D dept. : defensive coordinator, new D-backs coach go way back ~ ~ ~
Dennis Thurman has about "10 different looks."
Each facial expression has a meaning, a purpose. And over the course of their decades-long friendship, Tim McDonald has figured out just about all of them.
That's because Thurman has used most of them on his former pupil.
"You know when you're screwing something up," McDonald, the Jets new secondary coach said in a sit-down interview along with Thurman. "He just gives you that look, so you've got to get it fixed." . . . I've noticed they've changed over time. They've gotten a little grumpier," he added, eliciting a laugh from Thurman. "And it just depends on how he tilts his head and which eye goes up, or which eyebrow goes higher."Thurman -- who possesses a rare talent for delivering blunt honesty and a well-timed one-liner at the same time -- ran the Jets secondary the past four years. But now, following his promotion to defensive coordinator this offseason, he's happy to fade into the background. Now, the stage is set for McDonald, 48, to improve upon the foundation laid by Thurman and Rex Ryan.On the surface, the personalities of the seemingly-reserved McDonald and the straight-talking Thurman appear to clash. "But once he gets to know you, we're much more alike than we are different," Thurman said. "He thinks he's a comedian actually and he doesn't realize he'd be starving if that was his job."
Jets players are quick to point out that it's impossible to compare anyone to Thurman. But McDonald's NFL credentials speak for themselves: 13 seasons, six Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl championship in 1994 with the 49ers."He commands immediate respect," second-year safety Josh Bush said. "Whatever he says, you're going to listen to right off the bat."But before McDonald was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, he was in St. Louis and later, Tempe, Ariz., under the tutelage of Thurman, then a position coach for the Cardinals starting in 1988.The Cardinals traded defensive backs Leonard Smith to Buffalo that year in order to get McDonald, the 34th overall pick in the NFL draft, into the starting lineup."Not saying Leonard wasn't easy to coach," Thurman said. "But Tim was easier."And from there a bond was born.Asked to share what he's learned from Thurman over the years, McDonald replies with a smile. "The game, pretty much," he said.When Thurman, 57, describes his friendship with McDonald, two simple words come to mind.
"Powerful," he said. "Inspirational.
"He listens. It's important that if you're going to talk to someone that they're listening and your conversation can go back and forth. It's never been one-sided."After coaching two years at his alma mater, Edison High School in Fresno, Calif., McDonald coached Fresno State's secondary in 2012. But when former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine bolted for Buffalo, McDonald called Ryan to interview for the position. In January, he was hired.Soon after, McDonald called up Thurman to tell him the good news. "I'm coming to New York to take a bite out the apple," he said.But the defensive coordinator is adamant McDonald was on the Jets' radar because of his credentials, not their friendship."It wasn't just, 'OK, we're friends. You get the job,' " said Thurman, who helped mold future Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott during their playing days at USC. "He had to go through the process and in going through the process, he didn't just impress me. I knew what he was made of. But he obviously impressed Rex and the new GM and the other people he had come in contact with. So he earned the job."
Though the Jets ranked second in pass defense (189.8) and eighth overall in 2012, McDonald has inherited a secondary with just three players (Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson, Isaiah Trufant) with three years of experience in the system.The new position coach also doesn't have the luxury of a healthy Darrelle Revis at his disposal."Don't get me wrong, Darrelle Revis is a great, great player and will go down in history as one of the best players to ever come through here. But this defense was pretty good last year," McDonald said. "There's some good football players here and we will respond in the ways that we need to respond."But, you know," he added with a laugh, "I thought he would be here. I thought [safety] LaRon Landry would be here. But I do understand this: in the NFL, the only thing that stays the same is change. No one is immortal . . . As long as we can get the most out of the guys, I really believe that we have a chance to be pretty good."
So they say does rookie Dee Milliner.
Despite the former Alabama standout being sidelined since his March shoulder surgery, the coaching staff sees potential in the 21-year-old."Talent; athleticism; the ability to do all the things that you want done," Thurman said. "Some guys that go out now and play corner, they just want to cover people. He doesn't mind tackling, he doesn't mind getting involved in the run game . . . When you look at him, you have the thought in your head that this guy can become one of the better corners in this league because he has the ability."McDonald cautioned Milliner won’t be the next Revis, but "he's going to be a special player in his own right. The kid can do it all. He was the No. 1 corner in this draft for a reason: He's long, he's rangy, he's cat-quick and he'll make his share of plays. And eventually we'll be talking about, hopefully down the road, somebody trying to replace Dee Milliner."As Thurman had a hand in molding Revis' career, McDonald will serve in the same capacity with the rookie corner. And Thurman has already taken a step back, allowing his successor to shape the secondary as he sees fit.
"The most important thing I can do to help Tim is to back away," said Thurman, who also stands off to side while Ryan leads the defensive installs during practice. " . . . If I'm hovering over in his meeting room or hanging around every one of his drills,then it'll look like I'm still doing it. I don't want that. I want them to understand who their coach is."But every now and then, Thurman shoots McDonald one of those "looks." And it feels just like old times.
Said Thurman: "Whether we're working together or apart, we're still going to be great friends."
1. Bringing the heat : One of the reasons why Rex Ryan has resumed control of the defense is because the Jets want to get back to their ultra-aggressive style from 2009 and 2010. There was a feeling in the locker room that they got too conservative under former coordinator Mike Pettine, whose role expanded over the previous four years to the point where he was heavily involved in play calling in 2011 and 2012. He left after the season in a mysterious lateral move to become the Bills' DC."We're going to do a lot of blitzing and getting after people," LB David Harris told me the other day. "There should be a different brand of football than you were used to seeing the last couple of years." Asked about last season's philosophy, Harris said, "We played more coverage. It wasn't like '09, that's obvious. That's all I'll say about that."
The statistics don't lie. Here's a breakdown of the Jets' blitz percentage (5+ pass rushers) over the past four seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information: 52.4 percent in '09 (first in NFL), 44.7 percent in '10 (third), 32.8 percent in '11 (12th) and 34.0 percent in '12 (11th). Detect a trend? In fairness to Pettine, he lost the top corner in football, Darrelle Revis, which may have caused him to become more cautious. Yet when I mentioned that alibi to two players, they shot it down, saying Antonio Cromartie capably replaced Revis as the No. 1 corner. I'll say this: The defense will be fun to watch in 2013.
2. Special K: The Kellen Winslow, Jr. signing is a low-risk acquisition, but it seems like expectations are getting out of control. Yes, he impressed at minicamp, but the man has endured at least five knee operations since his motorcycle accident in 2005, including a reconstruction in '05 and microfracture surgery in '07. A year ago, he told the Boston media -- during his cup of coffee with the Patriots -- that he plays in constant pain. Winslow said he felt great during his three-day tryout with the Jets, but what did you expect an unemployed player to say ? "I think it's a lot like [David] Garrard," an opposing personnel executive said of Winslow. "He'll be fine in a workout, moving and running, but taking a hit, the grind of training camp and a full, 16-game season will be the litmus tests. ... I'd watch him closely to see if they manage his reps and practice time."
3. Secret weapon : The future of RB Mike Goodson remains up in air, with his case headed to a grand jury. That could take a couple of months, but my sense is there will be a plea deal before then. If the gun charge is dropped and he cops to possession of marijuana, the outcome could be a one-game suspension by the NFL. In 2009, Shaun Ellis received a one-game suspension and a $100,000 fine from the league after he was arrested for possession of marijuana. I can tell you this: Goodson has impressed with his explosiveness, and people in the organization are rooting for him, perhaps selfishly, because they believe he can be a dynamic player.
4. Who needs help ?: Some teams, in an attempt to get a better handle on defending the read-option, have consulted with college coaches. Not the Jets. Ryan said they don't need help. He said, "I’m not being arrogant about it, but ..." -- and he went on to mention his long-ago coaching experience in the Big 12. He also noted that LBs coach Brian VanGorder has a college background, including last season as the Auburn defensive coordinator."I think we've got a pretty good handle on it," Ryan said. They didn't last year, as they were shredded by Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. Just saying.
5. Unique competition : QBs coach David Lee is a straight shooter. The question is, will his quarterbacks follow suit? Lee, coaching with his fourth team in nine NFL seasons, said he's never been around a quarterback competition this tight. Previously, he coached Quincy Carter (Cowboys), Vinny Testaverde (Cowboys), Drew Bledsoe (Cowboys) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (Bills). In each case, the starter was clear-cut, he said. Now he has Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith, neck-and-neck as they head into training camp."It’s never been like this, no, sir," Lee said. And to think, the fun hasn't really started yet.
6. Speak up, kid: Lee said Smith's "delivery in the huddle has to be more consistent." By that, he meant the way Smith relays the play call to his teammates. This is one aspect of the quarterback's job that no one ever talks about. The quarterback must speak clearly and decisively, almost as if he's selling the play to the rest of the huddle. If there's hesitation or doubt, it creates a bad vibe. From what I'm told, Smith botched a few during recent practices. Hey, he's a rookie, so he gets the benefit of the doubt. No one will remember his minicamp hiccups if he blows away everyone in training camp with how much he's improved.
7. Still paying for Tebow : Tebow's contract with the Patriots is a two-year deal for $1.36 million, according to ESPNBoston.com. There's no signing bonus, no guaranteed money, just the minimum salaries and a $25,000 workout bonus in 2014. The Jets aren't paying Tebow anymore, but they're still paying money to the Broncos -- $1.53 million, per last year's trade agreement. In other words, the Jets are paying more for a ghost than the Patriots will pay over two years for the actual player -- if he makes the team. That's hardly a lock, although owner Robert (We Love His Spirituality) Kraft is pulling for him. Tebow is "the real deal," according to Kraft. You can never have too much Tebow. Oh, wait, somebody already said that.
8. Making a mountain out of a Hill : Aside from the quarterbacks, the player under the most scrutiny in training camp will be WR Stephen Hill, who followed a disappointing rookie year with a drop-filled minicamp. The Jets gave him a surprisingly high draft grade and, if DE Quinton Coples hadn't been available, they may have considered Hill with the 16th overall pick last year. (Ryan might have tendered his resignation if that happened.) Now it's time for Hill to produce.
9. Tone talk : Santonio Holmes, who would rather wash dirty locker-room towels than speak to the media, provided details of his Lisfranc foot injury in an interview last week with the Jets' official web site. He said it was diagnosed as a Grade 4 injury (the most serious kind), meaning a muscle tear and joint separation in his mid-foot. Screws and a plate were removed in a follow-up surgery in March, but he said two screws will remain in his foot permanently. He said his "target date" is the first day of training camp, but that seems overly ambitious, considering he still isn't running and cutting. Between Holmes and Hill, the need for a receiver is so blatantly obvious. GM John Idzik needs to spend the next two to three months looking to make a deal or else he's giving the offense no chance.
10. Cortland's coming : Only 39 days until training camp. And no Revis watch. It won't be the same.
Rex Ryan never exactly gave up control of the New York Jets' defense over the last two seasons. But there's no denying that former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine had a larger role in calling the defensive plays the last two seasons, and the play-calling was more conservative.The numbers back it up. ESPNNewYork.com notes that the Jets were first in "blitz percentage" in 2009, and third in 2010. They fell out of the top 10 the last two seasons after Pettine became heavily involved in the play-calling. Look for that trend to reverse this season.
"We're going to do a lot of blitzing and getting after people," linebacker David Harris told Rich Cimini on Sunday. "There should be a different brand of football than you were used to seeing the last couple of years. ... (Last year) we played more coverage. It wasn't like '09, that's obvious. That's all I'll say about that."Pettine mysteriously disappeared from the Jets like a Sopranos character after last season. No one said he was whacked, but it's clear enough that Ryan wanted him to move on. (Pettine took a lateral move to the Buffalo Bills.)
Much of the Jets' conservative nature the last two seasons was personnel-based, as the team's front seven often was too old and slow to truly pressure. The Jets should be in better shape to be creative now with Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, Sheldon Richardson and Demario Davis all adding young legs to the starting lineup.The offense might be a mess, but it wouldn't be a surprise if the Jets' defense was a top unit again this season, even without Darrelle Revis. Ryan has proven he can coach up defense. Just ask him.
If this is going to be Ryan's swan song with the Jets, look for him to go out swinging.
Ryan's schemes are so predictable, maybe this has something to do with it? Overload left or right and that's about it. Ryan is a one trick pony and nothing will change. He blitzed so much due to crappy d lineman. He's f()coking lost. Example, take Coples and make him a line backer. Can't wait to see him chasing wide open te's.
If anyone thinks that the o will be any good is completely out of their minds. Having a head coach that doesn't have a clue about his o, should not be a head coach in the nfl..
Ryan's schemes are so predictable, maybe this has something to do with it? Overload left or right and that's about it. Ryan is a one trick pony and nothing will change. He blitzed so much due to crappy d lineman. He's f()coking lost. Example, take Coples and make him a line backer. Can't wait to see him chasing wide open te's.
If anyone thinks that the o will be any good is completely out of their minds. Having a head coach that doesn't have a clue about his o, should not be a head coach in the nfl..
~ ~ Despite the loss of star Darrelle Revis, who was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason, there is not much to be concerned about at cornerback for the Jets. New York still has veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who made the Pro Bowl last year, and there is depth with first-round picks Kyle Wilson (2010) and Dee Milliner (2013). Wilson may start early, but both young corners will play a key role on defense, especially in sub packages. New York’s major question in the secondary is at safety. The Jets could not afford to keep 2012 Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, who signed a multiyear contract with the Indianapolis Colts. Instead, the Jets signed his cheaper, less talented brother -- Dawan Landry -- as a replacement. The other starting position at safety is wide open, with players such as Antonio Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Josh Bush vying for playing time. Look for Jets head coach and defensive whiz Rex Ryan to find clever ways to cover up New York’s deficiencies at safety this year.
Antonio Garay used to scoot around San Diego in a little, red Smart Car with huge Hello Kitty faces decorating each door.
The funny photos of the former Charger and current New York Jets nose tackle squeezing his 6-foot-4, 320-pound frame into the attention-grabbing but environmentally friendly vehicle were all over the Internet a year ago.But, new Jets teammate Quinton Coples had no idea -- until he was shown the proof.
"Wow," a laughing Coples said, shaking his head in disbelief. "That says a lot right there. I need to speak to that guy about this, like ASAP!"The 33-year-old Garay is one of the newest, most-experienced -- and, perhaps, most fun-loving -- members of the Jets' revamped and close-knit defensive line that is considered perhaps New York's biggest strength heading into training camp in a few weeks."I've been trying to keep a lot of that on the down-low," said a smiling Garay, in his second stint with the Jets after signing as a free agent in March following four seasons with the Chargers. "I've been downplaying the car and all that -- because they told me that Quinton Coples is a big Pikachu fan, so I didn't want to steal any of his thunder."
Well, he no longer has the Hello Kitty car, but Garay still drives a Smart Car, a red and black one that defensive line coach Karl Dunbar says is "about the size of my desk."All the jokes and jabs -- such as Garay begging rookie first-rounder Sheldon Richardson to leave his T-shirt on at all times -- have made for some lighthearted moments among the Jets' defensive linemen this offseason."You never know what you're going to get when you walk into that room because we have a bunch of comedians in there," Dunbar said. "It's a pretty good room, we're having fun and there's already a lot of camaraderie with that group."
That's even after allowing Mike DeVito and Sione Po'uha, both respected and productive team leaders, to leave as free agents.
There are rising stars such as Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson, the savvy and silly vet in Garay and youngsters such as Richardson, Kenrick Ellis and Damon Harrison looking to make their marks.Dunbar is also interested in seeing how a few others such as Lanier Coleman, Jake McDonough, Junior Aumavae and Tevita Finau perform in camp in Cortland, N.Y."I'm excited about the group I have," Dunbar said. "I'm not going to try to sit here and downplay it."Dunbar certainly knows talent when he sees it. Now in his second season on Rex Ryan's staff, Dunbar spent the previous six years in Minnesota and helped turn the Vikings' defensive line into arguably the best in the NFL with Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, Ray Edwards and Jared Allen leading the way.
Minnesota allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL during Dunbar's tenure there, and the Vikings were the first team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to lead the league in rushing defense for three straight years. The Jets finished a disappointing 26th against the run in Dunbar's first year, but now the goal is to be No. 1."When we assessed our defensive line after the season was over and after free agency and we lost a couple of guys, we decided that, if you have big guys who can run, this defense could be phenomenal," Dunbar said. "I think we did that by adding Sheldon with the 13th pick and then adding Garay, I really like where we stand right now."
Added Harrison: "It's crazy, man. The athleticism of this line is so scary. This season is going to be fun."And it all starts with Wilkerson, the team's first-round pick in 2011 who has consistently improved in his first two seasons and played well enough last season to garner Pro Bowl consideration. Individual success will come, Wilkerson believes, because of the way the defensive line expects to play."We know Coach Dunbar had dominant guys (in Minnesota) and we want to be dominant -- not like them, but in our own way," Wilkerson said. "We want to be one of the most dominant fronts in the league."
Coples will be sliding from the defensive end spot he mostly played as a rookie last season to alternating between outside linebacker and the line. Last year's first-round pick led the team in sacks with a modest 5 1/2, and he and the Jets are expecting more this season."I'm just looking at getting to the quarterback and I think that's what this team looks for from me," Coples said. "And I want to make sure that each and every day I'm working at that, whether it's playing D-line or outside linebacker."
The last time the Jets had a player with double-digit sacks was 2005 as John Abraham paced the club with 10.5 QB takedowns. In fact from 2000-’05, New York’s AFC representative had at least one player rack up double-digit sack totals.
Abraham, who had 13 sacks in 2001, 10 in 2002, 9.5 in 2004 and 10.5 in 2005, was a unique athletic talent who opposing offensive coordinators had to gameplan for. While Rex Ryan and new defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman will devise plans next season featuring various pressure and assimilated pressure packages, do the Green & White have a player or players who will keep opposing QBs up night ? Under Ryan, the Jets have averaged 34 sacks a season. While they finished tied for 8th in sacks in 2010 with 40, the numbers have dipped each of the past two years as the Green & White tied for 17th in 2011 with 35 and tied for 25th in 2012 with 30.
In 2009, the Jets fielded a historically stout defense. But that unit amassed 32 sacks — a number that ranked tied for 18th as OLB Calvin Pace led the way with eight. Sacks don’t win or lose games alone, but you have to disrupt the QB in the modern-day NFL that is dominated by passing.The Green & White believe they are better equipped to get after people in 2013 and for good reason. Quinton Coples led the team with 5.5 sacks in his first pro season and he will play a hybrid OLB/DE position for the Jets in Year 2.
“I think it gives me a head start on getting to the quarterback,” Coples said of standing up. “It also gives me a head start on seeing the pass as far as if I have seam flat or if I’m able to check with a three-receiver hook. It just depends on the play call. I can see the receivers when I’m standing up and I can see things going on — their formation and how they’re operating, and the things they can run out of it a lot better than I can with my hand in the dirt.”
“Here’s a guy that has all the physical tools to be the best player out on the field and that’s what we need him to be,” said Ryan of Coples.After getting his feet wet in Year 1 and really coming on in the second half of the season, a motivated and an engaged Coples has the potential to reach double-digit sack totals. The only player on the roster to accomplish that feat on the pro level is former Chargers OLB Antwan Barnes.The Jets quietly scooped up Barnes in free agency and this is a speed rusher who amassed 11 sacks with the ‘Bolts in 2011. Editor-in-chief Randy Lange also pointed out this week, Barnes “erupted for 18.5 sacks in 38 games as a Charger since ’10.” Barnes, who already knows the system since he began his career with the Ravens, is explosive off the edge and he should thrive in sub packages.
“He’s not as well-known as he should be, but in the time that he’s played and the numbers that he’s put up — the guy has some serious talent,” said OLB Calvin Pace. “He got talent enough to be playing in Hawaii at some point in time.”In five seasons with the Jets, Pace has totaled 28 sacks. After being released in a cost-cutting move, the club was happy to bring their jack of all trades back to the mix at OLB.“That was a big signing for us because it’s not just that he’s kind of like the glue,” Ryan said. “We’re doing a lot of different things with him. We’re moving him all over the place.”
Pace, whose eight sacks in Ryan’s inaugural season as head coach was a career-high, is a versatile cog who gives the Jets flexibility. He still can get up the field, but his reliability setting the edge along with athleticism to cover means sometimes other players are going to get the glory. Garrett McIntyre has a good motor and Ricky Sapp will also look to push for playing time on the outside.But everything will start up front because the Jets have a few players who should demand double teams and there will be an opportunity for a better push up the middle. Many pundits and fans were bewildered by the Jets’ second Round 1 selection on Draft Weekend — Sheldon Richardson.Some wondered if the selection of the Missouri DT was a wasted pick because the Jets have traditionally used a 3-4 as their base defense. But the Green & White will continue to be multiple with their fronts and this Rex Ryan/Dennis Thurman led defense is not all two-gapping. The tackle position, the Rush ‘Backer and the Will Backer are all 4-3 type positions.
“To get him at 13, we thought was somewhat of a steal. The guy brings a lot of passion, a lot of energy to the game and to the position,” said defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman. “He will give us some inside presence as a pass rusher. We feel like with the drafting of (Quinton) Coples last year and Muhammad Wilkerson the year before and big Kenrick Ellis, we have a defensive front we can be proud of and get pressure on the quarterback without necessarily having to blitz.”
“Half our defense was played in a 4-3, at least,” added Ryan. “It doesn’t matter. Our thing is, just give us a good football player and this system will make a good player great.”Quarterbacks hate pressure up the middle and Richardson has the ability to make passers uneasy. You now have the ability to pair up Richardson and Ellis in the middle, Wilkerson and Coples down at DE, David Harris at middle linebacker, Demario Davis at the Will and Pace becomes the Sam ‘backer. If any team fails to put two men on Wilkerson, they are playing with fire. He is a do it all talent who had five sacks last year despite commanding multiple people in the trenches. Harris, who has 22.5 career sacks, is a sound rusher and the fast Davis will be an intriguing blitzer for the Jets as well.
While the tendency for us is to get caught up in the various fronts and reps for each player, the packages, personnel groupings and alignments are going to change week-to-week. If the Pats and the Saints spread the Jets out and they counter with sub packages, Barnes might never come off the field. But the Titans could play a lot of two-tight ends or jumbo packages and you might not see that much of Barnesy.One of the great features of a Ryan-led defense is opportunity and he has promised to be more aggressive in 2013. The Jets have a lot more speed in the front seven and they love their coverage ability on the outside. So sit back and watch the overloads, the simulated pressures and the stunts — the Jets are going to bring the heat. And don’t be surprised if a defender reaches a double-digit sack total for the first time since 2005.
What's it like to be in your first offseason program with the Jets ?
It's great, finally getting back into the swing of things. It's great to get to know the defense to a T. Now I'm getting excited for training camp, I just want to get this thing rolling.
Do you see a spot you're pushing for in particular? Maybe the Nickel job, or somewhere else ?
Everything is up for grabs. You can't go into it thinking anyone has a solidified position you just have to go out there and play your game. You have to control the things you can control. Once you start worrying about all the other things, that's when you can't play your game. But if you can get out there and control what you can control, you're going to be fine.
Now that all the injuries are by the wayside, what's it like to run around out there?
It's great, man, just to be around and be with the guys, it was great to be in the weight room working out with Justus (Galac) and getting back into the swing of things. The meeting room helped me out tremendously understanding the defense as a whole."
How do you like Tim McDonald, the new secondary coach?
I love him, man. Tim is a great guy. He'll joke with you but when it comes time to get down to business, he means business. He understands us, he played 14 years in the league so he knows what to expect from us. He knows when to turn it on, and knows when to dial it down. So it's great to have a player/coach out there.
Breaking down the Jets, position by position, as they prepare for training camp, which opens Thursday:
Position: Defensive line
Projected starters: Muhammad Wilkerson, Kenrick Ellis, Sheldon Richardson.
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesKenrick Ellis is preparing for his third NFL season -- but his first as a starter. What kind of production will the Jets get from him ?
Projected reserves: Antonio Garay, Damon Harrison.
New faces: Richardson, Garay.
The departed: Sione Po'uha, Mike DeVito.
Player to watch: Richardson. The Jets' scouts were so high on Richardson (No. 13 overall pick) that they rated him fourth on their draft board. He's an athletic lineman with a terrific motor, and he's expected to play a key role on the revamped line. The question is, does he fit Rex Ryan's 3-4 base defense? Richardson isn't accustomed to being a two-gap lineman, so there will be a transition period. Ryan won't get the best of Richardson if he lines him up as a 5-technique end in a straight 3-4 front, so he's likely to move him around, using him in 1- and 3-technique positions as well.
Potential strength: Without question, this is the youngest and most athletic defensive line of the Ryan era. And it should be. After all, they've picked first-round linemen in the past three drafts -- Richardson, Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, who will be used in a hybrid role. Wilkerson, entering his third year, has a chance to be one of the best 3-4 DEs in the league; some say he's already there. The line started to get a bit creaky last season, especially with the banged-up Po'uha at nose tackle. The '13 group has a chance to be special if it realizes its potential.
Potential weakness: Depth. A bad injury to one of the top four players would be devastating. The depth isn't as bad as it looks on paper, because they can use Coples, Calvin Pace, Antwan Barnes and Garrett McIntyre -- all outside linebackers -- at defensive end in certain fronts. Nevertheless, they still need a veteran backup to increase the comfort level.
Wild card: Ellis. This is Year 3, so he's out of mulligans. After two years of adversity (injuries and legal problems), Ellis steps into a starting role, replacing the well-respected Po'uha. Basically, Ellis was handed the job based on his potential. He has the size (6-foot-4, 346 pounds) and raw ability to control the point of attack, but he's still green and needs technique work. His small-college background bought him a two-year honeymoon. Now it's time to deliver. If not, Garay could assume the starting job on the nose.
Quarterback Geno Smith takes the snap and rolls out to his left on a bootleg pass play.
Defensive end Quinton Coples is across the line of scrimmage watching his every move. His assignment on the play: contain Smith. Given Geno's reputation for using his speed to evade defenders — he runs a sub-4.6 in the 40 — Coples has been given no easy task.
Smith begins to hustle toward the left sideline, now sprinting toward the outside, keeping his eyes downfield, looking to make a pass all the while.
“He was my responsibility,” Coples said, “and I just wanted to assure him that he could not outrun me.”
Smith hardly gets past the line of scrimmage before Coples cuts him off and forces him out of bounds.
“Not that fast!” Coples shouts. “Not that fast!”
“Now he can’t get into the press and tell y’all that he can outrun me,” he said.
Typically on the receiving end of compliments regarding foot speed, Smith was amazed by Coples’ ability to keep up with him on the bootleg during this morning’s practice.
“The guy’s like 280 [actually 6'6", 290] and he’s running step for step with me,” Smith said, “That’s a good sign.”
Entering his second year, Coples will transition from a defensive end to a D-line/linebacker hybrid. With the change in position comes a change in responsibilities.
As he transfers into the second level of the defense, containing quarterbacks and showing off his speed will be even more necessary than before. With an emphasis on keeping pace with those in the backfield, running stride for stride with Smith shows his ability to get the job done effectively.
“I can’t wait until he’s chasing other guys down on Sunday,” Smith said.
Coples added that becoming a hybrid defensive lineman/linebacker will come naturally with some reliance on the coaching staff and his pre-NFL playing days.
“It’s a position that I’ve played a little bit throughout my years of football,” he said, “and the coaches are giving me some good feedback and constructive criticism as well.”
Coples will look to improve upon his impressive rookie campaign in which he led the team with 5.5 sacks. But he understands that physical ability alone cannot lead to success.
“It’s about understanding what you’re doing and understanding your responsibility more than anything,” he said.
Once he learns his new responsibilities, this Jet will be ready for takeoff.
It was a relatively uneventful second day of training camp practice for David Harris, but so it’s been for the seventh-year linebacker out of Michigan they call “Hitman.” Without all of the flare and the loud antics we were accustomed to from former teammate Bart Scott, Harris has quickly become one of the more effective linebackers in the NFL.Quiet in nature and stoic in poise, Harris talks softly but puts up numbers that are anything but. Last year marked his fifth season with over 100 tackles. He racked up 123 in 16 games, his highest total since 2009. Never one to brag about his statistics, Harris is readying himself to lead a linebacking corps also featuring returning veteran Calvin Pace and second-year man Demario Davis, who is set to take on a bigger role this season after starting only three games in 2012.
Harris was asked how the linebackers were performing so far at SUNY Cortland.“It’s coming together well," he said. "I give all the credit to coach Brian VanGorder. He’s a wonderful coach who's been doing it for a long time at this level. He doesn’t let anything get swept under the rug and I think that’s a good way to coach because it’s easy to get complacent on this level. We’re a tight-knit group. We always go out to lunch together, we hang out together. We have a great group of guys.”
Rex Ryan has said he is going to take a more hands-on approach with the defense this season after the Jets struggled last year to keep teams out of the end zone. Harris was asked about his head coach’s role on his side of the ball.“I wouldn’t say it’s going to be a huge difference, but you’ll be able to notice it. It’s pretty much the same defense from the last five years, but I think we’re going to be a little bit more aggressive,” he said. "This is Rex’s defense. He knows it, and nobody knows it better than him. He’s going to teach it; make sure everybody knows it from the top guy to the last man that’s signed.”
Harris has had to fight his natural instincts to tackle anything that moves through these first two days at training camp, forced to pull up before he plants another ballcarrier into the grass, something he has done more than any teammate during his tenure with the Green & White.That all changes Sunday as the team suits up in full pads for the remainder of training camp, unleashing the likes of David Harris on a Jets offense trying to find its stride.
“Tomorrow we put the pads on, and that’s when it gets real," he said. "We’re itching, definitely. There have been a couple of scuffles out here, tempers are heating up. But we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Antonio Allen is in the lead for the starting safety spot opposite Dawan Landry, Jets coach Rex Ryan said Monday.It's no secret. The Jets had tons of issues heading into training camp.
“It’s good competition, because Jaiquawn Jarrett is behind him. That’s going to be real fun to watch because both guys [are] physical players. I love Allen’s length and he’s been impressive at times. He’s not there yet, but some of the things he’s done, he made a couple real nice plays the other day.“Both of them can blitz, both of them are aggressive in the run game and we’ll just let that play out.”Allen, going into his third NFL season, has been getting a lot of the first-team reps alongside Landry. As for safety Josh Bush, who many thought would compete for the starting role, Ryan said he is studying to back up Landry.Allen intercepted a Mark Sanchez pass in 7-on-7 drills on Saturday, coming down with a ball intended for Stephen Hill. In that play, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Allen had an advantage. Jarrett is about the same height, while Bush is 5-11.
Last season the Jets had LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, a solid combo, but both free agents signed with other teams after the season.Kenrick Ellis and Quinton Coples lead a talented defensive line.
BEST IN LEAGUE ? : There is reason to be optimistic when it comes to the Jets' defensive line. Quinton Coples, Kenrick Ellis and Muhammad Wilkerson are developing into formidable players. Ryan was asked if he thought the Jets could have one of the best defensive lines in the league, as Coples had said earlier.“I think we got a long road before we can say that,” Ryan said. “How about we play a couple of games? But they certainly are a talented group.”
NOT ABOUT THE BIKE : Ryan is frustrated with the numbers of players who worked on the bikes Monday. WRs Jordan White, Joe Collins and Marcus Davis worked with trainers instead of doing team drills.“How many more wideouts are over there?” Ryan said. “Like really, That kid again? Eventually you get tired of seeing it. We want football players, guys who play football and availability is an important thing in this league.”
LINE PLAY : Ryan praised offensive linemen Willie Colon and Austin Howard for their solid wall. “I might have been able to run behind that,” Ryan said. He compared them to Brandon Moore and Damien Woody.
QUICK HITS : Ryan said DT Kenrick Ellis dominated Sunday in pads, but was shut down Monday ... Asked about how well second-year receiver Stephen Hill has played at camp, Ryan said, “I’m not going to comment of Stephen, because he’s doing so well I’m not going to comment on him.” ... Ryan said the next live practice is likely to be the goal line and short-yardage drills planned for Thursday ... Last up, Ryan was asked about the Dee Milliner signing and joked, “I made that call.” Then he started laughing, “Oh my goodness.”
Geno Smith had just completed a short touchdown throw to wide receiver Jeremy Kerley. No big deal to most everyone at SUNY-Cortland yesterday — except defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.
To everyone else it might have been one of a number of easily forgotten plays during training camp. But to Wilkerson, allowing a touchdown during the goal-line drill was unacceptable, and he let cornerback Darrin Walls know it.
“C’mon man, we can’t have that,” Wilkerson barked at Walls.
Wilkerson made no apologies for getting on his teammate.
“We know nobody’s perfect,” he told The Post. “But at the end of the day you don’t want to give up touchdowns and first downs. We’re a team and we’re out here to have fun, but we’re competing. I don’t want any touchdowns allowed. We want to try to practice perfection.”
STEPPING UP: In the wake of several key departures, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is ready to take charge and be the front man of the Jets defensive unit.Anthony J. Causi
STEPPING UP: In the wake of several key departures, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is ready to take charge and be the front man of the Jets defensive unit.
JETS TOP 25: COMPLETE COUNTDOWN
It’s an example of the leadership role Wilkerson has assumed after the departures of such players as Mike DeVito, Sione Pouha, Bart Scott, Bryan Thomas and Darrelle Revis. Wilkerson is just 23, but in his third NFL season after being a first-round draft pick in 2011. He knows he must grow up fast this season.
“We had some great veterans who are no longer with us on the defensive line,” Wilkerson said. “It’s my time to become a leader and I’m up for the challenge. I’m confident in myself and my game. I’m glad I have the coaches here who have big expectations of me and allow me to be on the field.”
Now that Revis is no longer with the Jets, Wilkerson could be the best player on the team. At 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, he has been impressive in training camp, working alongside first-round pick Sheldon Richardson and third-year player Kenrick Ellis. Quinton Coples has been moved from defensive line to linebacker, but stills sees action along the defensive front.
“It’s a talented group,” coach Rex Ryan said after yesterday’s practice. “It’ll be interesting to see this group grow together.”
Wilkerson needs to have a Pro Bowl-type season for the Jets to have a reliable defense. He won’t have a lot of the flashy stats; he was fourth on the team last year with 69 tackles, and also had five sacks. But it’s his ability to stop the run and scare the quarterback that takes pressure off everyone else.
“He now has the savvy of a veteran and it’s only his third year,” defensive line coach Karl Dunbar said. “He was thrown in the fire his first year, and last year you could see the lights come on. He did a lot of good things for us and we’re looking for that to springboard into this year.”
Training camp is where habits are established, expectations are set and accountability becomes crucial. Wilkerson is making sure he’s doing his part to make the Jets better. He has stayed in Richardson’s ear, pushing the rookie from Missouri in the classroom as well as on the field. Same for Ellis, the third-year player out of Hampton.
“He’s helping everybody,” Dunbar said. “Sione, DeVito and B.T. [Thomas] helped him in his early development, and he’s taken that to the next step. He’s gotten into that leadership role and it has helped him in his game because he’s so comfortable with all the defenses we call and that helps him play faster.”
Wilkerson has already been a positive influence on Coples. The two have accepted their roles as leaders of the defense, along with linebacker David Harris.
“We feed off each other,” Coples said. “If he brings it one play, I have to bring it the next. We’re all about making each other better and making our team better.”
Ryan said one thing he likes about Wilkerson is, “he doesn’t think he’s arrived, so he keeps working.”
He has been a trusted Rex Ryan lieutenant for longer than most couples stay married and he currently is the Jets’ defensive coordinator, elevated to that post when Mike Pettine left for Buffalo after last season.The question for Thurman, as it was for Pettine in the four years he held that post, is whether he truly is the Jets defensive coordinator, or if that is merely his title in a human resources file in Florham Park.This has been an underlying story to the Rex Ryan Jets since the head coach was hired in 2009, because defense is what Rex does. It is what he is known for, what he has built his reputation on.
So, whatever the Jets have done on defense the last four years, has universally been assumed by those of us who are not in the team meetings to be Ryan pulling the strings behind the big green curtain, not the work of his defensive coordinator.Thurman, who played nine years in the NFL and carved out a commendable career (36 interceptions) before turning to coaching, has been an accomplished secondary coach for Ryan, overseeing one of the best groups of defensive backs in the league for the last four years.But, come Week 1, when the Jets play Tampa Bay, will Thurman really be coordinating the defense ?
No one really knows and, from the way Thurman sounded yesterday when he spoke to The Post, he doesn’t seem to care about the perception.“That doesn’t faze me,’’ Thurman said. “I want to win more than anything else. I love winning. This is our defense. It’s ours. It’s not about mine, it’s about ours. I’ve been a team guy all my life.’’Though he is in charge of more now than he was as the secondary coach, Thurman said his input will continue to be a factor. The question, of course, is whether his input will be increased as the coordinator.Further adding to the speculation Thurman’s overseeing the defense might be diminished is the fact Ryan has been vocal this offseason about his plans to get back to the basics of his rookie year as head coach, when he was virtually hands-on with the defense.
Ryan, trying to mold himself into a more well-rounded head coach the last couple of years, attempted to branch out into the offense more by going to more meetings and having more input.Having seen how poorly that worked out, he’s is retreating to his original mode, which is defense first and letting offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg handle the offense.That leaves you to further wonder how much say-so Thurman will have. There were reasons why Pettine left the Jets to take the same job with the Bills, and one of them surely was the opportunity to run his own shop, out of the prolific Ryan’s shadow.“Dennis is the defensive coordinator,’’ Ryan said Thursday. “As far as installing, it’s all based on us. This is our defense, the New York Jet defense, and we do things collectively. I may be the original presenter, but certainly I can’t be in every single meeting. We have a great staff, and we lean on our staff.’’
How much he leans on Thurman will be one of the many fascinating subplots to the season.However large or small Thurman’s role turns out to be, his track record as an assistant is strong — for several reasons, beginning with the fact he connects to his players in a unique way as a former player.Thurman seems to be a perfect fit alongside Ryan’s larger-than-life persona because he is not an attention-seeker.He never has been one of those assistant coaches obsessed with where his next job is going to be.“Here’s a guy that is so humble he never put himself out there, which is good for us, because we don’t want to lose him,’’ Ryan said. “He’s one of the smartest guys in the league and he has that wealth of experience with the defense. The fact we’ve been side-by-side for at least 10 years, we know each other well.
“We’re one in the same. We think the exact same way. I think that’s really a good thing for us.’’
Practice report: Defense controls goal line
August, 2, 2013
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The Jets conducted their most physical practice of training camp on Friday, capped by a goal-line drill that was dominated by the defense. As QB Mark Sanchez said afterward, "The defense won the goal-line drill, flat out."With the ball at the 3-yard line, the first- and second-team offenses were stuffed on all four rushing attempts -- Bilal Powell (twice), Chad Spann and John Griffin. Clearly, the lack of a big back showed up in the drill. The job will fall to RB Chris Ivory, but he's still out with a hamstring injury.On the positive side (for the offense, anyway), there were a pair of fourth-down TD passes. Geno Smith rolled right and hit TE Konrad Reuland in the end zone. Sanchez scored on a similar play, finding TE Hayden Smith for a TD.Looking at it from a defensive perspective, Rex Ryan was obviously pleased. He singled out DE Muhammad Wilkerson for his performance in the goal-line drill. Ryan wasn't happy with the goal-line defense last season, and he's hoping this was a positive harbinger.
ROOKIE HURT: The downside to live tackling is injuries. On the final play of goal line, promising rookie C Dalton Freeman was carted off with what could be a potentially serious leg injury.No update was provided afterward.
"There's only one way to practice it and that's to go full speed," Ryan said.
QB COMPETITION: It was a run-heavy practice, so there weren't many opportunities for Smith and Sanchez. Smith, leading the starters, went 3-for-3,with two TD passes and two sacks.His best moment was a 40-yard scoring pass to Powell, who beat LB Josh Mauga down the right sideline.Sanchez was 3-for-6, with one TD and one sack. His highlight came in 7-on-7 drills, when he hit Jeremy Kerley for 30 yards.
DOUBLE DEE: Rookie CB Dee Milliner participated in team drills for the second straight day. He got some work with the starters, surrendering two completions to WR Stephen Hill, who has looked sharp in camp except for one bad drop. Milliner is being brought along slowly after missing the offseason and the first four practices, but there's a chance he could play Saturday night in the Green & White scrimmage.
ATTENDANCE REPORT: Once again, Ivory (hamstring) didn't practice. He was in pads at the start of practice, but didn't participate in positional drills, an indication he might have suffered a setback. He was relegated to the stationary bike. Only six running backs practiced fully. ... DT Sheldon Richardson (dental surgery) and WR Stephen Hill (illness) returned to practice. Injured players that didn't practice were WR Marcus Davis and WR Titus Ryan. WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow rested. ... LG Stephen Peterman (shoulder) sat again, so rookie Brian Winters got the first-team reps.
SOARING: To prepare for the goal-line drill, the running backs practiced their goal-line leaps. They jumped over plastic trash cans and landed on a giant foam pad. Naturally, McKnight showed some creativity, executing full somersaults. I think he impressed the Russian judge. (Kidding, of course.) Later on, McKnight whiffed in a blitz-pickup drill, allowing LB Antwan Barnes to blow by him. McKnight's inconsistency as a blocker is one of the reasons why he's not the third-down back.
CUP OF JOE: McKnight didn't finish practice. He walked off during a team drill and remained next to a trainer on bended knee. A few minutes later, he walked slowly to the locker room. This his has been a tough camp for McKnight, who flunked the conditioning run because of dehydration. No update was provided.
PASS-RUSH DRILLS: Rookie LT Oday Aboushi struggled a bit in one-on-one drills. He whiffed on LB Troy Davis, who blew by him with a swim move. There was some speculation at the time of the draft that Aboushi, a fifth-round pick, would be moved to tackle. So far, he's been playing left and right tackle. ... Winters neutralized DT Antonio Garay on a bull rush. ... LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson stood up LB Quinton Coples on an outside rush.
ODDS AND ENDS: OLB Ricky Sapp was a big factor. By Ryan's count, he recorded four or five sacks. OLB Calvin Pace, continuing his strong camp, also had a sack. ... DT Damon Harrison got some reps with the first defense. ... Former special teams coach Mike Westhoff, now working for ESPN radio as an analyst, watched from the sideline for the second straight day. ... S Dawan Landry was the only projected starter on the kickoff-coverage unit. ... S Jaisquawn Jarrett worked in the starting nickel instead of Antonio Allen. ... Rough day for QB Matt Simms, who was sacked twice.