Calvin Pace knows about the colossal expectations that come with being a first-round pick in the NFL. Ever since the Arizona Cardinals selected Pace 18th overall in the 2003 NFL Draft, the bull-rushing defensive end out of Wake Forest knew his mission was to punish the quarterback. However, after just one season, the notorious "bust" label had already begun to float around his name.
"I remember it was a lot of bad days," Pace said today of his rookie season with the Cardinals. "It's disheartening from that standpoint that you just came from college, you were an All-American, where you just got it and now you're struggling."
Pace finished his four-year career at Wake Forest second on the school's all-time sack list (29) and first in tackles-for-loss (74), but he struggled mightily in his first season with the Cardinals. He recorded just one sack (16 starts) and was booed heavily as frustrated Cardinals fans continued to question the draft selection of Pace. Fans had wanted the hometown favorite Terrell Suggs, who starred at linebacker for Arizona State. Suggs was drafted tenth overall by the Ravens and immediately blossomed into a force in the pass rush where he recorded 12 sacks in his rookie season.
Pace spent hours in the film room and on the practice field, where he relentlessly tried to appease his critics. His work ethic proved to be extraordinary, but his production on Sundays was anything but. He totaled just 6.5 sacks over the next three seasons and he continually had to remind himself to stay confident.
"It's not so much physically, it's mentally," Pace said of the struggles in the NFL. "There's no 'well, this happened.' [Coaches] don't want to hear that. You keep working, stay positive, don't get down on yourself and you will be alright."
Pace continued to follow those instincts and in turn, he finally delivered on the high expectations set for him. Last season, in his final year as a Cardinal, Pace recorded career-highs in tackles (98) and sacks (6.5). Now as he finds himself off to another solid start with 2.5 sacks into his first four games of a six-year, $42 million deal with the Jets, he finds his teammate in familiar shoes.
Linebacker Vernon Gholston, who the Jets drafted sixth overall out of Ohio State in April's NFL Draft, has learned that dominance at the college ranks does not translate into immediate success at the NFL level. Gholston recorded a school-record 14.5 sacks while playing defensive end and turned in a highlight-reel performance at the NFL scouting combine in February. However, just four games into his professional career he has recorded just five tackles. Just like Pace, the struggles have come with a position change as Gholston has been shifted from defensive end to an outside linebacker in the Jets' 3-4 defense.
While Gholston has struggled mightily in the new defensive system; his transition has come with no surprises. The adjustment to the position switch is no more difficult than he expected it to be.
"Anytime you are coming from your hand on the ground to playing on your feet, it's a big transition," Gholston said. "I expected it to take a little time."
Now Pace, who struggled through the same switch during his rookie season and is learning a new defense with the Jets, knows the change is no simple task.
"I think he's doing an all-right job," Pace said of Gholston's progress. "Honestly, we have a very difficult system from the standpoint that the outside linebacker is asked to do a lot. It might be a little tough on him since he wasn't in that position in college."
Gholston has been featured primarily in the nickel package and also as a goal line defender through the season's first four games. But while Gholston's struggles have created a frustrating experience during his rookie season, he has followed a straightforward approach toward improvement.
"[I need] to get better and learn the new position. Once I get a better understanding of that and how the [linebacker] position should be played, by watching tape of other guys and really understanding where I need to be of all things...I can play fast and play with more confidence out there," Gholston explained.
One idea the Jets have made clear is that despite Gholston being the sixth overall pick, a timetable for the rookie's learning curve does not exist. Head coach Eric Mangini explained that for the younger players on the roster, he expects them to track their individual development through daily journals.
"I don't really go in with expectations because it's so radically different player to player," Mangini explained today. "Some guys it takes a little bit more time to do that. So I don't ever have an expectation there."
In recent weeks Mangini has lined Gholston at special teams, a position that the Jets' rookie says he has not played since his freshman year at Ohio State. Despite recording zero tackles in the Jets' Sept. 28 win over the Cardinals, Gholston was named the Special Teams Player of the Week by Mangini and special teams coach Mike Westhoff.
"Mike's tough. We go through a process of selecting that guy and those aren't gimmes," Mangini said. "You've got to earn that and he did. I was proud of that fact, especially in an area he's not familiar with."
As for now, Pace has provided Gholston with some encouraging advice.
"The biggest thing is to use the practice to work on whatever you want to work on. Even if it's something crazy. Go 100 miles an hour. I tell him, 'you mess up, yeah they are going to say something about it, but the effort should never be a question.'"
Kicker Mike Nugent (right thigh) spent most of the 35-minute media window in practice riding the exercise bicycle, alongside linebacker Jason Trusnik (leg) who remains on the reserve/PUP list...Reggie Hodges shook off a poor punt to begin the practice with several booming kicks thereafter that sailed between 40 and 45 yards...As usual, Jerricho Cotchery, Darrelle Revis and Leon Washington returned punts...Kellen Clemens connected with wide receiver Brad Smith on a 12-yard touchdown pass.
Cincinnati a Memorable Opponent for Favre
Jets quarterback Brett Favre was not a grizzled veteran, nor was he a household name around the league, but Sept. 20, 1992 stands out in Favre's mind. Favre was in his first season with the Packers and he came off the bench to face the Bengals in what was his final appearance before beginning his record-setting streak of 258 consecutive starts.
"My first real, true test," Favre said of the appearance. "I played the previous week, but we were getting blown out. It holds a special place for the reason that we won. I came in in relief and led us from behind. It really was the start of my career."
Woody Remains Out
Right tackle Damien Woody missed practice for the second-consecutive day for what Mangini described as a "cold." The Jets' head coach said the illness is "hopefully" short term.
Cornerback Justin Miller (toe) who has missed the team's first four games after spraining his toe in the team's Aug. 23 preseason victory over the Giants is getting closer to returning.
"He's been able to practice and move forward," Mangini said. "We go through the whole week. We have a bunch of reps today and bunch of reps tomorrow. Just want to see how it looks after the course of the week."
Mangini Praises Chatman
Mangini praised running back Jesse Chatman's conditioning during his time away from football. Chatman was suspended in August for four games for violating the NFL's policy on steroids and related substances.
"He worked out a bunch when he was not here and you can tell that," Mangini said. "He obviously had been doing a lot of work, not just in the weight room, but in terms of conditioning."
As for Sunday's game against the Bengals, Mangini said that Chatman's status may be decided on the running back's ability to play special teams.
Mangini "Completely Comfortable" with Elam
With safety Eric Smith suspended as a result of his helmet-to-helmet hit on Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Mangini said that he is "completely comfortable" with Abram Elam starting in Smith's place. One attribute that stands out about Elam is his energy.
"He's a high energy guy. He works at the communication. That was something that was dramatic right when he got here-his approach and his demeanor. Each day he'd go out and make plays both on the scout team and on the reps that he got," Mangini said.
Mangini Points Toward Field Position Battle as Problem-Spot
After allowing a total of 35 points over the first two weeks, the Jets' defense has been pounded with 83 points over the last two contests. Being a defensive-minded head coach, Mangini said that allowing such numbers is "not fun." The Jets' head coach pointed toward the team's inability to win the field position battle as a reason for allowing the high point total.
Out: WR David Clowney (shoulder), K Mike Nugent (right thigh)
Did Not Participate: OT Damien Woody (illness)
Limited Participation: WR Laveranues Coles (thigh), NT Kris Jenkins (back), DB Justin Miller (foot)
Full Participation: WR Brad Smith (knee), P Reggie Hodges (left thigh)
Out: LB Corey Mays (ankle)
Did Not Participate: C Kyle Cook (toe), K Shayne Graham (right groin)
Limited Participation: S Dexter Jackson (thumb), OT Levi Jones (back), QB Carson Palmer (right elbow), DE Frostee Rucker (shoulder)
Full Participation: LB Dhani Jones (foot), CB Jonathan Joseph (ankle), DT Pat Sims (thigh)