New Chiefs defense has new linebacker in Darron Lee
Darron Lee always thought it would be kind of cool to meet Patrick Mahomes.
Both Game of Thrones fans, the two interacted on Twitter about the HBO series from across the country throughout the spring.
They never thought they’d actually end up sharing a locker room.
But a week ago, the New York Jets traded the linebacker to the Chiefs for a 2020 sixth-round pick, giving Lee the opportunity to meet the quarterback in real life for the first time.
“It was weird,” Lee said with a grin. “Kind of had a feeling. I’d just love to talk to him face-to-face, just about Game of Thrones.
“And then next thing you now, that happened, just in time for the season finale.”
Headed up by new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the Chiefs’ defense is in the foundational stages of a rebuild as the team opened voluntary OTAs earlier this week.
Coming off a season where the defense hovered near the bottom of nearly every team statistical category, the club is in the midst of a significant turnover. Old jersey numbers long associated with veteran voices in the organization — 50, 55, 29 — have been reassigned.
Wearing Justin Houston’s vacated No. 50, Lee, who spent three somewhat tumultuous seasons with the Jets, is searching for a similar rebirth.
“It’s everything,” Lee said of getting a fresh start. “Everybody’s experienced, got a level playing field to go out there and compete and go out there and help win ball games.
“Gotta go play catch-up a little bit. Some guys got a leg up, but that’s OK. I’m just going to take my time and take it day-by-day.”
Some players might have a slight advantage because they spent the first two phases of the offseason with the Chiefs, but in many ways, Lee is coming into an ideal situation as everyone learns the basics of Spagnuolo’s signature 4-3 defense at the same time.
Though the high-powered Chiefs’ offense and the reigning MVP were on the practice field Thursday afternoon, the energy seemed to radiate most from the defense. And even in a practice without pads, coach Andy Reid could see his defense starting to take shape.
“It’s very well organized for the time that they’ve had together,” he said. “There’s not a lot of holes in their coverages. And so, I’ve been impressed by that.
“I like what I’m seeing on defense and we just keep building. We’re three days into shorts practice. We keep building it, but I sure liked the intensity, the enthusiasm, all those things.”
With the offseason acquisitions, the Chiefs figure to have at least five new defensive starters including safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive end Frank Clark and cornerback Bashaud Breeland, with the potential for a couple more as the team works through OTAs and training camp.
Lee, who started 12 games for the Jets last season, is expected to compete with Anthony Hitchens for a starting job at either the middle or weakside linebacker spots.
Though Hitchens was away from the team during Thursday’s practice to spend time with his wife during the birth of their new baby, Lee mostly rotated in with the second group as a weakside or strongside linebacker, and he was a fixture in the sub-packages.
At 6-1, 232-pounds, Lee is smaller than some of the others at his position, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for with speed and coverage ability.
In one play Thursday afternoon, Lee showed off his skillset as he played close coverage on tight end Blake Bell to prevent him from catching a pass from backup quarterback Chad Henne.
“He’s fast,” Reid said. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he plays all over the field. So he gives you some flexibility there at the linebacker position and, again, that great coverage.”
The Chiefs were plenty familiar with the Ohio State product when he declared for the NFL Draft in 2016. Lee recalled meeting with Brett Veach, then the co-director of player personnel, at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Without a first-round pick, the Chiefs didn’t land him in that draft — the Jets picked him up with the No. 20 overall selection.
But three years later, Lee has found his way to Kansas City.
“I just remember that conversation was something special,” Lee said. “And just the fact that I’m here, it’s pretty surreal.”