Dallas Cowboys

Q&A: Sean Lee on Amari Cooper, playing less, and being the old guy in the room

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee looks across the line of scrimmage during last week’s 20-17 loss to the Washington Redskins. It was Lee’s first game back after missing the previous three weeks with a hamstring injury.
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee looks across the line of scrimmage during last week’s 20-17 loss to the Washington Redskins. It was Lee’s first game back after missing the previous three weeks with a hamstring injury. AP Photo

Sean Lee is far from an old man, but in an NFL locker room, especially the Dallas Cowboys’ locker room, he might as well be sipping coco in a rocking chair.

Lee, who turned 32 in July, is the oldest player on the Cowboys’ roster besides 37-year-old long snapper L.P. Ladouceur. And except for defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford, who turns 30 next month, the defense won’t have anyone else over the age of 28 by season’s end.

How did you feel after returning to the field last week?

I feel great physically. I was happy I was able to get back. The trainers did an incredible job working with me, helping me get back. I felt great coming out of the game. No issues. Now I’m trying to build some momentum. Hopefully, I can do that down the stretch here for the rest of the year.

What do you think of the trade to get Amari Cooper?

Incredible football player. Great guy. He’s a guy we’re going to embrace and we’re excited about and it’s going to be fun playing with him. When you have guys like Zeke [Elliott] who can run the football and then you have a one-on-one guy on the edge, a guy like that who is a dominant football player, [defenses] really have to pick how you want to game plan a team. It becomes very, very hard to take away both of them at the same time. So having that just gives us more options.

Is adding Cooper a lift for the whole team?

I think our focus is looking more at ourselves. We have to find a way to stack games together. I look at us defensively and I think we’ve done some things well but we can take that next step and make more plays, have more turnovers. That becomes more of the focus than the overall moves like that. And I think that’s the only way to get out of this hole and get better.

You’re still in the hunt in the NFC East. Does that give you hope?

It is close. We still have a lot of season left. We have to start winning those close games. If we want to win the NFC East we have to win close games in the division like [last week], make more plays down the stretch to really help us. Everything is ahead of us with the conference being tight. Two or three games were really close and we didn’t win. If we can win those games we’re in a great position right now so let’s find a way to win those games.

Do you feel old relative to the game you play?

Certain days. Mentally, I don’t. But then you look in the room and see guys 10 years younger than me. There is that back and forth. I love playing. I think my passion has grown even more as I play more. I’ve always loved the game but when you get to the end you realize how special it is to have opportunities when you get later in your career. Any time I’m feeling old I’m ready to battle through that. Just the young guys in my room and guys on the team. It’s something I’m trying to do now and pass it to the young guys.

How has your view of the game changed from your rookie season in 2010?

That’s part of being blessed being able to play football for a living and to get paid the way we do, I’ve always found it absurd. It’s a dream to be able to do something I love but to also get paid this way. So I come to work every day understanding how blessed I am and knowing every time I can step on the field is unbelievable. I try not to take it for granted because of how lucky I am. I was just going game to game at first [as a rookie]. You start to get comfortable and realize you can help this team win and then the goal is the Super Bowl. Winning the Super Bowl, for me, is what I’ve always wanted and dreamed of being a part of a great team like that. We’re still chasing that.

Are you surprised how well cornerback Byron Jones has played?

I’m not surprised, with how much work he’s put in. You should have seen him this off-season. Constantly on the field, constantly running, lifting, working on his technique, buying into everything. We saw it in the spring. We knew it was a matter of time for him.

You’re fine with playing less as part of a rotation with Vander Esch and Smith?

Absolutely, especially when you have guys who are so talented and good like they are. You dream of a being able to play with great football players. And me getting a rest so I can be more fresh throughout the game and play more games, I’m all for that. Just being part of a great group, not only in my [linebackers’] room but defensively. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of so I’m ready to do that.

How were you influenced by the veteran linebackers when you were a rookie, including Bradie James and Keith Brooking?

Those guys were nothing but unbelievable to me and helped me along the way. And that’s what’s great about [Smith and Vander Esch.] They listen, they work hard, they’re everything you’d want from a character standpoint so, for me, it’s been fun. Whatever it takes to win. Now that we have these young guys who can play really well let’s figure out how to be great together.

You played less in your first game back against the Redskins. Did that help you?

I felt great in the fourth quarter. There’s a balance but when you have guys who you respect and can play great then it’s not an issue. I think we’re all guys who can help us win football games. When I’ve been out [before], the hardest part is when you think you could help your team and [the replacement] is not doing as well.

Is acquiring Amari Cooper a sign that the front office expects to win now?

I don’t know what their views are. But we’re a team who thinks we can win.

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