Darron Lee is a happy OTA camper. The trashcans are gone and his ankle is back.
"It's definitely good to get out there, knock the rust off, whatever rust there might be, and go against someone else, not against trashcans like the past couple of weeks," the second-year linebacker said. "Now we're more of a group and now I know what to expect, I've already done it, I've been through a year."
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.
His tackle production didn't appear to suffer. He averaged almost six tackles a game before the injury and the same after it. But perhaps his limitation showed up in tackles for loss. After averaging one TFL a game in two seasons at Ohio State, he had 3.5 TFLs total in the first six games and just a half tackle in the last seven.
Top Photos of the Rookie LB During the 2016 Season
He certainly didn't alibi the ankle last season, and he wasn't this week. But when asked, he wanted everyone to know that he's feeling good from his rehab.
"The people that are really your support system, they knew what I was dealing with. They knew I was out there on one leg," he told me. "It is what it is. You've got to be out there. I'm not using it as a crutch, but I'm definitely using it as a really good learning experience, now that I really know what to expect. That's why I'm not worried about anything that happened last year. Last year is last year."
Head coach Todd Bowles didn't agree with an assessment that the 2016 first-round pick out of Ohio State had a difficult baptism by NFL fire.
"I thought he played well last year," Bowles said. "He gave up a couple of plays. I don't think he struggled. I thought he played well as a rookie. I thought he made a mistake or two, here or there, but nothing that he didn't learn from."
And David Harris saw much the same last year and more and better this season.
"I expect Darron to have a huge leap," Harris said. "I know the game is going to slow down for him. He's going to start recognizing certain things out there on the field which he may not have seen last year."
Lee can't wait for the second chapter of the story of "The Old Man and the Lee."
"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.
"I definitely just want to show him that I'm taking that next step to the next level, becoming a better football player and man on and off the field. Just the whole package."