Darron Lee isn’t the only rookie receiving playing time this season

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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.

“I think Coach was being very generous at that point. I think I have a lot of stuff to work on,” Lee said. “It was good just to get my feet wet in the NFL. I had a lot of fun. But at the end of the day, I still have a lot of work to do.”

Lee wore No. 8 from the first time he buckled his chinstrap in pop warner to middle school. During his playing days at New Albany HS, the 6’1”, 232-pounder wore No. 2 as a freshman and No. 5 his junior year before he switched back to No. 8 senior year. Lastly, of course, the Ohio State product wore No. 43 for the Buckeyes.

“The hardest part is dealing with guys who know the tricks and trades of the game. People who always have like a little trick up their sleeve,” Lee said. “It’s tough because I’ll look at a play and be like, ‘Oh, I have it easy,’ but then this guy knows some old trick because he’s a veteran.”

When I settled in, that’s when the fun began. I was comfortable, hungry. I diagnosed plays quicker, I was bringing down the ball carrier behind the line and covering a lot better. Demario [Davis] and I played off each other, making sure we had each other’s backs. He set us up, I honed in on offensive checks and alerted the guys what’s coming. My personal favorite is when you call their play out and you’re right. When everybody on offense looks at you after you call the play, that’s how you know you hit the nail on the head. It’s so much fun. That’s why we were able to play fast. We started doing that in Week 3.

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Lee, selected No. 20 overall out of Ohio State last April, had modest expectations when starting his NFL trek. Lee also said he’s spent over half of the offseason “getting the ankle right.” Most fans probably didn’t know the joint bothered him the second half of last season. Yes, they knew he injured the ankle in Game 6 at Arizona, didn’t practice or play for three weeks, then returned for the Rams and played the rest of the season.

Nike Jets #50 Darron Lee Green Men's Stitched NFL Elite Rush Jersey
Nike Jets #50 Green Men’s Stitched NFL Elite Rush Jersey

“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.”

“Every game I look at as a learning experience,” Lee said. “Every instance there’s always a learning point. Whether that be jawing or being too hyped up, there’s always these little things that keep on hitting. It’s every single day here at practice too, but I learn a lot in the game. I have a big learning curve.”

“Once it’s in my memory, I’ll never forget it,” Lee said. “I never will. That’s just how I am and I’ll take that going forward in my career. So I can help my teammates and my linemen in positioning because I remember this play from last year. I’m wired like that.”

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.

“He was physical, so strong. He was constantly lifting,” Lee said. “And he was the leader of that whole D-line. It’s just crazy how you see those highlights and see just a little trickle of what they were trying to do. And I see that live on in our defense in general, the physicality that the New York Jets jerseys cheap are about, especially on the defense.

Following Todd Bowles’ initial plan, Lee came in an as the nickel ‘backer and became a three-down player. He gave the Jets an infusion of speed and pursued well while showing progress in coverage. Lee says he can get better at everything and he’s anxious to become the game-changer he was with the Buckeyes.