Mac Engel

‘There is no question my role is less.’ But Sean Lee knows he can still contribute

While teammates Antwaun Woods, Tavon Austin, Xavier Woods and Michael Gallup are all out with various lengths of time with a variety of ailments, the player often called Mr. Glass remains Unbreakable (I did not intend to go the M. Night Shyamalan route but it works here).

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee is 2-for-2 in games played and games started.

Hate to admit this but... I had the under.

We are two games into the return of Jason Witten, who, by now, Russian scientists admit, will out live cockroaches.

We are also two games into what appears to be the final year for Lee, who never retired, although he pondered the scenario after last season.

While Witten just catches touchdowns, Lee has become the forgotten father figure; he is an elder-statesmen and part-time contributor.

“I’m the same person and [try] to be the same leader, but there is no question my role is less now,” Lee said, “You change. You morph. From a leadership standpoint, I’m the same. From a preparation standpoint, I’m the same. It’s a ton of fun coming to work every day.”

It is one thing to say you are OK with a reduced role, and quite another to live it. And mean it. Lee is 33, and he is a veteran who knows this is it. So Lee enjoys it all, however much or little there is.

There were signs of this last season, when then-rookie Leighton Vander Esch essentially took his spot.

In the Cowboys’ playoff loss against the Rams in L.A., the team opted to try Lee over LVE as the defense was routinely run over. Every Cowboys defensive player that night was a big box of bad.

After the game, Lee admitted he was unsure if he wanted to return for this, his 10th NFL season.

“I am thrilled that I came and am a part of this,” Lee said. “I felt we had a lot of guys who were building towards something, towards a championship. When I came back in the offseason, it was around March or April, and I remember leaving the building one day and I realized how special this group is and how lucky I am to be a part of it. That’s what drives me.”

Lee has started both games this season but has taken just 23.7 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. He used to be an every-down defender.

Once one of the most sure, and feared, tacklers in football, Lee has three this season.

Because the Cowboys prefer to go with an extra defensive back most plays, and use two linebackers, Lee is a role’s role player.

Anybody who watched the behind-the-scenes series on the 2017 Cowboys’ season, produced and distributed by Amazon Prime, “All or Nothing,” saw how much Lee brings beyond the field.

At many points in that documentary series, Lee was caught on camera essentially coaching the coaches on what the other team was doing. That wasn’t for the cameras.

Lee is likely a candidate to coach when his career is over more than Witten.

“Absolutely I think I can still help us as a football player. That is Step 1; I can still make plays,” Lee said. “My role has changed, obviously, but I think I am still a player who is building to get better. That’s what I want to be and how I want to help.

“After that, it’s the leadership and the experience and to help young guys.”

None of this evolution is sad other than of the many good to great players who have come through the Dallas Cowboys in the last 10 years, Lee will never be celebrated for just how good he was.

Lee was wasted on some average teams. And his battles to stay healthy could be an Amazon Prime series of its own.

For a player who has fought so hard through injuries and pain, it would be nice to think the last chapter of Lee’s career could be titled, “Unbreakable.”

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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