Jets Positional Analysis: Outside Linebackers

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First a few updates:

1. Rich Cimini is reporting that there has been substantial progress in Leon Washington’s contract talks, with hopes of finishing up a deal by Friday. If they are really that close to a deal, you would think Washington won’t bother skipping any days of training camp and accumulating daily fines.

2. Speaking of Leon Washington, here is an encouraging quote from Rex Ryan about #29 given to Peter King in his MMQB article, “He had six touchdowns on 73 carries last year. That number has to go up — drastically, and it will” Thank you, Rex.

3. How about those ESPN pre-training camp Power Rankings? The Jets came in at #23, despite going 9-7 last year and adding Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, Lito Sheppard, Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, and Marques Douglas. Yes, they lost Brett Favre and his 23 interceptions but #23, c’mon now? Behind the Texans? Behind the 4-12 Seattle Seahawks? Behind the Bills? Behind the Redskins? Behind the 49ers?

4. The Yankees can tie for the best record in baseball tonight with a win and a Dodgers loss…who wants to bat against Burnett, CC, and Joba right now?

Jets Positional Analysis: Outside Linebackers

I am motivated to finish this before the Jets first practice on Friday morning, all I got left is the LB’s and special teams.

1. Calvin Pace #97, Starting Outside Linebacker (Suspended First Four Games), Last Season: 80 Tackles, 7 Sacks, 7 Tackles For Loss, 5 Forced Fumbles, 3 Passes Defensed

History: The Jets signed Pace to a monster contract before last season and he responded with a very good all around year. Despite some struggles in pass coverage, Pace was still one of the Jets top playmakers on defense. Rex Ryan’s scheme should allow Pace more chances to rush the quarterback, which plays to his strengths. Unfortunately, he has been suspended for the first four games of the 2009 season for using a banned substance, putting pressure on the younger Jets OLB’s to step up.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Pace comes back in week 5 as a man on a mission and exceeds his sack total from last season despite only playing 12 games. Ryan’s scheme plays to his talents and he provides a huge boost to the Jets D in the middle of the year.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He struggles to adjust and make an impact after missing the first four games and isn’t the same player he was last year.

Prediction: Unless Bryan Thomas and Vernon Gholston/Marques Murrell are revelations in the first four weeks, Pace will return as a starter in week 5 and should be even better than he was last season. Obviously, his numbers will be down because of his shortened season but he should still be more of a threat rushing the QB in 2009.

2. Bryan Thomas #99, Starting Outside Linebacker, Last Season: 57 Tackles, 5.5 Sacks, 6 Tackles For Loss, 3 Forced Fumbles, 1 Pass Defensed

History: Thomas has had a disappointing roller coaster career since the Jets drafted him in the first round back in 2002. After 4 quiet years, he had a breakout year in 2006 under Eric Mangini and was awarded with a new contract. He admittedly slacked off in 2007 and then rebounded with a strong start in 2008 but was very quiet in the second half of the year. With Calvin Pace suspended 4 games, Thomas needs to step up in 2008 as the Jets only veteran outside linebacker.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Thomas flourishes in Ryan’s system and starts the year off with a bang as the featured playmaker at OLB with Pace suspended. He matches his 2006 production level.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: Thomas picks up where he left off when the 2008 season ended, leaving the Jets extremely weak at the OLB spot, especially in the first 4 weeks.

Prediction: Thomas will be a decent starter for the Jets in 2009, but hopefully begin to be rotated out towards the middle of the year with younger players like Vernon Gholston and Marques Murrell.

3. Vernon Gholston #50, Last Season: 13 Tackles (I just winced)

History: Gholston was the sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft and showed nothing to merit that last year. He was basically invisible on defense and an average special teams player at best. The organization is hoping Rex Ryan can get the most out of Gholston’s immense talent and turn him into their version Terrell Suggs. Ryan has already proclaimed Gholston as the starter in Pace’s absence for the first four weeks, hopefully he can rise to the occasion.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Gholston takes advantage of Pace’s absence and plays well enough to move over to the other starting OLB spot when Calvin returns. He begins to show signs of being a great pass rusher, finishing with 7-9 sacks after having zero last year.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: Gholston is beat out by Marques Murrell or Jason Trusnik in training camp and isn’t a factor on the defense.

Prediction: I think Gholston will be adequate filling in for Pace but won’t play well enough to be a full time starter when he returns. I can see Gholston ending up with 5-6 sacks this year.

4. Marques Murrell #94, Last Season: 9 Tackles, 1 Forced Fumble

History: Murrell has been a practice squad/special team player for the Jets the past couple of seasons and shown some decent potential. Rex Ryan praised him effusively during mini-camp, leading many to think he could end up being a factor on the defense this year. He will have a shot to carve out some playing time with Calvin Pace suspended for four games.

Chance of Making Roster: 90%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Murrell develops into a valuable pass rushing weapon and pushes Vernon Gholston for playing time at outside linebacker.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: Murrell doesn’t rise to the occasion in pre-season and remains a special teams player.

Prediction: He will see some quality reps in the first four weeks of the year and then continue to have a role, though somewhat smaller, on the defense for the rest of the year.

5. Jason Trusnik #96, Last Season: 10 Tackles

History: Another young linebacker who showed some potential last season and could compete for extended playing time in 2009.

Chance of Making Roster: 85%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: He develops into a valuable role player on defense and remains a good special teams player.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He struggles in training camp and doesn’t end up making the active roster.

Prediction: Trusnik will be a role/depth player on defense and remain on the active roster.

Overall Position Analysis: All eyes will be on Vernon Gholston to step up and fill the void left by Calvin Pace. However, Bryan Thomas and Marques Murrell also need to step up their play to help fill the void for the first four weeks.

Jets Highlight of the Day: An entertaining highlight film of Vernon Gholston at Ohio State…the talent is there.

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