FRISCO, Texas – Sean Lee is in his 10th NFL season. He's the third-longest tenured player on a young Cowboys roster.
But the 33-year-old feels like he's back at Upper St. Clair, where he starred at running back and safety before moving to linebacker at Penn State.
There's a high school type of camaraderie in this year's locker room that takes Lee back to his Pennsylvania days "growing up with your buddies and playing."
"I feel the same way with this team," he said after Monday's 37-18 win over the Giants. "Any way I can help, any role I can do week in and week out, that's why I came back. That's why I'm here. And whatever that is, I love being part of this team and this organization."
Lee admittedly contemplated his football future after an injury-plagued 2018 season. He ultimately decided to return for a 10th year, chasing a championship with good friend and returning teammate Jason Witten.
He has accepted and embraced a reduced role on defense as the starting strong-side linebacker. In the first six games, he played just over one-third of the defensive snaps. But his playing time and production rose the last two games with Leighton Vander Esch sidelined by a neck stinger.
Lee tied Jaylon Smith with a team-high 12 tackles against the Giants, helping the defense limit Saquon Barkley to a career-low tying 28 rush yards.
"He was out there in space with a big-time runner consistently tackling him to the ground," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "Not only did he tackle him, he knocked him backwards. And that's what we're used to seeing Sean Lee do throughout his career.
"He's a really smart player. He's an incredibly prepared player. He's very instinctive. Just has the capacity to make a lot of different plays and has a positive impact on your team. And he did that (Monday) for us time and time again."
Vander Esch has returned to practice on a limited basis this week, a sign that he might be able to return to the lineup this Sunday against the Vikings.
Lee will be prepared for any role, just like those Upper St. Clair days.