Sean Lee had to earn coaches' trust

IRVING, Texas -- The natural reaction after a lightly-used rookie’s breakout performance is to ask what took so long to get the kid on the field.

The answer in Sean Lee’s case is simple, at least as far as the second-round linebacker is concerned. He wasn’t ready to contribute earlier this season.

A series of injuries slowed Lee’s development. He was held out of a lot of drills during spring workouts because the Cowboys wanted to wait to get a brace to properly protect the knee Lee seriously injured two years ago at Penn State. He missed 13 training camp practices and two preseason games with a strained quadriceps. Then he missed two weeks in the regular season with a hamstring strain.

Add in the fact that Lee struggled on special teams early in the season, and he doesn’t blame the coaching staff for keeping him on the sideline when the defense was on the field.

Lee was obviously ready last week. He picked off Peyton Manning twice, returning the first 31 yards for a touchdown, and got credited with nine tackles in the Cowboys’ win over the Colts.

“I needed the reps to develop,” Lee said. “I wasn’t ready early in the season to come in and play consistently. I needed to get in there on special teams and make some plays and prove [myself] to the coaches, get some trust from them. I just worked hard each week. Each week, the confidence has grown.

“Each time I’ve played more and more, I’ve gotten better. That’s what I’m going to try to do the last four weeks.”

Lee, who also made a key play in the win over the Lions by forcing a fumble, said he decided after recovering from the hamstring injury that he wouldn’t worry about how many snaps he gets. He said he never felt any anger toward the coaches because they didn’t give him much of a chance to give starters Bradie James and Keith Brooking a break.

“I felt frustration because I didn’t feel like I was helping the team win,” Lee said. “I wasn’t out there holding my end of the bargain.”

That has changed over the last month. Now Lee looks like the bargain the Cowboys thought they were getting when they selected him late in the second round.