Ex-UCF Star Seizes Rare Opportunity
So, it's out with Keyshawn Johnson and in with ... Charles Lee?
Maybe not. But in the first game of Johnson's paid hiatus - or whatever you want to call it - the Bucs found a new playmaker down the depth chart in Lee. Cut twice the past two seasons and signed twice by Tampa Bay this season, Lee made his first impact as a Buccaneer in Monday night's sloppy 19-13 victory against the Giants.
The University of Central Florida product caught five passes for 91 yards, including a startling 53-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The TD was his first as a Buc and only the second of his four-year NFL career, the other coming in 2001 with Green Bay. Keenan McCardell caught a game-high nine passes for 83 yards, although he also had a fumble that set up a second-quarter Giants field goal. Joe Jurevicius, finally regaining his strength and confidence after suffering a torn MCL in Week 2, caught three passes for 43 yards.
Jurevicius and McCardell were supposed to produce. Lee was a surprise. His contribution was critical because it helped the Bucs overcome three turnovers and make up for the loss of Johnson, deactivated last week for re peated complaining and other indiscretions. ``Key is a good guy, but it was an opportunity for me to step up,'' Lee said. ``The coaches let me know they had confidence in my ability. Brad [quarterback Johnson] came to me early in the week and said he was coming to me.''
After warming up with a 9-yard catch early in the second quarter, Lee made his big play on second-and-20 from the Bucs' 47. He ran a slant from the left side, caught the ball over the middle, then turned upfield just past the right hash marks and raced to the end zone. ``We ran trips to the strong side,'' Lee said of the touchdown, which gave Tampa Bay a 14-3 lead. ``I got isolated on the back side. Brad made a nice throw on the slant route. I was able to catch it in stride, take it down and take it the distance.''
Lee, 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, played at UCF from 1997 to 1999 and was the Golden Knights' leading receiver as a senior with 87 catches for 1,133 yards and five touchdowns. As a junior, he caught 46 passes from Daunte Culpepper, the future Minnesota Vikings quarterback. A seventh-round pick by Green Bay in 2000, Lee had a promising rookie season. He played in 15 games with one start and caught 10 passes for 134 yards. After that, however, he saw mainly spot duty on special teams in 2001 and was cut just before the 2002 season.
Lee became a Buc a month into the 2002 season but played in only one game, against Minnesota, and at that, played only on special teams. This season, Lee made the roster only to be cut Sept. 23 and re-signed on Oct. 7. Before Monday's game, he had appeared in only two games, playing a few plays at receiver against Washington and a few plays on special teams against New Orleans. But Monday night, Lee's NFL career got back on track. ``I just wanted to come out and show guys on this team and as well as this organization that I'm a guy they can count on,'' Lee said.