Yesterday, I spoke by phone with Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee. He was in Dallas at the 2011 Super Bowl working with Pepsi MAX, the official soft drink of the Super Bowl. You've seen the TV commercial with the Pepsi truck driver doing mock combine drills; so they recreated that experience at the Super Bowl with the Pepsi MAX NFL Experience. Sean was part of the promotion, interacting with fans at the facility and trying his hand at the drills. For the record, he says it was more tiring doing those drills than the actual scouting combine drills, but he really enjoyed meeting with the fans and talking to them. He noted that since the fans of both teams came from cold-weather cities, they had no problem trudging through snow and enjoying themselves in the run-up to the Big Game.
After talking about that, we got into some Q&A about him, the Cowboys, and some of the new coaches. Sean Lee was a great interview as you'll see, he really answers the questions. A couple of things struck me throughout our conversation; one, he's taken Jason Garrett's "practice like you play, stack one great day onto another" philosophy to heart, although I think he already had it before Garrett's ascendancy, Jason just reinforced it for Sean. Two, this guy really gets it, and if his play on-the-field elevates to the level that it can potentially be, we got ourselves a keeper who will become a leader on this team.
Onto the Q&A. Part 1 covers his development from his college days, and his play during the 2010 season. Part 2 (later today), will cover the new coaching regime (including what he's learned from Rob Ryan after meeting with him) and his preparations for the next season.
Blogging The Boys: You were a team captain at Penn State. How did you approach that responsibility? In what ways can a captain help the team?
Sean Lee: I always say, obviously, that the captain needs to be one of the leaders of your team. To be a leader you need to lead in two ways, the first way you start leading is by example. And that's by coming to work everyday, working extremely hard, doing it the right way, and what Coach Garret said, the Cowboy Way, every single day. After you have some success, and as you grow older, you start to become a vocal leader, and filling the role of an older leader for some of the younger guys on the team. So a guy like Keith Brooking, there's a guy who leads by example every day, and he's a guy who has been around and had a ton of success, so he's also a great vocal leader. That's a guy I tend to model myself after.
BTB: How important has Keith Brooking been in your development?
SL: Keith and Bradie James have been instrumental, they really have brought me along, they showed me how you need to work each day. Anytime I have a question about a defense, how we're going to play a certain play the offense is running, they are guys who are bringing me along and really helping me. I owe a lot to those guys and I don't think I'd be developing as well if I didn't have them.
BTB: Talk about the injuries in training camp and the early part of the season. It must have been disappointing for you.
SL: Sure, I mean, the combination of us not playing well, and me being injured, and when I got back I don't think I had gotten enough practice and I wasn't playing well when I first got back. So that was extremely frustrating for me, the combination of losing and me not playing the way I wanted to and dealing with injuries. I just kept my head down, tried to work hard each week, and tried to help anyway I could, I tried to maximize the role I had. I think I got better each week as I got more and more healthy. It's something to build on for next year.
BTB: From watching you play, it did look like you were steadily getting better as the season went on. Obviously you feel the same way. Was it just the injuries, or did the game slow down, did the playbook become easier, what happened that triggered the improvement?
SL: I think it was a combination of me getting healthy, and secondly me getting reps in games, and me being able to practice. I'm a big guy for practicing, I need to practice each week and prepare the right way to be ready for a game. When I got healthy and was able to practice, I put together good week after good week and my confidence started to build.
BTB: The Colts game must have been something very special for you. Can you talk about that game?
SL: Sure. I knew going into that game that I was going to play a lot more. I went into it by practicing extremely hard; thinking just do your job on the field and try to get the win, because it's always tough beating Indianapolis, especially with Peyton Manning. You come out of it with two picks and win it in overtime - for me that was a great game. It's something to build off; for me, I want to have those games every week, and that's something that's going to take a ton of hard work to get to.
BTB: What was the biggest adjustment from the college game to the pro game? Is it really just the size and speed of the players?
SL: Yeah, it's size and speed, it's really just everybody is very good. Whether they're bigger, stronger, faster, they're just better football players across the board. So the room for error ...the attention to detail needs to be so much better because everybody is so good. I always said that a linebacker in college could take a false step and probably make up for it, but here you got to be perfect with the details, and master everything if you want to be really good. Because everybody here is the best in the world at what they do, the starters in this game.
BTB: Playing middle linebacker in the 3-4, you end up in a lot of traffic with the big offensive linemen. How has it been having to take on a guard shooting through to the 2nd-level for a block?
SL: As a linebacker, I always say, that's where you make your money, by getting off blocks. Hitting linemen and getting off blocks. The best linebackers can get off blocks and make plays. So I don't have a problem with it, that's part of the deal, and if you want to be a great linebacker, you need to be getting off blocks.
Part 2 coming later today.
Pepsi MAX NFLX footprint is the size of a full length football field where fans will have the chance to challenge each other in combine-like drills akin to those the Pepsi MAX driver competed in to achieve the Official Soft Drink of the NFL status in recent television ads. As fans enter they will receive a score card to track their performance, which will enable them to win different prizes as they complete the drills:
o Quarterback Challenge - ten chances to throw Pepsi MAX footballs through a hole in oversized soda bottles
o Vending Machine Sled - fans are scored on the amount of time it takes them to drive the sled from point A to B
o Receiving Drill - fans will try to catch a series of passes as they run through the Pepsi MAX dummies
o Driver Delivery Slalom - fans will load cases of Pepsi MAX onto a dolly while run a slalom between tackling dummies, and stack the cases onto a shelving unit as quickly as possible