In Morris Co., N.J. at the right end of a Browning 12 gauge
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Jets' defense aims for former heights by simplifying its approach
Published: Friday, June 15, 2012, 5:00 AM Updated: Friday, June 15, 2012, 6:10 AM
The Jets defense has the same goal each year: To be No. 1 in the league.
The unit has been in the top five in each season under coach Rex Ryan, but the last time it was No. 1 was 2009. So this offseason, the coaching staff worked to simplify the playbook and “take the gray out” — in order to get back to the approach that worked so well three years ago.
“Let’s just go!” outside linebacker Calvin Pace said.
That’s not a rallying cry, it’s a way of playing. Linebacker David Harris explained it as “taking the hesitation out.” The goal is for players to play fast, which means there may be less reads on a play or less emphasis on getting into the so-called perfect call.
The defense’s offseason objective of “one step faster” is applied mentally, not just physically.
“Last year, we were a victim of thinking too much,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “Taking the gray out has allowed us to play fast. Everything we do is going to be moving fast, just like we did our first year.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said the coaches’ offseason project was to go through the playbook page by page, comparing the tape and the playbook drawings. He asked each position coach, “What in your area is gray? What do your players hesitate on?”
The Jets removed some calls and clarified others. Pettine said the emphasis shifted away from calls with too many moving parts.
For example, instead of a player having to read if it is run or pass, and then hit the tight end, and then rush, the Jets may use a call that asks the player to simply get to the quarterback — and maybe hit someone along the way.
They also leaned on calls that have players line up based on the left and right sides, or the field and boundary, rather than reacting to the offensive formation or where a certain player lines up. This will let the defense get set and play fast.
“Make the offense adjust to us,” Scott said. “Last year maybe we were reacting to the offense, and I think this year, we took it out. Let’s just go back to do what we do, let’s play fast and physical. And now make the offense have to speed up, because they are not getting time to read, because we’re forcing them to make a decision faster.”
Pace called it a rewind back to the methods used in 2009, after getting away from the core of Ryan and Pettine’s defense.
Of course, the personnel is much different than it was three years ago, so this defense will have its own distinct look. Pettine said the Jets took out some 3-4 calls and added in more 4-3 calls, to best utilize their personnel.
The Jets have always mixed in 4-3 looks, but now that can be achieved with 2011 first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson and 2012 first-round pick Quinton Coples at the end positions, instead of outside linebackers.
Pettine believes the defensive line is now the “foundation” of the defense while there is some uncertainty at the outside linebacker spot, calling Bryan Thomas a “question mark” after Achilles and shoulder surgery. The Jets will follow their depth to get their best 11 players on the field, Pettine said, but their alignments will always be game-plan specific.
The Jets often used 4-3 looks during minicamp. Pettine explained “over-practicing” four-down formations was an objective this spring, since they had more experience in other packages.
But he liked what he saw and said to expect “a lot” of the 4-3 looks in training camp and the season.
“(New defensive line) coach (Karl) Dunbar had great success with the 4-3, with a four-man line in Minnesota, that’s his expertise,” Scott said. “Now we have a lot of guys that can play it, and we can be flexible in our fronts.”
Being flexible and playing fast have been hallmarks of this defense, and the Jets hope that propels them back to the No. 1 ranking this year.
For more Jets coverage, follow Jenny Vrentas on Twitter at twitter.com/Jennyvrentas