After 10 seasons, 154 games and over 1,000 total tackles, linebacker David Harris and the New York Jets—the team that drafted him in 2007—parted ways.
The Jets traded for Demario Davis prior to releasing Harris, which filled the hole on the depth chart at middle linebacker. What they still need to fill is what Harris provided beyond the stat sheet—leadership, a quality difficult for young players to master.
“[The next day was] definitely was a somber day,” 2016 first-round pick Darron Lee said. “Dave was like a dad to all of us. A lot of young guys in here, but he was like a father figure.”
With Harris out of the picture, Lee is New York’s only returning starting middle linebacker. Alongside young outside linebackers Lorenzo Mauldin and Jordan Jenkins, the inexperienced players acknowledged they have a lot to learn.
“We did lose a great guy, on the field and off the field, and right now we just need our younger guys to step up and take over his place,” Mauldin said.
One of those defensive players, Leonard Williams, took it upon himself to improve his leadership skills. The 2015 first-round pick attended a course in San Diego to learn about leadership.
“I just learned that it’s all mindset,” Williams said. “They just harped on it a lot. Anything that you really think is possible you can make possible.”
Williams may not have been the vocal leader of the defense, but he certainly was the best player the Jets had a year ago. He recorded at least half a sack in seven games while totaling a team-high 21 defensive hurries, according to Sporting Charts.
While Williams took a course in his home state, other Jets, including Lee, didn’t need to go far to find a powerful teacher.
“[Harris was] a great mentor, great leader,” Lee said on Tuesday. “I’m still going to consult him even though he won’t be around here. I’m still going to ask him for advice.”
Although Lee only has one year of starting experience under his belt, he still has more experience than a few newcomers on the Jets’ defense including rookies Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, New York’s two projected starters at safety.
As Williams pointed out, “after your first day, you’re not a rookie anymore.”