Lee, who redshirted in 2003, saw limited duty in 12 games last season. In spring training earlier this year, Lee looked to be improved, but didn't give any indications he would seriously challenge for a starting job.
Patrick Lee has found that being bigger, stronger and more serious about football has its rewards.
However, the sophomore used the offseason between the end of spring drills and the start of preseason practice to get more serious about being an Auburn football player. That hard work paid off as he has been named a starter for Auburn's Saturday night season opening game vs. Georgia Tech.
The six-foot, 200-pound defensive back says he decided to get intense about training in strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall's program. "Going through Yox made a difference," Lee tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I went through the program real well this year and he was talking good about me."
Lee notes that he added seven pounds of muscle in the offseason while also improving his overall conditioning. "It was very important to be in good shape for preseason practice because a lot of the days have been really muggy and really hot," he says.
New defensive coordinator and secondary coach David Gibbs has been consistent in his praise of Lee throughout the preseason. "Pat Lee has done a lot of good things in practice," Gibbs says. "He has definitely been improving for us."
Lee says his improvement has been more than just physical. "I know the plays a lot more than I did last year," he says. "Basically, that is a big difference in the way I am playing now compared to last year."
Those changes have pushed him to the top of the depth chart at cornerback even though there is significantly more competition for playing time this August than there was last year. "There are a lot of good guys I am going against," Lee says. "It is hard, but it is fun at the same time. There are like 12 good players out there competing for the starting jobs."
Lee says having Gibbs as his new position coach is different than playing for Gene Chizik, who left after the 2004 season for the University of Texas. "There is a lot of difference between them because Coach Gibbs is such an active coach," Lee notes. "He is really into it a lot. Coach Chizik was more laid back, but he knew what he was talking about, too."
Patrick Lee (20) works against Jonathan Wilhite in practice.
Gibbs is challenging his cornerbacks to be strong and physical on the field and be mentally strong, too. Lee says he appreciates that. "I like the style of play. It also shows you how tough you are. With Coach Gibbs we have a lot of different stuff going on back there in the secondary so it is very important that the cornerbacks and the safeties work together."
Looking at the big picture on defense, Lee says he is encouraged with the opener coming up this Saturday at 7:45 p.m. CDT vs. Georgia Tech in a game that will be nationally televised on ESPN. "We are coming along real well," he says. "We have a whole bunch of speed this year. Everybody on our defense can run and everybody is getting to know what we are doing. Also, I have seen a lot of the freshmen coming on, too."
Auburn and Georgia Tech have played 91 times, dating back to 1892. Auburn holds a 47-40-4 edge in the series.l