JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Wide receiver Marqise Lee was hoping to make an impression on the field when the Jacksonville Jaguars held their organized team activities and minicamp in May and June.
An ankle injury prevented him from doing that. But the second-round pick out of USC has made quite a few friends already in their locker room.
That was something he never expected.
"Being in this locker room is like college all over again," said Lee, who will be expected to compete for a starting job when training camp opens later this month.
The three-year starter for the Trojans who set a school record as a sophomore with 118 receptions was a little wary upon joining the Jaguars. It was nothing against the organization, but a case of him being on the lookout as a rookie in a locker room full of veterans.
With so few Jaguars over the age of 30, Lee wound up having nothing to be worried about.
"You hear a lot on the outside," he said. "But coming here, this is great. I’ve had an opportunity to be with these guys, and having them sit down with me and spend extra time going over plays and things like that, it shows how much leadership they have and how much of a family this team is. I appreciate it."
Given his difficult background, he might appreciate a family environment more than most players.
Lee spent the first dozen years of his life from one low-income home in Inglewood, Calif., to another while taking turns living with his mother and his grandparents. When his grandfather died, both Lee and his sister chose not to move in with their grandmother and became wards of the state. On top of that, his oldest brother was murdered in a gang-related killing while another brother is not due to get out of jail until next year after being charged with an attempted murder.
But in 2008, he moved in with the family of one of his best friends and got the stability which was lacking in his life.
"I found an alternative," he said after the Jaguars took him 39th overall. "After seeing my mom stressing out, I took it upon myself to change and become a positive role model, not only for my mom, but for my sister too."
"Whatever his background is, he is mentally tough," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said.
Even on a team with Robert Woods, a second-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2013, Lee stood out among USC’s receivers. He was a unanimous All-American and the school’s first Biletnikoff Award winner, given to the top receiver in college football, in 2012. He also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in college and could supply a lift to the Jaguars in an area which needs improvement.
But it was while returning a punt against Arizona State last September that Lee severely sprained his left knee. He wound up later being held out of the second half of USC’s 14-10 loss at Notre Dame. While he was healthy enough to make seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State, there were enough concerns about the knee to keep him from being chosen in the first round.
"I wanted to go earlier," he said. "But this is where I am, and I’m very happy to be here."
Lee and Allen Robinson of Penn State, who was taken later in the second round, were picked in large part because of the uncertain status of Jaguars 2012 first-round draft pick Justin Blackmon. Cecil Shorts III led them with 64 receptions last season, while rookie four-round selection Ace Sanders had 51.
Shorts, Sanders, Mike Brown, free-agent signee Tandon Doss and undrafted rookie Allen Hurns were mentioned by Lee as teammates who tried to get him up to speed on learning the plays.
"They try to help as much as they can," he said.
As Lee found out, that atmosphere was not confined to players of the same position.
"When I got here, everybody was socializing," he said. "Everybody was trying to help. Even the defensive players came down."
Once Lee no longer needs an ankle boot to get around, he should bring his sprinter’s speed — he was clocked in 22.11 seconds in the 200 meters while in high school – to a team lacking a consistent deep threat. One thing he has already shed is his hesitancy about getting along with other Jaguars.
"I got the bad scouting report," he said. "Once I got here, you can see it’s totally different. Totally different."