Jets LB Jonathan Vilma will be the first Terry Bradway draft pick to make the Pro Bowl as a Jet. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Maybe if his team wasn’t 4-12, or maybe if his name was Ray Lewis, he would garner more respect than to be elected to the Pro Bowl as an alternate. But after a month of being in limbo, Jonathan Vilma is headed to Hawaii.
The linebacker not only led the league in tackles this season, but became the official spokesman for the New York Jets defense.
Week after week, loss after emotionally-crippling loss, Vilma stood beside his locker and answered questions about the most painful Jets season since 1996. Meanwhile, he managed to be everywhere on the field. Against the Patriots in Week 16, his 17 tackles tied former Jets greats Marvin Jones and Victory Green for third most in a game.
Vilma, who won rookie of the year in 2004, was named team MVP and finished ahead of Zach Thomas (Dolphins) and Al Wilson (Broncos) – whom were both voted to the Pro Bowl ahead of Vilma – in total (169) and unassisted tackles (124).
But Vilma will sub for Thomas, who missed time this season with an injury and will bypass the Pro Bowl. Thomas was second behind Vilma while Wilson didn’t have enough tackles to lead Denver – he was second to Ian Gold.
“In my mind he’s a Pro Bowl player,” former Jets head coach Herman Edwards said.
Edwards continued, saying the system may be flawed and should be tweaked.
“I think sometimes that's hard. You do things for so long, you think this is the right way,” he said. “But I just think there are so many great players now in our league that get slighted a little bit sometimes.”
Edwards agreed the second-year linebacker has emerged as the leader of the defense and will be the staple for years to come. At middle linebacker, he is like the quarterback of the defense.
“He's so fast and he's gotten smarter in our defense,” Edwards said. “He understands it more. I mean, he's a guy that actually can call all the calls. He can get everybody lined up in his second year.”
Jets Insider.com’s James J. Parziale spoke with the second-year stud linebacker about a number of issues concerning the team headed into next year.
Jets Insider.com: How difficult has this year been on you?
Jonathan Vilma:: It’s been tough. It’s been real tough; just the fact that we came up short in a lot of games. In a lot of games, if we make a play here and make a play there, we’re sitting on maybe not a great record, but definitely better than 3-12. That was probably the toughest part. Going out there fighting and not coming up with victories. I think Herm said it best. Once they crown someone Super Bowl champs it’s time to get ready for next year.
JI: How do you feel you have emerged as a leader this season?
Vilma: The first thing about being a leader is that you have to play well. I didn’t have a problem with my performance. It would be different if we were going to the playoffs and everyone was questioning me and my play, then I couldn’t say as much, but going into next year, I’ll definitely have a voice. I can say what I want.
JI: Some of the fans wish you guys had lost out to get a better seed in the draft. What’s your take on it?
Vilma: That’s why they’re the fans, and we love them, and that’s why we’re the players, and we go out and try to win.
JI: What about all the Reggie Bush signs strewn around the stadium?
Vilma: That’s the fans being selfish, and us being selfish by wanting to win. When we’re out there we’re not just going to lay down for anybody, we’re going to fight and give it our all.
JI: How do you feel about almost being a top-10 defense despite being on the field so much this year?
Vilms: Anything that we could salvage would be great for us. Especially team-wise.
JI: Obviously your place in the team is secure, but is it natural for you to wonder what some of the offseason changes will be?
Vilma: Yeah. I definitely want to know what’s going to happen and who I’m working with next year. Right now, who knows what’s going to happen. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Check back to Jets Insider.com for part II of this exclusive chat.