Tampa Bay wide receiver Charles Lee isn’t happy with his role in head coach Jon Gruden’s offense, and he spent the open locker room session at One Buccaneer Place Wednesday letting the media know about it.
Lee, who has caught 15 passes for 207 yards in seven games (three starts), was inactive for last Sunday’s game against San Francisco, a contest the Buccaneers won, 35-3.
That’s not the first time Lee has been inactive this season. In Week 1, Lee was inactive for Tampa Bay’s game against Washington. However, Lee’s status for that game was a result of a severe hamstring injury that forced him to miss most of training camp and three of the Bucs’ four preseason contests.
Lee has seen limited playing time in other contests this season, including the Week 3 game against Oakland where he got on the field for less than a handful of plays. According to Gruden and other team sources, Lee failed to make it through a full week of practice due to a groin injury he sustained earlier in the season, which led to their decision to limit his playing time.
However, the Bucs’ decision to deactivate Lee for Sunday’s game against the 49ers was not injury related, according to Lee.
“I’m frustrated,” said Lee. “If [an injury] is what it’s called then it’s an excuse.”
Lee was released twice by the Bucs last season before re-signing with the team on October 7. He eventually worked his way into the starting lineup after disgruntled wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was deactivated for the final six games and Joe 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 2003 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 year, the Bucs went out and added a plethora of players to their wide receiving corps during the offseason, including Joey Galloway, Michael Clayton, Tim Brown and Bill Schroeder.
“I’ve been shown no respect,” said Lee. “It’s obvious, when given the opportunity, I’ve been able to take care of business when I get in there and doing some of the things I’m capable of doing. But I’m certainly limited to a certain degree when I’m in there. For whatever reason, it isn’t happening, and I was inactive last week.”
Several sources told Pewter Report back in May that Lee was not welcoming a role on special teams, which is typically required of all receivers that aren’t starting, with open arms. He even said as much in a interview with Pewter Report during the team’s offseason mini-camp, and some believe Lee’s lack of interest of playing on special teams could be one reason why he was inactive last Sunday.
“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.”
But when asked Wednesday if he was doing all he could to get on the field on Sundays, Lee didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Definitely,” Lee said. “My play speaks for itself. Every time you guys have seen me on the field, what have I done? I’ve produced. I could see if I was dropping passes or running the wrong routes or making mental errors, but from the standpoint of not knowing what’s going on and then not getting any answers for it – it’s just frustrating. But at some point the frustration just goes away and you become pissed off. It’s what it is. I just come to work and do my job.”
Lee, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, suggested he wanted an explanation from Gruden as to why he was not being more involved in the Bucs’ offense. Lee said Gruden has talked to him about it before, but the head coach’s explanation is apparently starting to fall on deaf ears.
“He told me to be patient and that my time would come, but it seems like it’s the same old story,” said Lee.
Of course, getting receivers on the field on game days seems to be a real challenge for the Bucs, who recently welcomed back Jurevicius and Galloway from their respective injuries.
According to Gruden, the return of Galloway and Jurevicius along with the fact that Clayton is leading the team in catches with 52 for 751 yards and three touchdowns, should provide Lee, Schroeder and even Brown an answer to the questions they have regarding their lack of playing time.
“Joe Jurevicius is back playing and Galloway’s playing,” said Gruden. “There are a lot of guys, I’m sure, who would like to get more reps. When you have a lot of great players it’s hard to give them all opportunities. But I’ll talk about the team. I’m not going to address that publicly.”
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