“Little Dawg” is still a young pup in the game, but the Jets are anxious to see Darron Lee develop into a full-grown attacker.
While juggling his responsibilities within Todd Bowles’ defense with carrying the shoulder pads of his veteran teammates, the rookie has opened eyes in practice and in the preseason.
“I’m not really a guy that’s going to be satisfied,” said Lee, a former Ohio State linebacker. “I always feel there’s room for improvement. Take one good step, there’ll be another eight more good steps, so you’ve got to keep working.”
Flashes of the same speed he showcased at the NFL combine (a 4.43 40-yard dash) were visible throughout the summer. But the NFL learning curve initially curtailed his quickness as he adjusted to the nuances of the game. But each week, Lee improved.
“The thing about game-speed, in my opinion, it comes with reps,” assistant coach Mike Caldwell said. “The more you see things, the faster you are able to react and then your natural speed takes over. He’s getting better at that and he can run. With the more time he sees things, he’ll just continue to improve.”
Some — like teammate Sheldon Richardson — have questioned whether Lee (6-1, 232) would be better served by packing on the pounds. But Caldwell doesn’t believe that’s necessary.
“I don’t think you have too many 260 [pound] linebackers anymore,” he said. “The size part of it, it’s really not a big thing. When we drafted him, we knew what we were getting, we knew the temperament he had. He’s an aggressive player, he’s physical, he’ll come down hill. And he’s pretty much an average-sized linebacker. I know he’s considered small, but when you look at him . . . he’s put together pretty good.”
Along with Lee, third-round pick Jordan Jenkins easily worked his way into the first-team defense.
Fourth-round cornerback Justin Burris has been inconsistent at times, but he has also shown impressive ball-hawking skills. It was his training camp interception that led Ryan Fitzpatrick to shave his wild mane and overgrown beard after a friendly wager.
With three quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart, second-round pick Christian Hackenberg didn’t make his preseason debut until the third exhibition game. Only time will tell what kind of NFL quarterback he’ll be — perhaps as long as a full year. The Jets handled Hackenberg with kid gloves for much of the offseason, so patience will be key when evaluating the former Penn State star.