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Lee Eager For Fresh Start


Packers defensive tackle James Lee carries with him a reminder in the form of Chinese letters tatooed on the inside of his left forearm that translates to 'Patience is a virtue.'

He says he got it because of all the turmoil that he had to overcome throughout his collegiate football career. Little did he know at the time, that tattoo would help get him through his first season in the NFL, too.

Lee came to the Packers from Oregon State, but before he got there he spent two seasons at the College of the Redwoods in Eureka, Calif., earning second-team All-America honors his second year.

In his final game there, Lee suffered tears to both his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. Those injuries, plus a mishap that forced Lee to miss the first 10 days of OSU's training camp when a former professor failed to turn in a grade, slowed Lee's transition to Division-I.

Out of shape and falling farther behind, a demoralized Lee took shots from coaches and teammates about his weight and work ethic. And one season later he responded by showing up to OSU's camp in the best shape of his life.

Working his way up the depth chart, he played a vital role on a talented defensive line that ranked second in the Pac-10 Conference in 2002, and solidified his draft potential at the 2003 NFL Combine by posting a 4.88 in the 40-yard dash -- faster than most defensive tackles and several linebackers.

The performance -- along with a phone call ensuring GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman of his willingness to adhere to the team's strict training guidelines -- provided enough insight into Lee's potential to convince the Packers to take him in the fifth round of the 2003 draft.

Ecstatic about his future NFL career, Lee nearly hyperventilated during a conference call with the Green Bay media shortly after his selection.

But the hits just kept coming when an NCAA rule kept Lee and first-round draft pick Nick Barnett on the OSU campus and away from the Packers' June mini-camp while classes were still in session.

Armed with detailed nutritional training regimens and video playbooks provided by the Packers, Lee finally joined the team for training camp in July before turmoil would strike again and his patience would begin to wear thin.

"It was a pinched nerve," Lee said about the injury that ended his playing chances last season. "It was just bad timing. I tried to keep playing but just couldn't because of the pain. The doctors said just let it rest and by the time it would have been able to heal it was too late, so they put me on injured reserve."

Frustrated about having to watch the remainder of training camp and the entire season from the sidelines, Lee considered the alternative.

"No one wants to be put on IR," he said. "But no one wants to get cut either. When that happened and I finished my rehab, which took about six weeks, I just started working out."

Following the injury, Lee chose not to return to his home in Salem, Ore., but instead remained in Green Bay, working with trainers and strength and conditioning coach Barry Rubin.

"I can't say enough about James, because he stayed here the whole season and was in here every single day working out," Rubin said. "It was like an entire offseason program that he went through and in doing that, you can make significant gains. And James has definitely made gains."

As for why he decided to stay near the team, Lee said the answer is simple.

"There's really nothing better to do if I go home except maybe get into trouble or cause some mischief," Lee said. "It's better for me to stay out here and it will probably better my chances by working out and staying in shape and coming into mini-camps prepared and ready to go."

Lee's in-season training efforts have carried over to the offseason, where he and fellow wide receiver Carl Ford -- also placed on season-ending injured reserve during training camp -- can be found in the Packers' weight room at almost anytime.

"We push each other every day," Lee said. "We've made some strides in the weight room and we both just really want to get out on the field and show people what we have to offer to this team."

With official offseason workouts not beginning until March 22, Lee and Ford will have a distinct advantage when the team reunites.

"They'll have a six or eight week head start when the offseason workout program begins," said Rubin. "They've both done a good job and I think it will pay off for them. I'm pulling for both of those kids to do really well."

For Lee, the preseason can't get here soon enough.

"My girlfriend is always telling me, 'Look at your arm. That's why you got that tatoo. Just be patient and you'll get your chance,'" Lee said.

"I can't wait until it's my turn."

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