Jets defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman glanced up from his desk to the team’s schedule hanging above it and rattled off a succession of foes: Falcons, Steelers, Patriots, Bengals and Saints.
It’s the Jets’ midseason schedule, a stretch from Oct. 7 to Nov. 3, that could send the team into oblivion or give them a chance to shock people. The Jets will see some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL — enough to give any defensive coordinator pause, especially if you’re working in seven new starters like Thurman is.“We’re going to play against some great quarterbacks and some great offenses,” Thurman said. “We’re going to have to be hitting on all cylinders if we’re going to be effective.”
NO D-NIAL : New Jets defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman said his unit is “going to have to be hitting on all cylinders if we’re going to be effective.”
The 57-year-old is in his first year as the Jets’ coordinator after four years of coaching the team’s defensive backs. “DT,” as he is known around football, took over for Mike Pettine in January then saw the Jets defense go through an extreme makeover.
Gone are Bart Scott, Sione Po’uha, Bryan Thomas and Darrelle Revis — all staples of the defense under Rex Ryan. It is possible Thurman’s defense will have five players in either their first or second seasons when the Jets open against Revis’ Buccaneers in September.“They’re doing pretty good right now, but we’ve got miles to go to get those guys to understand how hard they’re going to have to play, how difficult it is to play at this level against some of the offenses we’re going to play,” Thurman said in his office last week.
Thurman has been preparing for this job for decades. As an All-American safety at USC in the 1970s, he helped mentor a young Ronnie Lott.“By far, he was one of the biggest influences of not only my football life, but life in general,” Lott said in a phone interview this week.Lott said Thurman even came back to USC after he was in the NFL and would teach things he learned from Tom Landry as a member of the Cowboys. Thurman’s influence was so profound on Lott, he thanked him in his Hall of Fame induction speech.“He’s been coaching since he learned the game,” Lott said. “He’s just been a person that has always been a coach. You knew that it was going to be transferrable for him to be a coach. He’s always had a knack of communicating in a way that guys can understand it. A lot of coaches can’t communicate.”
Thurman went on to have a nine-year NFL career, mostly with the Cowboys. When his playing career ended, he spent two years coaching with the Cardinals then returned to USC as a defensive backs coach. During his time at USC, Thurman notably recruited future Giant Jason Sehorn and turned him into a cornerback.Thurman then coached with Ryan in Baltimore for six years, and Ryan brought him along when he took the Jets’ head coaching job in 2009.
Under Thurman, the Jets’ secondary became a strength. Last year he had the team’s only two Pro Bowlers — Antonio Cromartie and LaRon Landry — and held together the unit after Revis was lost to injury in Week 3.Now, Thurman takes over a Jets defense with plenty of new faces, and says the team’s youth on defense has its benefits and its drawbacks.“We’re more athletic,” Thurman said. “We’re faster. It’s nice to see, but less experienced. It’s a trade-off. When you get young guys who are athletic and hungry and want to make their own name, it’s not always bad.”
Thurman knows his mission is to bring the young guys along, and the clock is ticking. All he has to do is look up from his desk for a reminder of that.