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Why is Buccaneers wide receiver Charles Lee on the sideline instead of on the field this season?

That’s a question a lot of pundits, Bucs fans and even Lee want answers to, and rightfully so. The Bucs do, after all, have the NFL’s 26th ranked offense and are in desperate need of help at the wide receiver position due to the injuries suffered by Joey Galloway, Joe Jurevicius and Edell Shepherd, and because of Keenan McCardell’s holdout.

As you will recall, Lee was released twice by the Bucs last season before re-signing with the team on October 7 and eventually working his way into the starting lineup after disgruntled WR Keyshawn Johnson was deactivated for the final six games and Jurevicius was placed on injured reserve.

The 6-foot-3, 227-pound Lee used his size and speed to catch 33 passes for 432 yards (13.1 avg.) and two touchdowns as Tampa Bay’s split end (X) receiver in 2003. Despite playing only half of the season, Lee’s reception total ranked fourth on the team.

In an offense that lacked big-play ability throughout most of the season, Lee turned in several splash plays of his own, including five catches of 20 yards or more (53TD, 20, 72, 22 and 20).

Despite making those big plays toward the end of the last season, the Bucs went out and added a plethora of players to their wide receiving corps during the offseason, including Galloway, Bill Schroeder and rookie WR Michael Clayton.

Several sources told Pewter Report back in May that Lee had let his short-lived success go to his head a bit and was not welcoming a role on special teams, which is required of all receivers that aren’t starters, with open arms.

“I hope not,” Lee said when asked in May if he felt the need to make a significant impact on special teams this season in order to earn a roster spot. “If that’s the way they feel then that’s the way they feel, but I hope not. I really just want to come in and make my mark at receiver. Those are my plans and that’s what I intend to do.”

You can read that particular Pewter Insider article in its entirety by clicking here.

So is it Lee’s lack of interest in playing on special teams the reason he’s not seeing the grass on Sunday? Or Perhaps the fact that Lee, 26, has started just six of the 33 games he’s played in during his five-year career, would help explain why he’s not seeing as much action as he would like.

No one is sure why Lee isn’t getting more playing time, especially with the wide receiving corps without Galloway, Jurevicius and McCardell. According to Lee, he’s not sure why he’s not getting more playing time, either.

“I think that’s what’s most frustrating to me, not getting an explanation and not having answers brought to me,” said Lee. “All I know is I put all of this work in during the week and am slated to be the starter and then don’t get any playing time. It’s frustrating from the standpoint of not knowing where I stand. I just want to do anything and everything I can to help this team. I’m not getting an opportunity to do that, and that is what’s most frustrating to me.”

It’s not that Lee isn’t seeing the field at all. After being inactive for Tampa Bay’s Week 1 contest in Washington due to a hamstring injury, Lee started at the split end position in Week 2 against Seattle. He even came up with a huge 35-yard catch in-between two defenders in the fourth quarter of that contest.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden had suggested Lee was having a good week of practice leading up to that game, but Lee said he approaches every week of practice the same, which makes his lack of playing time that much more frustrating.

“Every week it’s the same thing,” said Lee. “When I go out on the football field I compete. Why am I not playing? I don’t know.”

As for a role on special teams, Lee seemed to have a change of heart since the last time he was asked about it. Lee said he is willing to do whatever it takes to get on the field and help his team win, but that’s sometimes difficult to do when you’re not really sure what the team wants you to do.

“Anything I’m asked to do I’m going to do,” said Lee. “When they want me to play special teams I play special teams. When they want me to play offense, I play offense. If they want me to play defense, I’ll play defense. Whatever my role is — just let me know what my role is so I’m not continually guessing what my job is.”

In Oakland, Lee received very little playing time. According to Lee, he got on the field for just three plays on offense.

“I don’t count the last snap of the game, or the last 10 seconds,” said Lee. “If I don’t count that play, then I got on the field for two plays. You tell me why that is.”

Lee said his inquiries about his lack of playing time to Gruden and Bucs wide receivers coach Richard Mann have produced no answers.

“I’ve asked,” said Lee. “That’s what bothers me most — not having any answers for me or answers that tell me why. I don’t feel like I need to continually go to the front office and continually go to Jon and ask.”

But there’s always two sides to every story. In this case, the Bucs’ explanation for why Lee is not receiving more playing time was simple and to the point.

“He’s hurt,” Gruden said of Lee. “He has not practiced back-to-back days. He had a lingering hamstring problem Wednesday and Thursday (last week) and we didn’t feel he was ready to go. We didn’t want him to have another set-back. We had already lost Frank Murphy; we’re running out of guys. For that reason, he has not played an awful lot yet. If he finishes tomorrow like he did today, you’ll see more of him. But we’re not holding him out for help. We need his play; we need him on the grass. But if we rush him back and lose him, we might be putting in the wishbone here soon.”

Lee missed practically all of training camp and three of Tampa Bay’s four preseason games with a severe hamstring injury. That injury nearly cost Lee a 53-man roster spot, but the fact that the Bucs were depleted at the receiver position heading into the regular season convinced the Pewter Pirates that keeping Lee was the right thing to do, especially since the receiver was starting to show more consistency in practice.

“I’d say he’s better now than he’s been in the past in terms of his attitude and conditioning,” said Mann. “That said, he was out for a long period of time in camp. He’s gotten back on track. He tweaked his groin a little last week, but he’s back on track.

“When you lose there’s always going to be people who are not satisfied. I think we’re at a point in time where he just has to wait his turn. We’re going to try and work him in a little more this week. We’re beat up and we’re battered, and with that comes change. Hopefully he’ll get the opportunity to work in there more than he did last week.”

Although Lee’s comments suggested he had no idea why he was not playing more in games, his inability to go through a full week of practice is probably the answer he’s looking for, or perhaps the one he doesn’t want to hear.

“He’s talked to me about it and I know he’s not happy about it, but there’s a lot of us that aren’t happy with what’s happening to us right now,” said Mann. “He tweaked his groin last week. That said, hopefully he can get through a whole week of practice.”

Gruden is a big practice guy. He’s said before that if a player can’t execute a play consistently in practice then there is very little chance that he’ll ask them to run it in a game. In Lee’s case, he hasn’t shown Gruden that he’s healthy enough to make it through an entire week of practice, so the head coach isn’t about to reward his receiver for that feat by plugging him into the starting lineup on game day.

The Bucs don’t seem to be bothered by Lee’s comments. They actually welcome his hunger for playing time.

“If he didn’t want to play I would think something was wrong with him,” said Mann. “That’s the attitude we want.”

If Lee can make it through this week without any setbacks, he could start in place of WR Bill Schroeder, who hauled in four passes for 126 yards and one touchdown, or at least receive some significant playing time, against the Denver Broncos. If he can’t, you might not see him at all. The Bucs are hoping it is the former rather than the latter.

“We’ve got to stop this bleeding,” said Mann. “Hopefully Charles will get an opportunity to help us stop it.”

This story is intended to be read by PewterInsider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on Buccaneers merchandise in the world.

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