"There was plenty of days where I just would go home and I'd being sitting around and I go, 'Man, I'm sick of this (expletive). I'm really sick of this,'" Lee recalled. "I'd call my mom and I was like, 'Man ...' I'd call my agent and I was like, 'Man, something gotta give. Do something. Anything.' My mom said, 'Just pray about it. Just hang in there. It's not your time yet. Keep working hard and do what you have to do. Don't worry about what's going on.' "
Trying to figure out what he needed to do to get on the field, Lee spoke with his mother again this off-season and she offered more advice to him. "She said, 'You need to be more physical on the field.'"
Lee thought about the advice. Then the third-pro, who had just three catches last year, made a move. Lee marched up to the Packers' video library, checked out some tapes of Green Bay's all-time leading receiver Sterling Sharpe and took notes "just to see how he played the game. I think that helped a little bit, too. Just trying to learn from the guys that have been around and done it."
Lee hit the weights harder than ever before this off-season and voila! Meet the new Charles Lee. At first, he said he gained 17 pounds, which put him at about 222. He was at 215 for the June minicamp, about 10 pounds above his playing weight from last year, but just as fast. He said he would like to play this season at about 210 pounds. In both off-season minicamps he impressed coaches with his aggressiveness and ability to break away from defensive backs' jams near the line of scrimmage.
"He's got a lot of confidence," said Packers wide receivers coach Ray Sherman. "For me, I wouldn't hesitate to put him in a game at all because he's shown at these camps that he's ready to play. Now he's able to overpower defensive backs who try to grab and hold onto him."
Still, Lee is fifth on the depth chart at wide receiver heading into the 2002 training camp. The Packers traded for veteran Terry Glenn this off-season, who has stood out among Green Bay's receivers in the minicamps. Second-year Robert Ferguson will be given every chance to start opposite Glenn and the Packers used the 20th pick of April's NFL draft on Florida State's Javon Walker. Donald Driver, who played well down the stretch for the Packers last year, has been impressive this off-season and will push Walker, and possibly Ferguson for playing time. That leaves Lee in the fifth and final spot.
Unlike the projected top three receivers, Lee is very comfortable with the team's offense. He and Driver are the only players to have caught a pass from Brett Favre in a regular season game. At 6-foot-2, Lee is the second tallest receiver on the team next to the 6-foot-3 Walker. But now Lee is more confident in his abilities, which makes him a darkhorse in the competition to start at wide receiver this season.
"Every year you get a little bit more comfortable," Lee said. "I know the offense back and forth now, so I can play any position. I just want an opportunity to show the coaches and the team that I can be a reliable receiver."
Lee also has been auditioning, along with a handful of other players, as the team's punt returner. The Packers lost Allen Rossum (Atlanta Falcons) via free agency this off-season. Head coach and general manager Mike Sherman has said that he prefers a punt returner who also can play another position. If Lee can meet his coach's wish, he will arrive on game days and see a uniform in his locker.
As the Packers released veteran Antonio Freeman and allowed Bill Schroeder (Detroit) and Corey Bradford (Houston) to leave through free agency, they showed a degree of confidence in Lee and Driver. Sherman still went out and traded for Glenn, then moved up in the draft to get Walker, but Lee and Driver are eager to play and have taken steps to get on the field more this year.
Heading into training camp, Glenn is the only lock to start at wide receiver. Others are penciled in ahead of Lee, but their names can easily be erased.
"When you have an opportunity to play, I think we have great competition at both receiver positions," Ray Sherman said. "That makes it even better. ... I'm excited about the group we have. They're really working well."