Sean Lee has played either middle or weak side linebacker during the first nine years of his Cowboys career.
He’ll complete the position sweep this season by focusing much of his time on the strong side.
“As the game has changed, the standup linebacker positions can be similar at times,” Lee said Wednesday night between home runs at an event to raise money for the Salvation Army. “There are different responsibilities.
“Learning some of those different responsibilities, I’ll be working on (that) and I have great help from coach (Ben) Bloom. And then there will be times when I’ll be in similar positions I’ve been in.”
The move to strong side linebacker is no surprise. Leighton Vander Esch was brilliant as a starter on the weak side during Lee’s injury-plagued 2018 season. Jaylon Smith continues to improve in the middle.
The Cowboys lost their starting strong side linebacker, Damien Wilson, to Kansas City in free agency. It always made sense to move Lee to that spot as the defense strives to get its three best players at the position on the field.
“That’s a dream come true to play with two young guys who love football,” Lee said of lining up alongside Vander Esch and Smith.
“All-Pro players who played unbelievable last year and really willed our team from a tough record early in the season, to snap back and get into the playoffs is really because of those guys, how well they played and the whole group, the whole defense.”
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When it comes to Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee, you know about the talent, the play-making ability. Here are 10 things you might not know about him:
Fortunately for Cowboys fans, Lee didn’t enter into the family business. Lee comes from a family of lawyers, including his grandfather, Donald J. Lee, a former federal judge in Western Pennsylvania who was given a lifetime appointment by President George H. W. Bush. Lee’s father, Craig, and uncles Christopher and Kevin were also lawyers.
His family’s lessons transferred to the field.
“I have a passion for the game,” Lee said. “I want to be on the field no matter what… When I was young I’d go fishing with [my grandfather] The Judge, and he would always preach about how to work hard and what it might bring.
“That’s what I do.”
Though the Lees preferred suits and ties to shoulder pads, that doesn’t mean the family lacked in athletic talent. Sean’s older brother, Conor, was a kicker at the University of Pittsburgh and graduated as the Big East’s all-time leader in field goal percentage at 83.3%. He also never missed an extra point in his collegiate career, making a school-record 113 in a row. In fact, the Lee family patriarch, Craig, said Conor was the better natural athlete, but that Sean’s work ethic is what made him successful.
“Sean was always more tenacious,” Craig Lee said. “You’d tell him to shoot 100 free throws a day, and he’d shoot 200.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett echoes the sentiments. His praise for Lee ranges from “outstanding” and “instinctive” to a “physical leader,” “committed” with “intensity.”
“Guys look to him, not only for the practical part of communication but just the example that he sets each and every day,” Garrett said. “He does that in our building. He does that out in the community. He’s a special guy to have on your team. He’s certainly one of the cornerstone players in this organization.”
Among Lee’s community service endeavors, he teamed with JCPenney to take kids from the local Y on a special holiday shopping experience at the Stonebriar Centre JCPenney store. In addition to a meet-and-greet opportunity, Lee helped the kids select gifts for their families.
He also partners with the Dreambuilders Foundation on programs that serve children and families in need in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Though Lee’s now bulked up to 238 pounds to play linebacker in the NFL, he wasn’t always so big. In fact, Lee played safety in high school, weighing in at just over 200 pounds. He made 95 tackles and had four interceptions as a senior at Upper St. Clair high, and he also ran for 1,240 yards and 21 touchdowns on 187 carries as a running back.