Rookie linebacker Sean Lee has wisely latched himself on to the Dallas Cowboys' veteran inside linebackers, Bradie James and Keith Brooking, watching how they train and study and constantly asking questions. He listens intently to linebackers coach Reggie Herring, and pushes himself to the limit of his physical abilities in practice.
But all of that drive got derailed before the Cowboys made it to San Antonio for training camp when Lee suffered a strained quadriceps muscle, holding him out of team drills for about a week. After practice Tuesday, Lee said he finds himself playing catch-up, both mentally and physically, with his teammates.
"I thought it was alright," Lee said of the practice. "I'm still getting back in shape, at least football shape. It was good to get back to the team. Finally being out there, I felt really good. The quad felt good, and I'm excited to move on from here."
Taking the practice field just five days before his team's first exhibition game — the Cowboys officially kick-start the NFL preseason Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Hall of Fame Game — has Lee unsure about whether he'll earn any playing time in the exhibition opener.
"I don't know (about playing Sunday)," he said. "I don't know if they think I've practiced enough to play, but my goal is, if I don't play this week, to definitely play next week against Oakland."
Quad strains are dicey injuries that can linger for a while, and for a player who relies as much as Lee does on continuous running, any discomfort in the leg's strongest muscle group can be debilitating. But the rookie from Penn State said the leg didn't bother him Tuesday.
"I felt good," he said. "They kind of eased me into it, but once I got warmed up, I felt really good."
Lee said that while injured, the discomfort in his leg was multiplied by the fact that he felt like he was missing out on vital time with his teammates as they worked their way through the rigors of two-a-days. Sitting out, he said, was harder than rehabbing the strained muscle in his leg.
"It's tough not to feel like a pansy on the sideline when you're hurt," Lee said. "It's tough to see your team grind through two-a-days and not be a part of it, and to be a part of the team, to build that camaraderie, to be here with the Cowboys — it's great to get back. I've wanted to get back to help those guys.
"That's been the toughest part — seeing those guys who grind it out come to practice every day and work really hard. As a young guy being on the sidelines and not being able to help out — that was tough for me."
Lee said the injury was not a result of a specific play, but rather a result of inadequate self-maintenance, but said that the decision to sit out of practice through the first week was matter of precaution, as the team tried to give him the best possible chance to be ready for the season.
"It's something that happens," Lee said. "I think part of it was I didn't hydrate well between practices, and it cramped — it just went.
"To be honest, if it was a game, I would have been able to play through it. It's just one of those things they wanted to be careful with early in the season."
Lee happy to be back to work
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