SANTA CLARA, Calif. – If Sean Lee's body language didn't make it obvious, his words cleared it up – he's ready to get back out there.
"We need to continue to get better, and we need to get a lot of guys out there – including me," Lee said Sunday night. "I need to get out there and start playing football and getting better."
It's got to be an agonizing wait for Lee, who has been taking small steps toward game action all year. He's medically cleared to return from the ACL tear he suffered in May 2014, but the Cowboys have been cautious throughout the process of upping his workload.
"It's time for me to keep ramping up – and that's the plan they had," Lee said. "I had a load, and we continue to build, and we've done a good job with that. Now it's time – hopefully -- to get in and playing a lot more football."
Lee has been active in practice in recent weeks, and he took part in pregame warmups and walkthroughs before ultimately sitting out of the 23-6 loss to San Francisco.
That was part of the plan. But that same plan should call for playing time Saturday, when the Cowboys host Minnesota in their third preseason game.
"Next week we plan for sure to be ready to go," he said.
That's surely an exciting prospect for Lee, who hasn't played a game since late in the 2013 season. Looking at him in the postgame locker room, it felt more like a requirement – a necessity on a variety of levels.
"I feel great. I feel great. Obviously, I haven't played football in a long time. But I've come back and done a good job in practice," he said. "But that's one thing – taking it to the game is the next step. That's something I need to do."
The Cowboys have another week of practice before Lee can attempt that. Asked if the wait was exciting or perhaps frustrating, he was – predictably – all business.
"It means I've got to put a lot of work in," he said.
Gavin Escobar wound up playing Sunday against the 49ers, but it didn't diminish Geoff Swaim's opportunity to make an impact. The writing was on the wall that Swaim would get some reps even before Escobar suffered a minor head injury. Jason Witten played just one series, and James Hanna is still out with a knee injury.
Swaim made the most of his chance, as he finished the night with five receptions for 57 yards.
"You're either progressing or you're getting worse. I feel like I'm progressing, but obviously I need to get a lot better," Swaim said. "I'm nowhere near where I need to be. That stuff comes with practice and with playing and getting reps."
He got some of those reps in the first half, but Swaim didn't find his way onto the stat sheet until halfway through the third quarter, when he fought off hard contact to make a 20-yard reception.
"Every snap you get, you get more comfortable," he said. "That's just a matter of getting reps and getting plays. Playing in practice is one thing, but the speed of the game when you're in an actual game – it's just different."
Swaim's other three catches waited until the dying moments, with Jameill Showers looking for him frequently – including for a 16-yard gain on a 4th-and-15.
"That growing process is frustrating sometimes, because you want to be your best all the time," he said. "But the realization is you're not going to be your best all the time, but you've got to keep working to be your best."
For all the pre-game concern, the field at Levi's Stadium seemed to hold up just fine to the beating of a professional football game.
It was a plausible problem, given that the 49ers only held three of eight scheduled practices on the field during training camp. Then there was the fact that the stadium was re-sodded as recently as Tuesday, following a visit from Taylor Swift's world tour.
Despite all that, the turf appeared to hold up well. It came out of the game looking no worse for wear, and it didn't pose any big problems during the game – a fact that wasn't lost on Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones.
"I feel terrible that at any point, without coming up here and doing my own grass inspection, that I had any criticism of their grass," Jones said. "If we did a few things as good as they do grass, we'd have a lot better to show here, too."