Lee eager to prove himself

James Lee was penciled in as the heir to Gilbert Brown when he was selected in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. But Lee suffered a lower back injury on the first day of training camp and missed the entire season. Lee is back on the practice field, stronger, more mature, and a newlywed. He wants to make one thing very clear to anyone who will listen:<p>

"I want to be a Packer!" Lee said enthusiastically while taking a break from this week's "Opportunity Session" for some Packers veterans and free agents. Lee has a golden opportunity to show that he belongs on the active roster and that he has recovered from a pinched nerve that caused him to missed all but one practice of training camp last season.

With Brown no longer in the picture in Green Bay and Rod Walker in Carolina, Lee could find playing time this season as the backup to veteran Grady Jackson. But he has to clear a number of hurdles.p> "There's so much I've got to prove, especially to these veterans out here that ‘Hey, I'm a guy that wants to play, not just some little soft-hearted guy that got picked up and got hurt,' Lee said. "I'm ready to go out there and show them what I've got, especially playing in a game and let these coaches know ... I want to be a guy that they can rely on."

Lee remained in Green Bay throughout the season and for all but one week this off-season. He recently took a week off to wed Leah Wrask in Arcada, Calif. Aside from the break, Lee has focused on getting stronger and working out the kink that plagued him last July.

"A couple of veterans have told me, 'Hey, you could have gone home and just chilled. You didn't have to do anything, but you stuck around,'" Lee said. "'It might show these coaches that you're taking this seriously.'" Lee has a playing weight goal of 320 pounds. He currently weighs 333, but feels he can shed 13 pounds before training camp begins in late July. He also says that he is much stronger physically and mentally than when he arrived in Green Bay in late April last year.

The Packers are hoping to build depth along the defensive line and Lee still might be the solution.

"He has been in the weight room consistently," Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman said. "I'm excited to see what he can do."

Lee said that he has been working out with wide receiver Carl Ford and cornerback Chris Johnson, among others who have taken part in the team's off-season workout program. Ford and Johnson also are battling back from injuries that forced them to watch the entire season from the sideline.

"We haven't been sitting there with our thumbs up our butts," Lee said. "We've been working out with the strength coach. He's been telling us what to do and that what we've been doing."

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