OXNARD, Calif. – Feel sorry for Sean Lee if you must, but he's certainly way past that stage.
In fact, he's already thinking about returning once again – this time from a torn ACL injury he sustained back in May.
Lee will miss the entire 2014 season but it's not too early to plan for his return. What helps him in that process is being around the team here in training camp, in his attempt to stay as engaged as possible.
"When you disconnect, it's hard to stay positive," Lee said Tuesday, the first time he's public commented since the injury. "Just staying around the guys and going through the process, not only is it going to give me another year of football mentally under my belt but it's also helping me stay positive."
Like all players, Lee has questions for his teammates, his coaches and even himself. But you won't find him asking 'why me?'
"I don't like that question. From an adversity standpoint in the real world, I'm not dealing with much," Lee said. "So for me to sit and pout when there's other people dealing with adversity that's a lot worse, what I call like real world adversity, there's no room for that. It only makes you worse. It only makes your rehab slower. So on that standpoint, I can't even go there. Why me? Because there's a lot worse out there. I know how to handle this. I know how to come back from this injury. You just have to deal with it. You take it on the chin and you figure it out."
No one has to tell Lee how injury-prone he's been. Lee is not only out this season, but he's missed 18 games in four years, including five last year with a neck injury and 10 the previous year with a dislocated toe. In all, Lee has yet to play a full 16-game season.
Still, Lee isn't discouraged about returning next year better than ever.
"I think I'll come back completely healthy," Lee said. "Now, the question is, can I stay out there? That's something that obviously I'm hopeful for and I'm going to do everything I can do to do that and control everything I can. But at the end of the day, there's situations that you might not be able to avoid. I'm not going to stress too much about that end. I'm just going to do what I can do."
What he can do, is what he's been doing. And that includes being in the position rooms like every other player.
"I'm basically at the morning meetings, at the night meetings and in between that I'm rehabbing all day," Lee said. "I'm spending a lot of time trying to get this leg to work right, which takes time. It's tedious work every single day and that's over eight months and that's really how you come back from it and be effective."
And if he felt like it was safe enough to be on the field during practice, Lee would likely be there as well. [embedded_ad]
"I don't think there's a point for me to be out here," he said. "At this point, I can't move around well enough to avoid anything if it comes my way and my main help would be being around at the meetings, being around in between if I need to meet with young guys in case coach (Matt Eberflus) might not be able to. That's where I can help the team in some ways."
Not that he didn't already have the respect of his head coach, but Lee's attitude is one of the things Jason Garrett loves the most about his veteran linebacker.
"He's completely engaged. He's always been completely engaged," said Garrett, who shared a story about Lee visiting with Eberflus last year when he's been on IR yet still going over the weekly game plan. "That's the approach he's taking with our football team now. He's on the flight, he's in every meeting. He's doing his rehab to get himself ready. But he's completely integrated with our football team. I can't think of a better guy to be in that role."
Of course, when asked if Lee thinks of himself as a coach, he wasn't exactly ready to go there.
"Yeah, a little bit like a coach, but I feel more like a teammate," Lee said. "I feel like a guy who is here supporting his teammates and trying to help any way we can, because I want a championship in the worst way, to be part of a championship team. Like I said, the role's not what I necessarily wanted it to be, but it's still a role and I'm still blessed to have that role."
Even if it means he trades a helmet for a cap and shoulder pads for a sweatshirt. For this year at least.