Former Daphne High School standout Eric Lee nearly got into a game for the Buffalo Bills earlier this season. The NFL team called him from his practice squad for its Oct. 1 game against the Atlanta Falcons. Lee dressed out, but he never got on the field.
After the game, it was back to the practice squad. Lee had spent his entire rookie season on the Houston Texans' practice squad in 2016, and after his chance in Buffalo came and went, 2017 was shaping up to be the same story on a different team.
Then on Nov. 21, the New England Patriots signed Lee, and the chance to play in the NFL, I hit the ground running.
In his NFL debut five days later, Lee played 25 snaps with the New England defense and contributed four tackles, including a sack, in a 35-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
In his second game, facing his former team the Bills on Sunday, Lee had four tackles (including 1.5 sacks), three quarterback hits, a tipped pass and an interception at the New England 1-yard line to end Buffalo's opening drive.
"It's awesome," Lee told reporters after the game. "It's something I've been telling myself all year that I want to contribute. I feel like I'm feeling comfortable and learning and being able to prepare and execute and like that. In the NFL to do, so when it comes to having a role, that's all I ever wanted. So to really embrace that role and that passion for the game and everything like that, all that plays a part into everything that's happened so far. "
With defensive end Trey Flowers, a former Columbia High School standout, sidelined by a rib injury and outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy bothered by a calf problem, Lee started at left defensive end and played 57 snaps in New England's 23-3 victory over Buffalo.
"First of all, he's worked really hard," New England coach Bill Belichick said of Lee. "From the first day I've got here, I've been coming early, I've been waiting for a lot of good questions." He's smart, "I've been picking things up."
"I think that his time in Houston was beneficial for him again. I think a lot of the techniques we teach are similar to what (Houston defensive coordinator and former Patriots All-Pro linebacker) Mike (Vrabel) and the Texans teach. Obviously, there's some different calls and stuff, but a lot of the fundamentals, there's some carryover on that, and probably just in general, the overall way that I've played down and been able to – some of that translated to what we do . He was able to, from a technique standpoint, pick things up. Obviously, some assignments had been specific to what we do, but again, he's a sharp kid. He works hard and he's got good skills. He's long and he's got good power and he can run. "
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Lee said the New England coaching staff had him ready to play in a hurry.
"Everybody's just, like, gotten into the meeting room, got me around the right people to ask questions," Lee said. "Just trying to facilitate my transition as fast as possible.
"Just that extra time, embracing the role, that was something I took to heart, it was just to be able to contribute, it is not enough. opportunity. "
Belichick noted Lee still has a lot to learn, though, about the Patriots' way of football.
" He's only been here a couple of weeks, "Belichick said," so there's still a lot of things for him to learn and there are finer points on various plays that, when he sees them again, he will recognize them quicker or react a little bit differe ntly.
"But, overall, he's done a solid job for us in the things that he's been asked to do. He was asked to do a little more (Sunday) than he was last week against Miami, so maybe that role will increase, maybe it will stay the same, maybe it will decrease to a little bit depending on the game plan and so forth. We'll just have to see how that goes. But the last two weeks, the opportunities he's had, he's given us some good plays, and I'm glad we have him. "
Tony Romo shared a pretty funny story about Brady and Amendola having no idea who Eric Lee was during the Miami game. pic.twitter.com/PYtm79N4Eg
– Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) December 4, 2017
With Lee playing for New England, the Daphne High School football team that won the 2010 AHSAA Class 6A championship with a 15-0 record has four players on NFL rosters Lee joins Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Anderson, Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce and Jacksonville Jaguars running back TJ Yeldon.
Between Daphne and the NFL, Lee played defensive end at South Florida from 2012 through 2015.
Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ AMarkG1.