Jets nosetackle Dewayne Robertson is playing with an attitude and is anxious to take his game to the next level. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
The Jets defensive line features four former first round draft picks yet they were 27th last year in the NFL in run defense allowing an average of 143 yards per game.
But that defense had Ted Cottrell as their defensive coordinator. Cottrell was fired after the 2003 season and Donnie Henderson was hired to replace him after having success as the defensive backs coach in Baltimore. Henderson is well aware of the Jets under achieving run stoppers and has taken steps to correct the ship.
“I think what we need to do to stop the run is that we have to get more people to the ball,” said Henderson “If we do that and plug up the middle and make the balls go outside-or as I tell them try to not let the ball go where it is designed to go. If we do those things, we will be ok.”
Two players who will be important factors in Henderson’s attacking style defense are defensive tackles Dewayne Robertson and Josh Evans. Right now, Robertson is listed ahead of Evans on the depth chart but both will see plenty of action as the Jets plan to rotate defensive linemen often.
Among the changes made to the defensive coaching staff was Rubin Carter being fired as defensive line coach and Denny Marcin being hired after spending the last seven years as d-line coach for the Giants. Marcin said the Jets will use a one-gap and two-gap scheme to help improve the run defense.
The Jets sacrificed a lot to get Robertson with the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft. They moved up by trading their 13th and 22nd first round picks and their fourth round pick to Chicago. Robertson was highly touted after spending three years at the University of Kentucky where he stood out, recording 114 tackles, one fumble recovery, three forced fumbles, and 10.5 sacks.
Normally a rookie would sit back and learn from a veteran but Robertson was forced into the starting lineup immediately due to the 10 game suspension Evans received from the Commissioner’s office. Robertson became the first rookie defensive lineman to start every game since Marty Lyons did it in 1970. Robertson struggled at times with his weight and his play but finished the year with 69 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Evans did come back for the final six games of 2003, finishing the year with only 18 tackles and one sack. Last year was not the first time Evans slipped. In 2000 he was suspended for one year by the Commissioner for violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. After he was released by the Titans for salary cap reasons in 2002, the Jets took a risk and signed him when other teams looked the other way due to his checkered history. The gamble by the Jets paid quick dividends as Evans had one of the best seasons that included 58 tackles and a career high six QB sacks. However, the honeymoon ended during training camp last year when he was suspended again.
Evans takes full responsibility for his past transgressions and was frustrated not being with the team for the majority of last season. To show the team he was appreciative of their support he re-structured his contract this spring and took a pay cut to remain on the roster. Evans knows his mistake put the rookie Robertson right in the fire.
“That put a lot of pressure on (Robertson) and it got to him,” Evans said. “I felt responsible for not being there to help him through it but when I got back, I told him I would be there.”
Robertson now is listed at 312 Lbs., down from last year’s playing weight of 317 and he would like to get to eventually get to an optimum weight of 305 Lbs. Robertson talked how he has evolved coming into his sophomore season.
“This year I am more confident,” Robertson said. “That’s part of the ropes of learning the NFL. Last year, I didn’t know what to expect. This year may be harder because everyone will be saying that I have had one year to learn. I am just going to go at it and play to my expectations. Last year wasn’t that bad. Being around those guys (on the d-line) I feel I did alright, just not as good as everybody else expected.”
Marcin kept an eye on Robertson last year and feels the criticism Robertson received was unfair. Marcin says Robertson is in good shape and where the team wants him to be.
Head Coach Herman Edwards is expecting Robertson to be consistent in 2004.
“Playing last year really helped him, although he had some up games, some middle games and some games that maybe he wouldn’t have liked to have, I think that has matured him as a player,” said the Coach. “He is working hard. He has got to be a guy who can play physical and fast-not just for 15-20 players but for 35-40 plays. That’s what we want we want him to do.”
Henderson knows Robertson has a lot of talent and that he can be a dominant player.
“What you have got to do now is get his fundamentals down to make sure that at this level he is not solely going to out physical people,” Henderson said.
Edwards knows after under achieving while Cottrell was at the helm, it’s now time for the entire defensive line to step up.
“There are enough of them that have played in the League long enough,” the Head Coach said. “They’re kind of in the stage of their careers where they can become upper echelon players if they choose to be. Their talent level says that they can do that, but they’ve got to go do that. All it is, is to be consistent. You can’t have big high games and then all of a sudden three games you disappear. You can’t do that.”
The intensity from Henderson has carried over to entire line and one thing that is happening now that has been absent in the past is accountability.
“He (Henderson) stays on you,” Evans said. “Guys are afraid to make mistakes, not that we weren’t last year, but we know if we make a mistake we are going to hear about it. People are just trying their best to execute the assignment and not make mistakes.”
Although both had fairly quiet games on Sunday with Evans recording no tackles and Robertson having one tackle for a loss, both are ready and Evans gave a strong prediction of how the d-line will do. “We are going to destroy people,” Evans said.