Building Off Early Returns

In Vernon Gholston’s four-year career at Ohio State, the bull-rushing defensive end tackled his obstacles and earned his accolades. Gholston recorded 22.5 sacks in 34 games and was named an AP All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in his senior season. Gholston’s dynamic skills carried into the NFL Combine, in which he recorded a speedy 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash and tied the highest bench press with 37 repetitions of 225 pounds. Now 13 games into his NFL career, he’s still struggling to contribute. Gholston was converted to outside linebacker in the Jets’ 3-4 defensive scheme, but his impact has mainly been on special teams. Gholston has recorded just 12 tackles and the Jets’ patience for the sixth overall selection in April’s draft has faded. Gholston watched the Jets’ win over the Bills last week from the sidelines as he was listed as inactive for the first time in his young NFL career. Gholston delivered with a positive response to the coaching decision.

“Whenever it’s an issue of someone getting reps that you had or someone getting a play that you had, any of those situations where you may go from starting to splitting time, you want the player who the time has been split with to respond in a very competitive fashion,” head coach Eric Mangini said.

Mangini explained yesterday that Gholston has “made some strides” over the last few weeks, but Gholston’s teammates have made strides aside from him. For weeks it appeared that Gholston had discovered his niche on special teams, which Mangini labeled as the “first priority” in Gholston’s development. The Jets’ head coach called the adjustment to special teams “hard,” but also noted that Brad Smith succeeded on his transition from college quarterback.

“Who I always like to point to is Brad Smith. Here’s a guy who played quarterback, never covered and I don’t even know if he got close to a kickoff team,” Mangini said. “Anytime that we talk about a skill-position player, one of the coaches will say, ‘well, he hasn’t done it, he’s never done this stuff.’ I just point to Brad Smith. He never did it either, but he does it really well. You just have to find a way to carve out that role if you want to go to the game.”

This week Gholston is attempting to carve his way back onto the active roster and Mangini explained that Gholston has responded with “one of his best weeks, if not his best week of practice since he’s been here.” Mangini noted that he’s spent “a lot of time” with the rookie linebacker of late, including a film session in which the two watched Gholston’s highlight tapes from Ohio State. Even though the development has come much later than desired, Mangini remains pleased with the committment.

“He’s willing and he’s working. I have no qualms about the way he’s trying to prepare each week. He’s working at it. The development happens differently for each player,” Mangini said.

While the tape displayed Gholston’s success at rushing the quarterback and his rare combination of strength and speed, the Jets’ head coach noted that some of the tape was “apples to oranges” because Gholston was lined up at defensive end. Instead of focusing simply on Gholston’s reps with his hands in the dirt, he focused on applying his complete game to what he’s been doing during his rookie season.

In practice, Mangini has been pleased with Gholston’s explosiveness and his variety of moves while blitzing. While improvements are often analyzed simply on Sundays, the positives can be delivered each day. One player Mangini pointed to was offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

“When you look at D’Brickashaw his rookie year to where he is now, it’s night and day. It’s not even close,” Mangini said. “Where he is today versus that first year is miles and miles apart. That’s a credit to him. He’s been diligent and working at it.

Ferguson received a prime learning experience in starting all 16 games during his rookie season [2006], but the repetitions in practice helped mold him into one of the top young offensive linemen in football.

Mangini is waiting for that day when Gholston breaks through.

“With rookies, you don’t know when things are going to happen or when it’s going to start to sink in and the clouds break. It eventually does happen and the curves spikes dramatically,” Mangini said.

The pressure on Gholston has increased as his fellow first-round selections have excelled. Patriots linebacker Jerrod Mayo (tenth overall) and Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin (11th overall) are slowly developing into stars as Gholston remains a disappointment. Even though the early returns have not been a sore spot for Jets fans, Gholston’s timeline to develop has some breathing room.

“Vernon is developing. You never put the pressure on the timeline.  It’s just putting the pressure on to consistently improve which he has worked at over time,” Mangini said. 

Gholston’s 2008 stats:

Games: 13

Total Tackles: four (solo), eight (assisted)

Sacks: Zero

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