TAMPA - Chasing Georgia water bug Markeith Cooper around the St. Pete Times Forum tonight will be a challenge for Storm defensive specialist Del Lee. But it's easier than chasing a shadow.
Lee, a fourth-year veteran, replaced 2003 defensive player of the year runnerup Omarr Smith on the ArenaBowl champions after Smith returned to San Jose as a free agent in the offseason.
"People are going to compare you with the other guy," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "But you've just got to go out and do your best, and that's what he's done."
Joining Shea Showers and T.T. Toliver in a revamped secondary, Lee had three tackles and a fumble recovery in the 52-41 victory over Orlando on Sunday. His fourth-quarter recovery set up a David White touchdown that gave Tampa Bay an 18-point lead, its biggest of the game.
Lee kept a relatively low profile because Predators offensive specialist Travis McGriff, last season's rookie of the year, did not play. Lee helped limit backups James Bowden and George Williams to a combined six catches.
"I think he showed last week he knows the game and played pretty good against Orlando," Marcum said. "Playing that middle position is tough."
Lee, 28, honed his skills under one of football's most respected coaches. He played for defensive coordinator Bill Belichick when they were with the Jets in 1999. As Patriots coach, Belichick won two of the past three Super Bowls.
"He's a very, very bright guy," said Lee, who was active for the Jets' final four games in '99. "Everything they say about him is the truth. I've never met a guy who's more prepared for a game than him. He will put you in the right situation, and it's your job to go through with it."
Lee sees similarities between Belichick and Marcum, who is recognized as the top defensive mind in the Arena league.
"There are some similarities and there are some things that are totally opposite," Lee said. "But for the most part, their attitude, the coaching aspect of it, their whole auras are pretty much the same."
Lee said Marcum's reputation was one of the reasons he signed with Tampa Bay after leading Indiana in interceptions (four), pass breakups (13) and fumble recoveries (two) last season.
Marcum remembered Lee's work against Storm offensive specialist Freddie Solomon, whom he held to three catches for 27 yards last season.
"Anybody who can do a decent job against Freddie is going to be a pretty decent football player," Marcum said.
Tonight, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Lee will be tested by Cooper, a good route runner with blazing speed. Cooper, at 5-6, also happens to be the shortest player in the league.
"If you give him space to get out there and catch the ball, he can do some damaging things to your team," Lee said. "We're going to try not to give up the big play and tackle him as soon as he catches the ball."