The Jets made a number of significant roster acquisitions this spring and some of their big ticket items have made an immediate impression on Darron Lee. The Jets' third-year inside linebacker says cornerback Trumaine Johnson and linebacker Avery Williamson, a pair added in free agency, as well as quarterback Sam Darnold, the third overall selection in the draft, are all settling in well.
"This is a game of chess, not checkers," Lee said. "Adding those important pieces like Tru, Avery and Sam is huge. It has us going in the right direction in my opinion, but implementing those guys in our brotherhood and our standard in what we have here is huge. Seeing how they're abiding by it also and they're jelling in smoothly with it — it makes you excited. It can't help but make you excited because they're buying in."
For a third consecutive season, Lee will line up next to a different player at inside 'backer. After pairing with David Harris his rookie campaign and Demario Davis his sophomore year, Lee is expected to form a tandem with Williamson. In four seasons with the Titans, Williamson collected 377 tackles, 11.5 sacks, eight pass defenses and two interceptions.
"He definitely brings tenacity. You can tell just by his demeanor that he wants to win, but he's a loose guy also, which helps him mesh in from a chemistry perspective," Lee said. "Guys are really loose. We're focused, but we're loose. Most people think us to be uptight. Last year we were probably a little more uptight than normal because we wanted to prove it to the world. Now we're just proving to ourselves we can win."
Labeled a tackling machine by head coach Todd Bowles, the 6'1" 246-pound Williamson is just 26 and covers ground sideline-to-sideline.
"He plays fast, really, really fast. He's always around the ball and he's fast getting to the ball," Lee said. "Having speed is the name of the game now and having a nose for the ball is definitely going to be a help."
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With Johnson's arrival in the defensive backfield, the Jets boast one of the most talented secondaries in football. The 6'2", 213-pound Johnson played six seasons with the Rams, totaling 18 interceptions and 67 pass defenses. He could thrive on the outside, lining up in press situations for Todd Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers.
"I had actually watched Tru since my rookie year just as a fan. I've always liked his game," Lee said. "He's long, lanky and doesn't give up a lot of anything, really. Him being around here, he's a smooth guy. He's quiet, but he has that focus and that tenacity he brings to 'New Jack City.' That's what they need. Having a guy that can clock in like that, go out, play ball and make sure nobody catches anything is huge."
While Lee plays on the opposite side of the ball from Darnold, he knows what it's like to be drafted by the Jets in the first round at age 20. He has already offered congratulations to Darnold and has been impressed with his demeanor and steady approach.
"Come in and learn, be a sponge. You have great leaders in your room, you have great leaders on your offense, so buy into them," Lee said of his message to Darnold. "I told him I kept my mouth shut and went to work and he strikes me as that guy, so he's going to be fine."
After completing their first two phases of the offseason program, the Jets will return to the practice field this week. They will have 10 OTA sessions and then wrap up their pre-training camp work with a mandatory minicamp from June 12-14.
"Everybody is actually competing and wanting to win. It could be as simple as a full relay game," Lee said. "Seeing everybody care so much and have that passion in it and then seeing it translate to the football side of things when we're calling out plays — we want to be perfect. You're seeing that across the board now. It's not like one foot in, one foot out. We want to be perfect and you can see that passion in everybody."