On the heels of the acquisition of Brett Favre, much has changed around Jets land. With the legendary gunslinger under center, no longer does an offense look so limited. For each spiraling pass that lands in a recevier’s hands for six, painful memories of 2007 grow more distant. But just as the Jets’ offense looks re-energized with No.4 now running the show, the Gang Green defense looks to put last year’s struggles behind and become a force on Sundays.
Aside from the emergence of LB David Harris (117 tackles, 5 sacks) and CB Darrelle Revis (3 int) and the continued success of S Kerry Rhodes (5 int, 2 FF), finding a silver lining was difficult last year. Stopping the run became part of the problem, as the Jets allowed a whopping 134 yards per game on the ground. By comparison, only the Denver Broncos (142 yards), Oakland Raiders (145) and Miami Dolphins allowed more (153). Fast forward to now, where that gaping hole once manned by Dwayne Robertson along the defensive line is now filled.
Three-time pro bowler Kris Jenkins (6-foot-4, 349 pounds) has entered the picture. After playing the 4-3 defense for seven years with the Carolina Panthers, Jenkins has moved into Eric Mangini’s compex 3-4 system as a nose tackle. Even with the change, Jenkins already looks the part.
“He’s, as well as well as the other guys, are learning the system. It’s a little different technique obviously, but I think if you ask him, it’s still football and it’s still pretty much the same job description he’s had in the past,” said Bob Sutton, defensive coordinator. “That’s to clog up the middle. He’s showing signs that he’s capable of doing it.”
Despite being a defensive force ever since he was drafted by the Panthers 44th overall in 2001, Jenkins has faced criticism about his weight. He ballooned to nearly 400 pounds last year, then entered training camp weighing 360 pounds. However, there’s no question Jenkins can turn on the motor when needed.
One play stands in mind, as the Jets practiced red-area situations earlier in training camp: With the offense at the five-yard line, Thomas Jones received a handoff from Chad Pennington and quickly bounced to an open hole on the left. It looked as though Jones would sneak into the endzone, but Jenkins burst through would-be blockers and chased the running back down.
The improvements just don’t stop at Jenkins. After playing 16 games last year (9 starts) as a rookie, Harris received the experience he needed to take the next step in his young career.
“I’m sure a year ago for David, breaking every huddle it was ‘I’ve got to do this, this and this. Hopefully now, that’s a little more second nature to him,” said Sutton. “He can start looking at the formations and anything that can help give him a tip or a clue of what might be coming.”
After being drafted in the second round (47th overall) in the 2007 NFL draft, Harris burst onto the scene last year. After replacing Jonathan Vilma at inside linebacker, Harris shined in his just his second start. Against the Washington Redskins in week 9, Harris earned 20 tackles. His impressive starts earned him the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for Novemeber after recording 36 tackles and one sack during the month.
Now working aside Harris at outside linebacker is Calvin Pace. Pace, who enjoyed a career year last season (106 tackles, 6.5 sacks) with the Arizona Cardinals, was brought in to improve a pass rush that only registered 29 sacks last year. Pace has the intangibles to become a star.
“I think he’s a pro. He understands the game, he’s a knowledgable guy and he has insights to things like when they’re happening on the field or in practice. I think he has some of the things that you think about when you think of a big outside linebacker,” said Sutton. “He’s rangy, he’s quick. He has flexibility both in his ability to rush and to cover.”
There’s no question the Jets defense has been vastly improved. But will the Jets’ defense live up to its billing? We will soon find out.
Here’s what Sutton had to say about LB Vernon Gholston and CB Justin Miller:
“He’s just got to come in, learn the system and obviously he’s converting from basically being a down-end to a standup outside linebacker, so there’s a transition that happens. I think the longer he goes here, the more comfortable he gets with the system. I think he’s going to be fine. I think he’s going to be a good football player and he’s shown at different times that he can help us. We need to just keep trying to speed up his indoctrination which he’s worked hard at and he’s spent a lot of time at.”
“Justin certainly has the ability to play [cornerback] and I think for anybody to become a starter, I think the key element is you have to develop a level of consistency. That varies by every position but I think in the end, that’s how coaches choose who’s going to be the starting player. You say ‘we can count on this player to do this this percent of the time, whatever it is.’ Justin’s worked really hard, he’s been very competitive in practice.”
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