude that he's set."
Lee hasn't played long -- three seasons -- but he is emerging as the Cowboys' leader. It is a role he craves.
His play, along with the departures of the more senior inside linebackers, Keith Brooking and Bradie James, has allowed him to be more vocal.
Lee, 26, is having a Pro Bowl season, with 63 tackles, the team's only interception, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.
"I think in any situation you have to lead by example first," Lee said. "You have to put the work in every single day. You have to put the plays on the field, and then when it's your time, you step up vocally. I think that's a role I'm trying to step into this year, where I've had some playing experience and with the more experience I get, the more vocal I've become."
"I've got great guys on this team to look up to. Guys like [Jason] Witten; guys like DeMarcus [Ware]; and guys who have really helped me along the way. But as I continue to play, I will try to be more and more vocal."
It was only eight months ago that defensive end Jason Hatcher questioned who the Cowboys' leaders are.
This week, Hatcher wasn't interested in revisiting his comments, which included holding up Lewis as the type of leader the Cowboys need.
"We need like a Ray Lewis," Hatcher said in February on ESPN/103.3 FM. "We don't have that. We have talent and everything we need, but if we get like a Ray Lewis, everybody buys into him. When Ray Lewis speaks everybody listens to him, a guy like that."
But there is only one Ray Lewis.
The Cowboys count Ware, Witten, Doug Free, Jay Ratliff and Tony Romo as leaders. The lockers for those players, as well as for Lee, were moved in the off-season, with the six positioned on the ends of the rows of lockers at the three entrances to the room.
But most of the Cowboys' leaders aren't vocal leaders as Michael Irvin was for the team in the 1990s or Lewis is now for the Ravens. Most of the Cowboys' leaders tend to lead by example.
"We have leaders," said cornerback Brandon Carr, who joined the team as a free agent in the off-season. "We have guys who have been here for many years, are established here and have a pretty big voice in this locker room, a pretty big say in what goes on within the confines of the Cowboys. We have guys in place, but at the same time, there's no defined person or totem pole as far as who's the leader. When it's your turn, everybody gets a chance to lead us."
Lee could become the Cowboys' go-to leader. He could be the leader Lewis is for the Ravens, or Drew Brees is for the New Orleans Saints.
Lee is even impressing Lewis.
"The things I have seen of him is that he just runs around," Lewis said on a conference call with the Dallas media. "If you see one Energizer bunny that's on that defense, outside of DeMarcus Ware, it's definitely Sean Lee, man. He's just one of those high-motor guys who's always around the football....I really, really appreciate how he plays the game."
And now that Lee is walking the walk, he can start talking the talk.