14 tackles and a forced fumble against the Bengals last week was a great start for veteran LB Sam Cowart. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Sam Cowart is not a vocal leader. The Jets middle linebacker leads by example. Cowart is fine with being a leader on defense.
“At the MLB position, you have to be inspirational,” Cowart says. “You have to keep the guys heads up. I need to set the tone and lead by example and do it on the field.”
Cowart certainly set the tone in the Jets opening day win against Cincinnati with a team-high 14 tackles.
The last two seasons, Cowart was forced to play at the outside linebacker position because veteran LB Marvin Jones was a staple at the position for years. But after a year where Jones and fellow veteran Mo Lewis looked like glaciers at LB, the Jets released both long time players, signed former Raider Eric Barton, elevated sophomore Victor Hobson to a starter and moved Cowart back to his natural position at middle linebacker where he feels most comfortable.
Jets Head Coach Herman Edwards talked about Cowart’s strengths.
“He has great anticipation running inside out,” Edwards said. “I think he feels comfortable doing that; that’s one of his strengths. He sees a lot of things inside and he understands the blocking schemes inside. He knows on counters and powers that he has to get over the top and this guy is going to double team and try to get me. He understands all that. He does a good job of running inside out. He has a great feel for it.”
Playing in a 3-4 set with the Buffalo Bills from 1998-2000, Cowart was nearly unstoppable in the middle. In 1999, the Bills defense was ranked first, largely because of Cowart’s 186 tackles. At the time, he was mentioned by NFL experts as a dominator in the same breath as Baltimore's All-World LB Ray Lewis.
2001 was a lost season for Cowart as he tore his Achilles’ tendon in the Bills’ season opener and missed the remainder of the year. In 2002, Cowart signed as a free agent with the Jets. Against the Bills in the first game, Cowart recorded 13 tackles, including his 500th career tackle. Cowart started all 16 games at WLB and led the team with 154 tackles. He also had two sacks.
Last year, Cowart recorded 145 stops starting at OLB.
Cowart survived the defensive purge over the off-season that including firing defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell and releasing veterans Jones and LB Mo Lewis.
But then the Jets drafted LB Johnathan Vilma with the 12th overall pick in the 2004 draft and there was talk of Vilma replacing Cowart immediately.
Both were given the opportunity to compete in training camp for the starting job and Cowart clearly won out. Add the 14 tackles and a forced fumble against the Bengals last week and Cowart made a statement loud and clear that he’s not ready to relinquish his job to the rookie.
Vilma values what he has learned from Cowart and seems satisfied waiting for his time in the sun. He talked about his relationship with Cowart.
“We’re in it together,” Vilma said. “We’re not arguing and good friends.”
About 15 players will rotate in defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson’s defense. Henderson said both Vilma and Cowart will be on the field at the same time now and then.
“We are excited because now we have two middle linebackers,” the DC said. “Both of them understand the defense, both of them can make the calls and both of them can run. You have experience with one guy, you have a rookie with the other guy, and that is the best of both worlds.”
The defense showed improvement in the win over the Bengals and Cowart feels this year’s defense is much faster than last year’s.
“I think man-for-man we are a lot faster than we were last year,” Cowart said. “We have upgraded a lot on speed but I think when you know what you are doing as a defensive player, you are able to react and play football a lot of faster.”
Cowart talked about what fans can expect out of him.
“More activity, more big plays, more functioning in the defense,” Cowart said. “I am back to the position that I know and am more comfortable with. I can show everybody that I am still that guy. I can still get it done and still get to the football.”
In the middle for his first time as a Jet, Cowart is comfortable and certainly can still get the job done. Jets fans hope that Cowart can finally have the monster year they have been waiting for.