Posts Tagged ‘Defense’

Quinton Coples finishing the season on a high note

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – Just before heading into the cafeteria after practice, Quinton Coples jokingly raises his hand in the air, up and out of the reach of a Jets public relations staff worker, looking for a high five.

The 6 foot 6 inch, 290-pound linebacker lets out a deep laugh as he watches her she jump and struggle to meet his skyward arm before mercifully lowering his hand to meet hers. Moments earlier, Coples admitted that, much like his wingspan, he has a “big personality.” Someone who gets joy out of making people laugh, whether they are his teammates, family members, sick kids, or team staffers.

The only problem being, up until these last few weeks, Coples’ big-time personality hadn’t been matched with big-time production. That, along with the emergence of his teammates along the defensive line, left Coples on the outside of the white-hot spotlight.

An injury and a position change hampered Quinton Coples early on, but the second year man is putting together a strong finish.

A place his personality would suggest, isn’t where he’d like to be.

But any criticism of Coples’ play this season must be scrutinized through the correct lens, and if he deserved any flack for how he preformed during the first eight games, he deserves all the more credit for how he is finishing.

After completing his rookie season with a team-high five and half sacks, Coples was asked to move from defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker, no small transition for a man of his size. On top of that, Coples fractured his ankle during the second preseason game, costing him two preseason and two regular season games along with invaluable learning time.

To expect him to become Aldon Smith overnight was unrealistic; to have him do so while overcoming an injury is just, well, ridiculous.

Yet, just as the calls for Coples benching were reaching a fever pitch, the second year man out of North Carolina responded with what Mohammed Wilkerson called a “break-out” game against the New Orleans Saints, which included a tackle for a loss on 4th and 19 to end the game.

And he’s been improving ever since. In just thirteen games, Coples is seventh in the league at the linebacker position with 17 quarterback hits, including nine tackles for loss, three passes defensed and one forced fumble. He has three and a half sacks in his last four games and his confidence is burgeoning.

“I think the game plan is getting a little shorter, everything is starting to work out in my favor in more situations,” he said. “Everything is going well, I’m definitely a lot more confident.”

When the Jets took Sheldon Richardson with the 13th overall pick in 2013, in launched Coples into a world of uncertainty. It seemed curious that the Jets would take Richardson, with Coples, a first round pick who played the same position, already in toe. However, Coples’ move to linebacker now rounds out a young defensive front with loads of potential.

“These young guys, I think as it gets going, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be one of the top groups in the league,” said head coach Rex Ryan about his defensive front which now includes back-to-back-to-back first round picks.

Coples attributes much of his development to Wilkerson, his former prep school teammate, who took him under his wing after being drafted. Now, even after his move to linebacker, Coples still considers himself part of the “front four,” which includes Wilkerson, Richardson, and Damon “Snacks” Harrison.

“We’re definitely close knit,” he said. “We talk about anything and everything. It’s great.”

“I think that’s a young group that has the potential to be around for a long time,” said Ryan.

So, after undergoing some early growing pains, Coples, in two less games and with one more left to play, sits just one sack removed from his rookie total. And regardless of whether he gets it, the big guy, with the big personality should remain a big-time piece in the Jets rebuilding effort.

Veteran Calvin Pace is ‘most improved’

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

FLORHAM PARK, NJ – With two games remaining and his team officially eliminated from playoff contention, Jets head coach Rex Ryan remains tight-lipped about his future and the future of his young starting quarterback.

However, during a period of reflection on Wednesday, Ryan did open up long enough to commend a few players he sees as “most improved” this season.

Some were more obvious guys, like Demario Davis, Damon “Snack” Harrison and Antonio Allen, but one name stuck out amongst the rest.

“A guy in my opinion that, it sounds crazy, he’s played 11 years in the league, that is playing as good now as he ever has is Calvin Pace,” said Ryan.

An offseason removed from getting cut, 11-year veteran Calvin Pace is one of the most improved players on the Jets, according to Rex Ryan.

Pace is indeed having a banner year for the Jets. The 33 year old, despite being the third oldest player on the team behind David Garrard and Ed Reed, has tallied a career-high nine sacks, including 32 solo tackles and two forced fumbles.

In 2008, the Jets signed Pace to a lucrative, six-year, $42 million contract, but after his numbers dipped – recording only three sacks in 2012 – they made the tough decision to cut him this past offseason.

After testing the free agent market, however, Pace decided to sign back on with the Jets for 2013, making $940,000 over one year – a significant pay cut.

“I think that just shows you the commitment that he’s had,” said Ryan. “The commitment that he’s had in his offseason conditioning, the fact that we’ve asked him to do several different roles and he’s accepted every single one of them, and he’s gotten better.”

There’s no doubt that Pace has benefited from the dominance of the Jets young defensive front and he’s the first to admit it.

“The things that I’ve done I’ve had a lot of help with,” Pace said. “The talent I play with is phenomenal. Having Rex back in the room has helped me a lot. It’s a little bit of me and a lot of other people to help out.”

With the playoffs out of reach, Pace shows no signs of wanting to slowing down, eyeing two more wins and that elusive double-digit sack total.

“We’re just trying to finish what we signed up for,” he said. “We didn’t sign up for 14 games, we signed up for 16 [games].”

“Hopefully he’s able to get that 10th sack, that would be a little cherry on top,” said Ryan. “You want to get that double digits but it’s been more than just the sacks for him. His play has been outstanding.”

Secondary issues: Geno not the only problem

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

FLORHAM PARK, NJ – Geno Smith might be the poster boy for the Jets’ struggles this season – the guy that gets the headlines and elicits the most talk radio debate – but he’s not the only one to blame.

No, the Jets have a secondary problem, namely, problems with their secondary.

Geno Smith will get most of the coverage this week but he's not the only one to blame. The Jets secondary has struggled mightily this season and it's becoming an issue.

“The big play is the Achilles’ heel of our defense,” said head coach Rex Ryan before playing the Baltimore Ravens, a game in which the Jets secondary gave up two pass plays over 60 yards.

“That’s it, that is what’s preventing us from being an elite defense right now,” he added. “Obviously, we’re playing the run better than anybody in the league and it’s not close.”

And Ryan is right. In almost every context, the Jets have the league’s best run defense. They’re holding opponents to 2.85 yards per rush, which is tops in the league by almost a full yard, and Football Outsiders ranks them first in rush defense by nearly 10 percent.

But once the ball is in the air, particularly deep down field, the Jets struggle mightily and it’s becoming too hard to ignore.

From 2009-2011, Football Outsiders had the Jets pass defense ranked in the top four, holding the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in ‘09 and ‘11, respectively. Even without All-Pro Darrelle Revis for much of 2012, they were ranked in the top 10.

But this season, Football Outsiders have the Jets ranked 16th in pass defense, giving up 11.33 yards per pass, which is well below the league average. They struggle against opponent’s No. 1 wide receiver, allowing 84.9 yards per game, and are nearly last in the league (30th) against opponent’s No. 2 wide receivers.

If only the Jets had a shutdown corner, you know, the type of player who could take away the opponent’s No. 1 weapon. Maybe someone with his own island?

Not to say that the loss of Revis is to blame for the secondary’s problems this year or that the Jets wouldn’t do that deal a thousand times over if it meant getting Sheldon Richardson in return. But it’s clear that Ryan’s once dominant secondary is in sharp decline.

Looking for some type of solution, Ryan had the secondary running “Buddy Ryan” pass defense drills all last week to help them with the deep ball. It didn’t work.

Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith still beat former All-Pro cornerback Antonio Cromartie with 60-yard pass and both rookie Dee Milliner and the newly acquired Ed Reed saw Joe Flacco drop a 66-yard dime right in between their outstretched arms.

Cromartie is clearly not himself, either because of a nagging hip injury or natural decline. Reed was brought in merely as a stopgap and Milliner has struggled so publically that he’s been benched for Darrin Walls on more than one occasion.

But both Ryan and his players believe a turnaround is coming.

“For us, it comes off as, they see us as this and we know we’re something different,” said Walls. “We take it as a challenge. We know we’ve given up the deep ball in the past couple games and that’s one thing we want to stop. We want to burn that fire out and give them something else to talk about. Now it’s the deep ball, so we have to take care of that.”

And how can they be so confident?

“Because I’ve seen it and done it,” said Ryan.

Rex Ryan on the Patriots: ‘We fear none of them’

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

FLORHAM PARK, NJ – The New England Patriots tend to bring out the best in Rex Ryan.

At the microphone, that is.

Despite a 3-7 record against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, Ryan never seems to disappoint when discussing the rival Patriots.

Despite a Week 2 loss and a 3-7 head-to-head record, Rex Ryan still isn't afraid of the Patriots.

Whether it was his refusal to kiss Belichick’s rings during his inaugural press conference or openly admitting he hates the Patriots and doesn’t care much for Brady, either, Ryan has a knack for saving his best performances for the podium.

And since the Jets and Pats face off at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Ryan was back to his old bag of tricks.

“Absolutely we respect them,” said Ryan of New England. “But we fear none of them. I can promise you that.”

Ryan did heap an extra helping of praise onto the Patriots, but didn’t mince words or non-verbal cues when discussing how the defense disrupted (or didn’t disrupt) Brady and his young receivers during their first matchup of the season on Sept. 12.

“It has nothing to do with us, I understand we were just out there,” said Ryan sarcastically. “Certainly that was well reported. We’ll get to see if some of those issues exist this week.”

Without the familiar faces of Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, Brady was visibly out of sync with his new receivers during his Week 2 matchup against the Jets, missing throws he’d normally make while letting them have it on the sideline.

Since then, Brady appears to have warmed to his new cast of characters, leading a game winning drive against the New Orleans Saints off a touchdown pass to rookie Kenbrell Thompkins.

But Ryan isn’t content with attributing Brady’s lackluster performance last time around to unfamiliarity or poor weather or any other excuse that has been conjured up recently.

“Well, I don’t know if that’s the case,” Ryan said, when asked if he thought the Jets defense might have had something to do with Brady’s struggles.

“Apparently it’s not,” he added, before finishing, facetiously, “It might have been, sure.”

Ryan’s bravado is not completely without merit as he has played the Patriots close during his tenure, with the exception of the buttfumble game and a 45-3 blow out loss on Monday Night Football in 2010.

But close doesn’t count for Ryan when he hasn’t made the playoffs in two years and has failed to take home a division title every year since coming to New York.

“Obviously you want to win. I want a championship. I want to win our division, no question,” said Ryan. “And the fact we haven’t done it, yeah absolutely, it’s a painful reminder.”

So, does that mean he’s ready to kiss Belichick’s rings?

“No, I haven’t,” said Ryan on a conference call to the New England media. “Maybe you have, but I haven’t and I never will.”

Preview: Jets (3-2) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4)

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Florham Park, NJ – This is what football types like to call a trap game.

The Jets, coming off an impressive comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football, are at home on a short week to take on the winless Steelers.

It seems like a gimme win, a no-brainer, a tune-up before Tom Brady and the New England Patriots come to town.

Not so fast.

Muhammad Wilkerson was dominant against the Falcons but he'll have his hands full as Big Ben and the Steelers come to town.

The Steelers may not have any wins, but they do have two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. They have rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, who is one week healthier. And they also still have a proud, Dick LeBeau-led defense.

But more importantly, they’re hungry and coming off a bye-week, with ample time to do nothing but prepare for Geno Smith and the Jets.

No, this game is far from a gimme, it’s a statement game  for both teams.

It’s put-up or shut time for Pittsburgh (either win or it’s Drowney for Clowney time).

It’s also Smith’s best opportunity yet to prove he’s really for real.

Two weeks ago, Smith was a bust, a turnover prone rookie who many fans wanted to see replaced by the equally inexperienced Matt Simms.

Today, he’s a savior. A young phenom who led a game winning drive in the final two minutes on national television, tossed three touchdowns with no interceptions and completed 80 percent of his passes.

Which is he? A convincing win against a well-prepared Steelers team would go a long way in proving he’s the latter.

A loss in a trap game? Well, then Geno’s back to square one.

When: Sunday, Oct. 13 2013, 1:00 pm EST (TV – CBS, Radio – ESPN NY, 98.7 FM)

Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ

Injury Report (As of Thursday):

Jets:

Limited: Oday Aboushi (knee), Antonio Cromartie (hip, knee), Quinton Coples (ankle), Clyde Gates (knee), Chris Ivory (hamstring), Jaiquawn Jarrett (knee), David Nelson (hamstring), Darrin Walls (shoulder). Did not practice: Santonio Holmes (foot, hamstring), Dee Milliner (hamstring), Kellen Winslow (knee)

Steelers:

Full practice: QB Ben Roethlisberger (right finger), G Ramon Foster (pectoral). Limited: S Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith (hip). Did not practice: WR Markus Wheaton (finger, definitely will not play)

What to watch for:

‘Big Mo’ Wilkerson: Geno Smith will get most of the headlines, especially if he plays well, but Muhammad Wilkerson is without a doubt the star of this team. Wilkerson had Jon Gruden gushing as he dominated the Falcons on Monday night, racking up seven tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and two tackles for loss. “I think he’s right there with the top defensive linemen in this league right now that aren’t named J.J. Watt,” said Rex Ryan on Wednesday. Wilkerson is approaching must-see TV levels – a la Mr. Watt – and against a banged up Steelers’ offensive line, boy, get out the popcorn.

Will the real Geno Smith please stand up: In five games as a professional Geno Smith has 11 turnovers. He also has three game winning drives. So, which quarterback is he? The turnover machine or the clutch rookie with a big arm? Obviously, the answer is: both. He’s a rookie on a steep learning curve who has shown some serious ability, but he won’t be labeled anything other than inconsistent if he can’t put together great back-t0-back performances. The winless Steelers are the perfect test. Let’s see if he passes.

Field position: Through the first five games, Football Outsiders ranks the Jets 28th in the league in LOS/Dr (average starting field position) in the league at 24.23, which is a killer especially for a rookie quarterback. But things definitely started to turn around against Atlanta as the Jets average drive started at their own 41 with three of their six scoring drives starting in Falcons’ territory. On the flip side, the Falcons’ average drive started on their 21. Maintaining good field position will be key moving forward and the Jets might be getting a break in Pittsburgh who ranks dead last in LOS/Dr at 22.56.

X-factor:

Coples therapy: After fracturing his ankle in the preseason, Quinton Coples is using game day work his way back into tip-top condition. Regardless, he’s been relatively quiet in the three games since returning with three tackles and zero sacks. With Antwan Barnes out for the season, Coples needs to embrace his role as an outside linebacker who wreaks havoc on opposing quarterbacks or else people will start to notice his absence. With the stellar play up front by Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison, Coples has been an afterthought but the former first round pick needs to make an appearance sooner or later.

Prediction: The game will be closer than their records indicate, but Rex will have the defense ready to contain Roethlisberger as the Jets eek out a victory, 24-21.

Jets routed by Titans, 38-13

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Nashville, TN – With the defense playing about as well as anyone could have hoped through three games, the powers at be knew the Jets would go only as far as their rookie quarterback could take them.

After a four turnover, 10 penalty, 38-13, beat down at the hands of the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Geno Smith certainly did more to harm his team than help it.

“We just got our butts kicked,” said Rex Ryan, visibly disgusted with the way his team performed in Nashville.

Geno Smith struggled mightily against the Titans on Sunday, accounting for four turnovers, including four fumbles.

After having his best game as a pro in Week 3 against the Buffalo Bills, Smith appeared to take a step backward against the Titans, committing four turnovers, including two fumbles, while passing for 289 yards and one touchdown.

Smith struggled early and often, getting picked off by Alterraun Verner on a pass intended for Stephen Hill on the second play of the game. Hill sustained a head injury on the play and would not return.

Things officially unraveled for Smith in the four quarter when he appeared to change hands with the ball, behind his back, while getting sacked, fumbling in the end zone and having it picked up for a Titans touchdown.

Of the 38 points the Titans scored, 28 of them came directly as a result of a Jets’ turnover.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the way I took care of the ball today. I was piss poor,” said Smith.

After the game, Ryan assured reporters that Geno Smith will be at the helm moving forward, taking offense to the criticism being heaped on his young starter.

“How often can we make that excuse?” said Ryan about blaming the struggling rookie. “I think we’re unfairly criticizing one man. The Tennessee Titans beat everyone. They didn’t just line up against Geno Smith.”

The sloppy play did indeed extend well beyond Smith, as the Jets were penalized 10 more times on Sunday. That, after a week of push-ups and a record 20 penalties against the Bills.

“It shocks me. I never expected the game to turn out like this. I’m shocked. I don’t know what else to say,” said Ryan. “Come hell or high water, it’s going to get fixed.”

The defense was again stellar against the run, limiting another big-time running back to under 100 yards, as Chris Johnson finished with 21 yards on 15 carries.

Titans quarterback Jake Locker left the game in the third quarter after getting hit by Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, suffering what appeared to be a serious hip injury. Locker was carted off the field and did not return after throwing a career high three touchdowns.

The Jets will be in the Georgia Dome next week for a Monday Night Football match-up against the Atlanta Falcons.

“It’s a butt whooping. We took it,” said Willie Colon. “We have to own it.”

Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison feasting on competition

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Florham Park, NJ – In a defensive front that includes three former first round picks, Damon Harrison could easily have become an afterthought.

Instead, the undrafted defensive tackle out of William Penn University is the talk of a revamped Jets defense.

“He’s playing lights-out football for us,” said veteran linebacker David Harris. “He’s a huge part of this defense.”

At 350 pounds, Damon “Big Snacks” Harrison, as he’s affectionately been nicknamed, is definitely a huge part of the Jets defense in more ways than one.

Playing only a few plays in five games a year ago, Harrison took a big step forward in the offseason, training with friend and teammate Kendrick Ellis.

Ellis, a third round pick in 2011, was the projected starter at nose tackle heading into the season, impressing head coach Rex Ryan during training camp. Snacks stepped in as the starter only after Ellis injured his back and was sidelined indefinitely.

Wally Pipping his friend, so to speak.

“Sometimes adversity to somebody gives opportunity to others,” said Ryan on Wednesday. “Obviously, Snacks has taken advantage of it and is doing a tremendous job.”

Harrison hasn’t just been an adequate fill in, either. Pro Football Focus rates him as a top-5 defensive tackle, naming him as the top interior defensive lineman in all of football for Week 3.

“He’s probably one of the best nose tackles in the league, in my opinion,” said fellow undrafted defensive lineman Leger Douzable. “You can’t really put one person on him and block him, it’s not going to happen. He’s made a big impact, especially in the run.”

An effective run stuffer, even a fantastic one, is not the most high profile gig on a football team, as casual fans tend to key in on flashier defensive plays like sacks and interceptions.

But Harrison’s presence in the trenches has paved the way for a revival on the defensive front, turning around the 26th best unit against the run a year ago, into a run stuffing, playmaking machine.

And while Ellis isn’t the starter anymore, his slow return to the lineup gives the Jets quality depth and scary potential.

“I give a lot of credit to that defensive line, especially Kendrick Ellis and Damon Harrison,” said Harris, who had perhaps the best game of his seven-year career against the Bills, thanks in part to the effort of the guys up front. “They’re keeping guys off of me and taking up double teams so it allows me to run free to the ball. I give all the credit to the d-line.”

After three weeks, Football Outsiders ranked the Jets defensive line second best in the league against the run based on adjusted line yards, a massive jump from a year ago when they were ranked 19th.

Harrison’s story is reminiscent of ex-Jet, and fan favorite, Sione Pouha, a big nose tackle who stepped into the spotlight after Kris Jenkins went down with an ACL injury.

“I tried to emulate everything that he did,” said Harrison of Pouha. The two played together a year ago and still keep in touch, according to Harrison.

But most of all, it’s been an increase in experience and confidence that has keyed Snacks’ breakout.

“I know exactly what I’m supposed to do,” said Harrison. “Last year I was having problems with that … the coaches didn’t have as much confidence in me because I wasn’t confident in myself. But now, this year, I know what I’m doing and I’m a whole lot more confident.”

And, boy, does it show.

Demario Davis ready for starting role

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Demario Davis is looking to add a dose of speed and leadership to the Jets defense in his second full season.

Cortland, NY – Even though former general manager Mike Tannenbaum technically drafted Demario Davis, he’s still a part of the new guard.

For years, the Jets packed their roster with personnel who loved to boast and brag, starting at the top with head coach Rex Ryan.

But now, even Ryan’s braggadocio is wearing thin. Santonio Holmes is going quietly about his rehab and Antonio Cromartie, who once openly called Tom Brady an “a–hole,” has looked like a model citizen.

Clearly, John Idzik is championing a new culture with the Jets, one where Ryan’s press conferences are Belichick-esque and stars are seen but not heard. Stars like Nick Mangold, Muhammad Wilkerson, and if things break right, Davis.

“Everything slows down a lot,” said Davis, speaking of his second year at training camp. “There have been a lot of changes, too, from the first year to the second year. That happens and it’s happened for the better.”

The man Davis is replacing is known for one of the most infamous sound bites in Jets’ history – behind only Joe Namath’s guarantee.

“Can’t wait.”

It’s what Bart Scott told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio immediately after the Jets beat the New England Patriots, advancing to their second straight AFC Championship game.

Scott spent four years with the Jets, but due to either injury or age, just couldn’t stay on the field during passing situations a year ago. So, when Idzik took the helm, he was one of the many casualties, opening the door for Davis.

“[Davis] is doing a tremendous job. I think his pass coverage in particular has been impressive,” Ryan said on Wednesday. “Again, the best teaching tool is going to be experience, to put the ball out there and let him go. I think he’s going to learn more from game action than even as much as he’s learned so far.”

When the Jets take the field for the season opener against Darrelle Revis and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Davis will be among the defensive starters.  A defense, which lost six veteran starters in the off-season and has a linebacking corps with an average age of 23 (not counting Calvin Pace, 32). A defense, which, along with a few others, he will now lead.

“That’s just who I am. I know my teammates, I know my coaches look to me to lead,” said Davis. “But the best way I can lead right now is going out, getting lined up and doing my job as best I can.”

Toward the end of mini-camp, Ryan commended Davis for his leadership abilities, using a word, as unusual as it may seem, normally reserved for players like Scott – “charismatic.”

“When we drafted the young man, I recognized that I thought it was unusual for a rookie to come in with such charisma, and whatever you want to call it – leadership,” said Ryan. “I thought when we drafted him, that you either have it or you don’t, and he certainly is a young man that has it.”

When Davis was drafted in the third round out of Arkansas State, it was thought that he could inject a dose of speed into an aging defense. Now, in his second season, he’s bringing more than just speed to the table  – and people are taking notice.

“It’s a pretty smooth transition, you learn a lot in year one and you try to come out and execute it in your second year,” said Davis. “I feel like I’ve grown in leaps and bounds and I just want to be able to show that on game day.”

Can’t wait.

Cromartie looking comfortable in leadership role

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

In the absence of Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie is embracing his new role as leader of the Jets secondary.

Cortland, NY – If God created a cornerback, or if scientists dreamt one up in a petri dish, or gamers coded one onto a screen, they’d end up with Antonio Cromartie.

Not ex-Jet Darrelle Revis.

His speed. His physicality. His 6 foot 2 inch frame.

Those are the characteristics that tempted the San Diego Chargers to draft Cromartie in the first round. It was his attitude, however, that ultimately got him shipped to the Jets.

As recently as last season, Cromartie was a training camp problem child, declaring himself the Jets second-best receiver, picking fights in practice and ducking the media.

Lest we also forget his quite publicized feelings toward a certain Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady.

That all seems to be changing, however. A year removed from a Pro-Bowl preformance, the jettison of Revis and the drafting of young cornerback Dee Milliner, you might as well rename training camp “Camp Cro.”

“I’m just going a long with it, honestly,” said Cromartie, calmly fielding questions from reporters about his new role on the defense. “I love what I’m doing, trying to be the leader that I am, and just going out and having fun.”

There’s rarely a moment now when Cromartie isn’t in the ear of one of his Jets teammates, whether it be Milliner, former first round pick Kyle Wilson, or anyone else, coaching them, leading them.

“Man, I’ve seen some great stuff from Kyle [Wilson]. His mind is focused and everything else is right where it needs to be and that’s all you can ask for,” said Cromartie, who worked with Wilson a lot during the off-season. “He’s going out and trying to be dominant at whatever the position he’s going to be playing.”

Cromartie is no longer just a controversial sound bite or the butt of a joke (Butt Fumble, anyone?), fielding questions about the state of the defense, Milliner’s development, and even the ongoing quarterback controversy. The change is evident. He acts like a leader, he talks like a leader.

“Every day is a workday. When we touch the field we have to treat every situation like it’s a game situation. That’s what I try to preach to all the guys,” he said, rattling off quote upon quote as evidence that maybe, just maybe, he’s finally putting it all together.

On Friday night, the Jets will suit up in their first preseason game against the Detroit Lions with Cromartie drawing the unenviable assignment of covering All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

“Megatron vs. the Megacorner,” as head coach Rex Ryan put it.

“It’s the preseason, but at the same time that’s the mentality you don’t want to have, you want to come in and treat it like a regular season game. That’s how we’re approaching it,” said Cromartie, again oozing responsibility.

“You lose games the fastest at quarterback and cornerback,” said Ryan after practice on Tuesday, stealing a phrase he learned from an old scout. At least the Jets have one of those two covered.

And who knows, if Cromartie can keep this up over the long haul, then maybe the Jets didn’t trade the best cornerback in the league after all.

Jets set to rebuild around talented trio of d-linemen

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Florham Park, NJ – It’s after the third and final day of minicamp and the New York Jets’ locker room feels like a high school hallway on the last day of class. Most players shower and hit the road, no doubt ready to start their pre-training camp break. Most, that is, except for defensive end Quinton Coples and rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson who keep the energy high, bouncing around and joking with teammates.

“You guys were great,” Coples quips to a group of reporters. “Great questions.” With a year under his belt, Coples has officially come out of his shell. His confidence, or what some might call cockiness, on the practice field is evident, even drawing a playful kick in the behind from All-Pro center Nick Mangold.

Richardson, who the Jets drafted with the 13th overall pick this year, has been loud from the get-go. He is one of the last to leave, his voice bellowing across the locker room and interrupting a media session with potential signee Kellen Winslow.

Coples and Richardson, along with the much more reserved Muhammad Wilkerson, represent the foundation of a young, talented, and confident Jets defensive line. And it shows.

“We’re just going to be a wrecking ball, man,” says Richardson. “I feel confident about our defense right now. We’re going to sack some people.”

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