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.
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.”