Name: Sean Lee
Position: Inside linebacker
Size: 6-2, 245 Age: 25
College: Penn State
Drafted: Second round, 55th overall in 2010
Experience: Entering third season
Contract status: He is halfway through his four-year, $3.49 million rookie contract. Lee’s base salary is $540,000 this season and his cap hit to the club is $840,000.
2011 review: It can be argued that Lee’s impact on the defense was equal to or greater than DeMarcus Ware’s. Lee ended Bradie James’ six-year reign as the team’s leading tackler. Not only did his 131 tackles lead the Cowboys, it was 52 tackles beyond safety Abe Elam, who finished second.
Lee’s incessant study habits paid off. He tied for the team lead in tackles for a loss with eight. He tied for the team lead in interceptions with four. He tied for the team lead in fumble recoveries with two. He tied for third in passes knocked down with eight.
Lee consistently put himself in a position to make plays whether it was the run game or pass game and displayed a natural feel for the position.
2011 grade: A
Outlook in 2012: Lee has established himself as a cornerstone of this defense. Look for him to build on what he did last season and become even more of a vocal leader.
What Lee did last season shows he’s worthy of Pro Bowl consideration. He is a rising star in this league and can confirm that status with another strong season in 2012.
He is the son of Craig Lee and Geralyn Lee of Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania. Lee’s older brother Conor was the placekicker for the University of Pittsburgh and his sister Alexandra was a student athlete at Upper St. Clair High School. Sean is also a grandson of Federal Judge Donald J. Lee of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Lee was a multi-sport star at Upper St. Clair High School outside Pittsburgh, he was a three-year starter at point guard in basketball, averaging 21.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists as a senior, and winning a district title. In football, Lee rushed for 1,240 yards and 21 touchdowns while registering 95 tackles and four picks as a safety for an 11-1 squad his senior year.
A 2005 graduate of Upper St. Clair High School in Upper St. Clair Township, Pennsylvania. Lee went on to play college football at Penn State. Heading into 2008, Lee was a starting outside linebacker for coach Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions for two consecutive seasons. In his junior year he was 2nd team all Big Ten, finishing second on the team in tackles with 138. He had a season high 17 tackles versus Illinois, and registered more than 10 tackles in all but three games. He also had two interceptions and three forced fumbles on the season.
In April 2008, Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a non-contact drill at spring practice. Despite being forced to take a medical redshirt for the 2008 season, Lee’s teammates elected him a team captain that season. While rehabbing, he opted to serve as an undergraduate assistant coach, participating in every practice and wearing a headset on the sidelines during games that season.
Lee was again elected team captain by his teammates prior to the 2009 season.
College awards and honors
- 2007 Alamo Bowl Defensive MVP
- Third-team Athlon Sports pre-season All-Big Ten
- Second-team Sporting News pre-season All-Big Ten Six Nittany Lions Named To The Sporting News’ All-Big Ten Team
- He was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after his effort in the Florida International game on September 1, 2007, and again following Penn State’s 31-6 victory over Temple on September 19, 2009.
- He was named Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week with Ohio State’s James Laurinaitis following his efforts in the Purdue game on November 3, 2007
Prior to the draft, draft analyst Mike Mayock was quoted saying “I wouldn’t be surprised if he snuck in late in the first round. If he doesn’t, I think he’s going to go in the front half of the second round. He’s too good.”
Lee was selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 55th overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft. After the draft, Wade Phillips said that he thought Lee could play both inside linebacker positions (“Mike” & “Mo”) in the Cowboys 3–4 defense. Lee was bothered by nagging injuries in training camp, in doing so failed to see a lot of action on the field.
He did earn NFC Defensive Player of the Week and Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week honors for his December 5, 2010, performance versus Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, in which he recorded the first two interceptions of his pro career—including one he returned for a touchdown, and one in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal.
Promoted to starting inside linebacker in 2011, Lee thrived immediately in new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s scheme. In the opening game versus the New York Jets, Lee intercepted Mark Sanchez to earn his 3rd interception of his career. His key interception of Rex Grossman and fumble recovery in the final minute of the Cowboys’ Monday Night Football game with versus the Washington Redskins were crucial in the 18-16 comeback.
By week three, Lee had a team-leading 36 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, a tackle for a loss, and three pass breakups, earning him NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors. He was the first Cowboys player in franchise history to win the award.
In the 7th game of the 2011 season against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Field, Lee suffered a dislocated left wrist in the first quarter when he hit his hand against Michael Vick’s helmet, but opted against having season ending surgery. After 7 games, Lee lead the team in total tackles with 51, 15 more tackles than the next leading tackler, Gerald Sensabaugh with 36 total tackles. Lee also ranked first on the team with 3 interceptions, the only player on the team through the first seven games with more than one interception. On the eighth game of the season, Sean Lee was inactive due to the wrist injury sustained the previous week.
Lee ended up having a break out season, becoming one of the defense leaders by calling all the plays, leading the team with 131 tackles and tying for the team lead in interceptions (four) and tackles for loss (eight). He also became only the second linebacker to have ever intercepted both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Special contribution: David Moore | Dallas Morning News
First-round pick Morris Claiborne hasn’t been able to practice yet, but his football smarts are showing in the classroom and walk-throughs, secondary coach Jerome Henderson says.
Not to mention the LSU film.
“The tape tells me he’s smart and plays with awareness,” Henderson said after a minicamp practice Wednesday at Valley Ranch. “When I look at tape of the young man, everything about it says, ‘Wow, this guy is really smart. A smart football player. Understands the concepts. Understands his fit within those concepts.’ ”
Which is a contrast to the red flag raised by Claiborne’s reportedly low Wonderlic score at the NFL Combine. The rookie cornerback acknowledged the low score on the aptitude test, but said he didn’t take it seriously because it wasn’t about football.
But the Cowboys say they have seen no evidence of a player who is failing to learn at Valley Ranch.
“He’s clearly a guy who has a good understanding of football,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We use the expression ‘football IQ.’ Everything we heard from the people at LSU who were around him for three years said he was very natural that way. We’ve given him a lot of stuff. It’s particularly difficult for him because he is hearing the stuff, but he not getting to do it. But he’s handling it well. We’ll see when he gets out there practicing, when the bullets are really flying, how well he handles it. But he hangs in there mentally, and I think that has a lot to do with just his understanding of the game. That’s football IQ.”
Garrett said he has noticed how Claiborne studies and how he shadows his position during walk-throughs. It’s all he can do on the field right now until he is fully recovered from wrist ligament surgery.
That should be in time for the start of training camp. When that happens, Henderson hopes Claiborne will be well-versed in the defense.
“He’s got to work harder in the classroom to put himself in those situations where he has to think fast and put pressure on himself,” Henderson said. “I’ve got to do that with him in the meetings, put pressure on him to think fast, create pressure. Because to me, that’s the difference between great players and average players, how they handle stress and pressure. When it’s easy and slowed down, everybody can go out there and function. But when it speeds up and I’m a little tense, a lot of things are going on, how does he handle the situation?
“And again, from what I’ve seen of the young man, I think he’ll be good in those situations. But I try to create them for him as much as possible.”
The Cowboys’ top defensive player, DeMarcus Ware, summed up the offseason in glowing terms for the defense.
He said the players were aggressive and comfortable with the plan.
“When I think about the defense, from last year to this year, it’s sort of like night and day,” he said Thursday at Cowboys Stadium after the final minicamp practice and the last work of the offseason until training camp. “There weren’t a lot of mistakes we were making. Guys were really aggressive, really comfortable. In the defense, whatever Rob called, we were ready for the situation.
“I feel really good about the defense, how things are progressing. Especially the young guys”
The Cowboys will likely have at least four new starters on the defense in 2012 – safety Brodney Poole, cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr and inside linebacker Bruce Carter. Defensive end Sean Lissemore might win a job, too.
“I think it was just a great offseason,” Ware said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement, always. But we’ve gotten a lot better.”
Training camp is scheduled to begin with the first practice July 30 in Oxnard, Calif. Ware said it should be competitive defensively.
“Brandon Carr, Claiborne, a lot of the younger linebackers – defensively, it’s a battle out there,” he said. “You can see those guys and the tenacity that they bring. It’s going to be good.”
In what was the team’s final workout until training camp opens in late July, the Cowboys finished minicamp Thursday with a spirited practice that got chippy at one point at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington
Defensive end Jason Hatcher and running back DeMarco Murray had to be separated following a play in a goal line drill.
The continued extensive chatter from both sides of the ball prompted coach Jason Garrett to call timeout to call things down and remind the players how to practice hard but within reason and within the rules.
Live contact is forbidden during offseason workouts by the NFL.
Garrett’s wants players to “fit up” and work on their assignments and technique rather than go full speed.
“As coaches, you’re always explaining to players what you want the tempo to be,” Garrett said. “You guys hear us all the time. We believe in competition in everything we do. That brings the best out in everybody, but at the same time, you have to understand what kind of gear you have on. If you have helmets and jerseys on, it’s more of a fit-up, technique-type practice.
“Sometimes you have to say, ‘Guys, that’s too fast. That’s too hard. That’s not what this drill is all about.’”
Hatcher said there were no hard feeling and things just got a little competitive.
“Stuff like that brings you closer as a team,” Hatcher said. “You’re competing out there. Nobody wants to lose. At the end of the day, it’s going to carry over to the field. The way we compete in practice is the way we compete in the game. At the end of the day, we’re for each other.”
Since the Dallas Cowboys rookie minicamp ended early in May, safety Matt Johnson has only been able to study his playbook – no reps, meetings or advice from veteran players.
Until Thursday, Johnson was still a college student on campus at Eastern Washington, which didn’t finish classes until this week.
Johnson flew in to DFW Wednesday night and was on the sideline during the Cowboys final minicamp practice.
“It was good to get out there. It was different from seeing it in the playbook,” Johnson said. “It was good to get one practice with the vets before camp.”
The Cowboys drafted Johnson in the fourth round of April’s draft. He missed all of the OTA practices and the first two days of minicamp this week.
“I’m doing as well as I can without being on the field,” Johnson said. “It’s totally different seeing it on the field. I feel like I have a little grip on things. At least I’m familiar with it.”
Johnson, who had 17 interceptions in his college career, has also agreed with the Cowboys on his rookie contract. He expected to sign it shortly after Thursday’s workout.
“It’s great,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t worried about it. I just want to play football.”