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CB Lee Sharpening His Focus


It's still a little too soon to tell just how much cornerback Pat Lee's performance on the field will improve from his rookie season to his second year. Training camp will be the best barometer there.

But cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. saw a different Lee in the meeting room during the recently concluded offseason program, and that bodes well for the former second-round draft pick's chances of taking a big step forward in 2009.

"His attention has been better, and he's more professional in the classroom," Whitt said early on during OTAs. "He had a little bit of the college lackadaisical style last year.

"But this year you can see (the change) in his whole approach this offseason. The way he asks questions, and the questions that he asks in meetings. His understanding of what's going on is at a higher-detailed level. He's becoming a professional and he's detailing his work."

There are multiple reasons for Lee's more thorough approach. One is simple maturity, as any young player is going to realize that, no matter how dedicated he was in college, playing football in the NFL is a full-time job that requires several hours of work off the field for every hour on it.

Another is the natural growth in understanding the schemes and responsibilities. As a player's knowledge grows and his adjustment to the pro game progresses, he can narrow his focus from the bigger picture to the finer points, and dig into the details more.

But probably the most important factor is Lee's hunger for playing time, which he didn't get much of last year. In a deep cornerback stable that features Charles Woodson and Al Harris as the starters and Tramon Williams as an established nickelback, Lee finds himself among a group including Will Blackmon, Jarrett Bush, Joe Porter and new draftee Brandon Underwood, among others, just trying to get on the field.

During his rookie season, Lee was inactive on gameday for six of the first 10 contests. Then he injured his knee in Week 12 at New Orleans and landed on injured reserve, ending his season.

In all he played in five games, recorded one tackle and broke up one pass -- not exactly the rookie resume he was hoping for. Hence the amped-up desire his coaches and teammates witnessed during film study and the offseason program.

"It's about learning more, and wanting to be on the field more," Lee said. "I have to go out there and get everything right.

"I was down and stuff when I got hurt, but I'm back. I'm just ready. I'm ready to do whatever. I just need to go out there and do my job."

Before he got hurt, a couple aspects of Lee's play belied his youth. First, he was very physical in run support on the edge, a trait he has maintained in his second year. Also, Whitt (who was the defensive quality control coach a year ago) felt the actions and reactions he saw from Lee once the ball was thrown his way were not those of a rookie.

"The best thing that Patrick does is when his back is to the ball, he never panics," Whitt said. "His comfort level was fine."

Whitt sees him quickly getting comfortable with the defense's new 3-4 scheme as well, which requires the corners to play more zone coverage than they have here in the past.

Learning a new defense is nothing new to Lee. He played for three different defensive coordinators - Gene Chizik, David Gibbs and Will Muschamp - in four seasons at Auburn, so even though he was drafted as a press-coverage corner, which defined the bulk of his work his senior year, he has experience with the zone principles the Packers are mixing in as well.

But the bigger hurdle is the competition within the position group for what will likely be, barring injury to one of the top three corners, one role as the sixth defensive back in the dime package. Blackmon appeared to be the front-runner for that spot during the recently completed OTAs and mini-camp, but the competition begins more in earnest in training camp.

"The whole group understands, this is a competitive group," Whitt said. "We have good players at that position, and they all want to get on the field. They all want to play. He understands that, and he understands that if he plays at a level he can play -- he doesn't have to do anything more than he can do -- he will give himself a great opportunity to be one of those guys in the rotation."

{sportsad300}The cornerbacks, whose lockers are all aligned together on one side of the locker room, are a tight-knit bunch who certainly keep the competitive part of things on the field. They're a jovial group often seen laughing and joking around off the field, and that has helped Lee to fit in.

"This year I'm more comfortable with my teammates and stuff," he said. "It's very competitive. All these boys are good. Even though we're close, we're all good. We all compete and try to get on that field."

And that's where ultimately the evaluations will be done - on the field. For all the extra attention to detail and added involvement in meetings and film study, Lee must translate that into on-field performance in training camp to earn a bigger role.

He's off to the right start, but the progress must continue.

"Whoever plays best, I'm going to push to play," Whitt said. "I don't get into who's making what or who's been here. I don't care about all that. The guys that are performing and playing best will play. If he's one of those guys, he'll play. If he's not, he'll sit down and watch with me."

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