IRVING, Texas – Sean Lee understands where he finds himself now, in a contract year after a season in which he played just six games.
He also knows that two and a half months ago he finally started feeling like himself again, healthy and ready to go after the toe surgery that held him out of the second half of last year. The thought of getting back on the field and playing with his teammates stays on his mind more than the contract that'll be up at the end of the season.
"I would love to be in Dallas," Lee said about his future. "I love playing here for this organization. I love playing for these fans, but for me, I don't even think about it, because I'm so blessed to come out here and play football every day for an organization like this.
"I'm concerned about winning football games. We've been 8-8 two years in a row. We haven't been able to win the big game to get into the playoffs. We have to find a way to be a consistent defense to help us win."
One way for the defense to find consistency is for the personnel to stay consistent.
The divot Lee's absence created after he injured his toe in Week 7 was immediately evident, as the team needed to adjust to a new player relaying the defensive signals in Bruce Carter. A few weeks later, the team lost Carter for the year as well.
"Bruce stepped up in an unbelievable way when I left," Lee said. "He became the guy out there. He was playing well early in the year, but he found a way to play even better. Bruce, we have a ton of expectations for him. I think he can be one of the best linebackers in the league as he continues to improve."
Both Carter and Lee have dealt with the "injury prone" label, coming off college injuries to be drafted by the Cowboys as second-round picks. Both players have also overcome those college injuries to display immense talent when on the field. Despite missing most of the season, Lee still finished tied for second on the team in interceptions and finished fourth in combined tackles.
But neither player has played all 16 games in a season since joining the NFL.
Lee stayed steadfast in his rehab in the offseason to ensure he can do just that after feeling his toe snap and bend all the way back to his foot midway through the year against the Panthers.
"I was pulling my toe and trying to feel it and I really couldn't feel the toe," Lee recalled. "I stayed in one more play thinking the pain would go away. When I went to take a step, I couldn't even feel the toe, and I felt a burning sensation."
That's when he knew he wasn't going to shake it off. He said he was never able to stand up on the toe after the injury, and soon after he knew his season had reached an end after seeing a completely torn ligament on the MRI. He went from linebacker to coach, after being told the surgery would keep him out four or five months.
Lee worked to keep that process on the short end so he could be ready when the 2013 season began. In fact, he's worked since college to do whatever he could to avoid injury, altering his diet and the way he trains. Sometimes, no training can prepare a player for a freak occurrence.
"I think it helped me in a lot of ways, but there're some injuries you're never going to avoid," he said. "I think this toe was one of them. But going forward, I'm still going to go on that same path. I'm trying to avoid injuries, I'm trying to get my body stronger to avoid them."
He's been on the field in full capacity and running full speed during Organized Team Activities and minicamp. He deals with post-workout surgery, which he said comes with any surgery, but he also knew a couple months ago he was going to be fine for the start of workouts and the 2013 season.
Lee said he now feels 100 percent as he [embedded_ad] prepares to switch to the 4-3 defense under the helm of Monte Kiffin. While some players wouldn't want much change entering a contract year, Lee doesn't seem to mind.
"I think you have to prove yourself every practice, every day, every year," he said. "Proving yourself is just something that comes with the job."