FRISCO, Texas – Whether it's the playoffs or pad-less June OTA practice, Sean Lee's intensity level never, ever seems to drop.
Exhibit A: late in Wednesday's team drills, wide receiver Brice Butler came down with a contested ball near the right sideline. The official at practice ruled the play a catch.
The Cowboys' defensive sideline exploded in dispute. Lee led the protest, screaming that Butler had pushed off.
"Listen, it gets competitive out there," he said afterward. "Coach (Jason) Garrett preaches we've got to attack every single day with a sense of urgency. That's something that's been ingrained in this team and I think that's what's going to push us to get back and be the type of team we want to be."
Lee always carries a steel focus to the field, even when he's not involved in a play. Or even an entire practice.
It's been a productive offseason for the All-Pro linebacker despite a restricted OTA practice schedule. He and longtime tight end Jason Witten haven't practiced three straight days by coach's design: to preserve their veteran legs for the long haul into the fall and winter.
"It's always been a fight to get them out of an individual play, let alone a practice," Garrett said. "But you sit down with them and you talk to them. We're doing this to help them and to help our football team. I think they understand that and they can have a really productive day even when they don't practice."
Entering his eighth season, Lee sees the benefits of a deliberate approach more than ever.
This is the first offseason since 2012 where he hasn't undergone surgery or been working his way back from a serious injury that required surgery.
In 2013, he was coming off a season-ending toe injury. In 2014, he tore his ACL on the first day of OTA's. In 2015, he gradually increased his workload coming off that knee injury. Last April he had his knee scoped.
"It's nice to feel good this time of year," he said. "I think we're working the right way. I'd like to get out there a little more, but we have a good plan for me and I feel great.
"It's tough. As a leader, you want to be out there. You want to be able to apply your leadership and you always want to be able to share the sacrifice with your guys. That's the emotional part that you miss when you're out there. But I think there's the smart part of us taking our time. We've had this game plan the last two years and it's really worked. And we're making sure that we peak in season, peak in camp and we're ready to play a long season."
Lee played 15 of 16 regular-season games last year – his highest total since 2011 – and was rested in the season finale with playoff homefield advantage already clinched.
He credits the Cowboys' staff for his ability to stay on the field, even though working smarter might sometimes conflict with his competitive temperament.
"I've had so many people around me – the trainers, the coaches, (associate athletic trainer/director of rehabilitation) Britt (Brown) – they've all really helped me come up with a game plan, stick to the game plan. And it's made me a better football player and it's kept me healthy.
"I think when I was young, I wanted to be part of every drill, win every drill, make every tackle. Right now there's a process getting ready for the season. I think I've done a better job of listening to the trainers, listening to Britt and following that game plan."