Darron Lee’s speed and athleticism were on display throughout the Week 12 contest that pitted the old AFC East rivals against each other. He also was given more responsibility in sub packages, calling defensive plays and making sure the front was aligned correctly. But focused on improvement, Lee was disappointed that a showing of an inside blitz cost him in his pursuit of RB James White on a critical fourth-down conversion. With the Jets holding a tenuous one-point lead, White was able to take a short pass and get 4.5 yards on a fourth-and-4.
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That’s what Jets second-year inside linebacker Darron Lee recalls about a critical fourth-and-4 in his first professional matchup against the Patriots last year. With 2:53 remaining in regulation and the Jets on top 17-16, quarterback Tom Brady lined up in shotgun formation with four receivers out wide and running back James White to his right.
“Now that I’m seeing stuff, now I can really pinpoint the subtle details and how I can pick them up very quickly, just like I picked up the grand scheme pretty quickly. That’s exciting for me, and David sees it,” Lee said. “And it’s also exciting for him, too, what he put in, what he helped in just leading by example.
“You can see how close I am to just those big plays that can determine wins and losses, so I’m going to keep chugging away,” said Lee, an engaging and optimistic fellow who knows talk is cheap but also is not afraid to put himself out there as one of the D’s young leaders. “But now it’s starting to be so natural and I’m so comfortable and relaxed, and it’s a lot of fun. I just want to execute and make sure to turn all this hard work we’re doing into W’s.”
The Patriots won that game 22-17, but the Ohio State product came away with a learning moment. Reflecting on the play New York Jets throwback jerseys, Lee said he would tell his rookie self to read the running back’s splits because White was stacked on the tackle, which meant he was going out for a pass.
In addition to shutting down Jay Ajayi this past Sunday, the Jets racked up three sacks and their two interceptions led directly to 14 points. And while a first quarter Lee sack was taken off the board for a tough roughing the passer infraction, Lee is more concerned about the two-touchdown advantage the Jets surrendered and how they must quickly rectify that problem with the high-powered Falcons visiting MetLife Stadium in Week 8.
Some pundits questioned whether Lee could flourish on the inside and wondered if he would be consistently washed out in traffic. But Lee has become more of a student in Year 2 and he’s diagnosing quicker and getting in the thick of the action.
“Me and Eli literally have been through everything together,” Lee said. “He got there just a semester earlier than I did. And on the aspect of like on the field, we went through everything. One year we were on scout team, the next team we’re starters on a national championship team, which is like a huge learning curve and a jump. He was always to my side. He was always the corner to my side on the field. So it’s like we always saw each other.”
A playmaker at Ohio State, Lee is a 22-year-old who played 28 games for the Buckeyes in two seasons while recording 27.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and three interceptions. An ankle injury in Week 6 forced Lee out of the lineup for three weeks, but he made his return to game action against the Rams and then was full-go against the Pats attack last Sunday.