IRVING -- With linebacker Sean Lee going from trying to play to likely out for Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks and possibly longer with a dislocated wrist, the Dallas Cowboys will lean on nine-year veteran Bradie James to help fill the void.
It has made for a curious return to relevance for James, who has gone from the statistical and emotional leader of the defense to a part-time performer.
James has been in only 187 snaps this season compared with 388 for Lee and 217 for veteran Keith Brooking after leading the way last season with 920.
"Am I getting more time?" James asked rhetorically with a laugh. "I didn't know that. I better go run some wind sprints."
In all seriousness, James has handled his reduced role with class and the proper attitude, like the team captain he is -- asking for work on special teams and becoming a coach on the sidelines.
"That was something I had to accept," James said. "I know guys were looking at me
"I'm a captain so I had to go out there and make sure for the young guys that they go play, make sure they were ready. It's like I was coaching, a coach-player if you know what I mean. It's crazy."
Coach Jason Garrett said James and Brooking have handled the situation very well, as he expected.
"They're committed to this football team, not only in their words, but in their actions," Garrett said. "It is really a tribute to the kind of guys they are in handling the situation, very supportive of Sean Lee in the role that he's had, and now they're going to have more of an opportunity if Sean is in fact out for a little bit. We anticipate them stepping up and doing the job like they've done in the past."
Lee leads the Cowboys in tackles with 73, 34 more than any other teammate. He also leads in interceptions, pass deflections and fumble recoveries.
By contrast, James has 24 tackles in 2011, including three games when he had just one.
"We're going to have to do it by committee, because Sean Lee was balling out of control," said James, who will be helped out in replacing Lee by Brooking and rookie Bruce Carter.
To say James was blindsided when he found out he was going to have to a lesser role this season would be an understatement.
James had led the Cowboys in tackles the past six years.James had started thinking about Darren Woodson's 1,350 career tackles record.
He recorded more than 100 tackles in each of the past six seasons. With 956 coming into this season, James would need a few more at his current pace to threaten Woodson.
But that was before he found out before the season opener that he would be playing a lesser role. The Cowboys did not pull him aside to talk to him about the change.
"I found out like you guys found out," James said. "So you just accept it and roll with it. It's the league. That's all I got to say about that."
James said he didn't see it coming because his role never changed throughout training camp and the preseason.
The irony is not lost on James because he was once in Lee's position when he took over for Pro Bowl linebacker Dexter Coakley. He said he has no grudges against Lee.
James said he has his eyes wide open about his future with the team.
His contract is up at the end of the season and understands an extension is now unlikely.
"The writing is on the wall," James said. "I'm a big boy, a grown man with a family. I know what time it is. I've been around. I've seen it, that's the situation."
James said winning is all that matters at this point in his career.
"My biggest thing is we've been here long enough, I just want to win," James said. "I don't care about whether I continue to lead the team in tackles and this or that. What matters is our legacy.
"We've been here long enough to where we understand that window is closing," James said.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.