A year ago, Darron Lee was the breakout star on Ohio State's defense. The former New Albany High School quarterback won the weakside linebacker position in the spring. He then made big play after big play all season, showing explosiveness and a knack for blitzing.
A year ago, Darron Lee was the breakout star on Ohio State's defense.
The former New Albany High School quarterback won the weakside linebacker position in the spring. He then made big play after big play all season, showing explosiveness and a knack for blitzing. Lee was named defensive Most Valuable Player in the Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama with two sacks and another tackle for loss.
Lee proved he could make any play, but this year, the third-year sophomore has learned something harder - that he doesn't have to.
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Opposing offensive coordinators have geared their game plans to try to avoid Ohio State's biggest stars. Defensive end Joey Bosa is first on the list. Lee might be next.
It's difficult to make plays when the ball isn't near you, and Lee's statistics reflect that. Entering Saturday's game against Minnesota, he is sixth on the team in tackles with 33 and in sacks with 2 1/2. Lee is third behind Bosa and defensive end Tyquan Lewis in tackles for loss with seven.
"I'm not greedy for stats," Lee said. "I know if they're doing those type of (game-planning) for me and Joey, there are nine other guys who are going to be at the ball. It's no big deal."
But it did take some time to gain that serenity. Against Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, Lee had only one solo tackle. As the Buckeyes entered Big Ten play, he knew he had to reorient his perspective.
"It was humbling, to say the least," he said.
He talked with Bosa and safety Vonn Bell, who usually lines up behind Lee. They agreed that they would have to accept that offenses were steering away from them. They also knew they had to be vigilant in not having a lapse in concentration that could cost the team.
"It's really the focus," he said. "Part of it is that you think of the negative - 'Oh man, you're not getting these type of plays.' That's what all the outside people will see. But if you're watching football, you'll understand what's happening."
In other words, Lee has learned that less can be more.
"That's the part I'm growing in my game - the maturity part," he said. "Last year, I'd just be, 'Go, go, go. Get whatever I can." And then somebody would probably (beat) me with a pass or something because I'm not focused or paying attention.
"Now, I pay way more attention to detail. It has elevated my game and made me even more of a team player."
Strongside linebacker Joshua Perry said he can see that offenses have worked to try to neutralize Lee.
"I guess there's a little frustration," Perry said. "Every great player obviously wants to (make big plays).
"But the biggest thing with him is that if there's frustration, he doesn't really let us see it. That's huge. As long as he goes out there and is giving his all for the team, we have a lot of respect for that."
Coach Urban Meyer has no complaints.
"I think he's playing excellent," Meyer said.
The only thing that consumes Lee is winning.
"Our culture is to do everything you can to win and do your job," he said. "As long as we're winning, I can't sit here and complain about anything, and I'm not going to complain about anything.
"I'm happy to see other people shine, and I'm happy that the team wins. I'm a team guy, first and foremost. I'm going to do whatever I can so the team can win."