When training camp 2016 kicked off for the New York Jets, Darron Lee quickly became David Harris’ “young pup.” Lee’s first lesson from Harris: “don’t take the cheese.”

Fast-forward to the summer of 2017. The Jets, in full rebuild mode, cut ties with several veterans – including the man who was like a father to a young defensive core. Now, for the first time since 2007, the green and white will be starting a season without No. 52.

“It’s sad. But it’s a business,” said Lee. “He was a great mentor and a great leader. Even though he won’t be around, I’ll still consult him.”

When the Jets drafted Lee, they had hopes he would thrive under the wing of the veteran linebacker ranked second in franchise history for tackles. The organization wanted Lee to be a sponge while Harris embraced the father-figure role. In one season, the Ohio State product soaked up a career’s worth of knowledge and added a dear friend in the process.

“It was a somber day for the defense and the whole organization,” said Lee. “[Harris] was like a dad to all of us – a lot of young guys in here – but was definitely a father-figure to me. He really was the ultimate pro and was the actual definition of: first guy in, last guy to leave.”

With Harris now a member of the New England Patriots, it is Lee’s opportunity to apply what he learned from the former Jets linebacker and continue to show the potential the organization saw when they took him with the 20th overall pick. As the dust settles, the Jets defense now lacks a leader in the middle of the field. Paging Darron Lee: it is your unit now.

“Stepping up for sure,” Lee said when asked how the transaction impacted his role. “Stepping up into a more leadership role. I’m young but I’ve got to step up now. The workload will increase.”

The coaching staff has yet to determine whether or not Lee will be calling plays on the defense – especially with Demario Davis back in the fold. However, what is known is that it will be a steady growth process for Lee as he enters his sophomore season. If you had to speculate, the five-year veteran Davis should get the bulk of the play calls as the MIKE position while Lee continues to mature alongside him.

Then again, in a rebuild season, anything can happen.

“I learned how to do it and do it right from Dave Harris,” said Lee.

There is no question Lee benefitted on Harris’ watch but also from the nine starts he made in 2016. Despite being sidelined with an ankle injury during the campaign, Lee finished fourth on the team in tackles with 76. During mini camp and OTAs, head coach Todd Bowles noticed growth from the 22-year-old despite the pending legal investigation of an alleged altercation with Lee, Lee’s girlfriend and Leonard Williams at the Governors Ball Music Festival on Randall’s Island.

“He knows — and I told him this — that he has to do a better job [of staying out of trouble],” said Bowles.

It is time for Lee to put the past behind him and focus on being the next best linebacker for this organization. He had a chance to learn from one of the best. It is certainly not a bad start.

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