The New York Jets have a solid, veteran group of starting linebackers. Calvin Pace, David Harris, Bart Scott, and Bryan Thomas are now entering their third year together as the 4 in Rex Ryan’s 3-4, and while the group has been instrumental in the defense’s success the past two years, it would be nice to see them increase their playmaking ability in 2011.
Scott and Thomas have roles that are more conducive to doing the dirty work and making plays that don’t always show up on the stat sheet, so it is more on Pace and Harris to come up with the game changing plays.
Pace was signed to a monster contract before the 2008 season and has been productive, but still hasn’t put together that one big season for the Jets. The past two years he has missed the first four games, once because of a suspension and once because of a foot injury. On the current depth chart, he is the guy most likely to pull in double digit sacks and now needs to put together a full 16 game season where he produces like he is being paid.
Harris is now one of the highest paid linebackers in the NFL, and after playing at an All-Pro/Pro-Bowl level in 2009, took a minor step back in 2010, coming up with less tackles, sacks, interceptions, and forced fumbles. Rex Ryan’s scheme is designed to free Harris up to make plays and he needs to take advantage of that. There is no reason he shouldn’t be able to match his 2009 production (127 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 INTs) on a consistent basis.
Even though backup linebackers like Josh Mauga have shown potential in the pre-season, it is especially important that this group stays healthy this year. The depth behind them is extremely young and inexperienced. A full, healthy season from all of them with a bump in plays made from Pace and Harris could propel the Jets back to being the NFL’s number one defense.