New York Jets Fact Or False: Defensive Line Edition

2

The New York Jets defensive line is poised to have a completely new look this season. With a new coach in Karl Dunbar, the addition of first round pick Quinton Coples, and New York’s intention to use more 4 man fronts this season, here’s a look at what we should and should not expect from the Jets’ D-Line this year in this week’s edition of New York Jets Fact Or False.

1.) Quinton Coples will be Vernon Gholston 2.0. False. The comparisons that have been drawn between Coples and former Jets’ first round bust Vernon Gholston are completely unwarranted. Work ethic, passion, talent, size, speed, and all intangibles could be taken into account to realize that Coples is the superior player, however the key factor that will keep Coples from turning into Big Vern is that he is being brought to New York to play in his natural position as a defensive lineman.

When the Jets drafted Gholston, he was expected to make the conversion from defensive end to outside linebacker in the Jets 3-4 scheme. This transition proves to be extremely difficult for players year in and year out. Many of them fail to successfully make that transition simply because, as a linebacker, the cerebral reaction time can only be attained by few. For defensive lineman, reaction time and play is based primarily on physicality. Defensive linemen rely on their technique and instinct more so than their ability to read opposing offenses and make decisions on the fly. Of course, there is still a cerebral part of the game for defensive lineman in terms of reading the stances of the opposing offensive lineman, their splits, alignment, and where on the field the tight ends and backs are, but it is nowhere near as complicated and dense as it is for a linebacker.

While Rex Ryan has acknowledged the fact that Coples is athletic enough to play that outside linebacker position, he made it clear he is coming to New York to play with his hand on the ground. This is one of the smartest statements Rex has made since becoming the head coach of the Jets. Coples is a natural talent for the position, and has the size (6’6” 280 lbs) to be extremely versatile along the Jets several defensive fronts this season. There is no need to fix what isn’t broken. Coples will prove to be light years ahead of where Vernon Gholston ever was, starting in week one (Remember, all it will take is a single sack).

2.) Outside of Tony Sparano, the addition of Karl Dunbar will prove to be the most significant of the offseason. Fact. Many people forget that for the past two seasons, the Jets have had a secondary coach coaching the defensive line. While Mark Carrier certainly had a solid work ethic, and likely brought everything he had to his job every day, like a player playing out of position, it is extremely difficult for a coach to adapt to an area outside his realm of expertise, particularly in the NFL. Prior to coming to the Jets, Carrier played in the NFL as a Safety from 1990-2000 for Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, respectively. As a coach, Carrier served as the defensive backs coach at Arizona State for two seasons before joining the Baltimore Ravens as the team’s secondary coach from 2006-2009, just prior to joining the Jets, where he was seemingly given an opening on the staff as the Defensive Line Coach, a position in which he had no previous experience. This is a huge reason for New York’s pass rushing woes over the past two years.

Enter Karl Dunbar. As a player, Dunbar was a second-team All-SEC defensive tackle during his career at LSU, before bouncing around the NFL and other various professional football leagues during the early 90s. Following his playing career, Dunbar came onto the coaching scene in 1998 and, besides two seasons as the strength and conditioning coach at LSU, has coached only Defensive Line throughout his entire career.

Dunbar joins the Jets after six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. During his time in Minnesota, Dunbar orchestrated one of the best d-lines in all of football. Last season, Minnesota led the NFL with 50 total sacks, including a Vikings single season record 22 out of NFC Defensive Player of the year Jared Allen. In fact, since coming under the tutelage of Dunbar, Allen hasn’t had a season with fewer than double-digit sacks, while leading the NFL in the category twice (2007, 2011).

In Dunbar’s six seasons in Minnesota, the Vikings ranked in the top 10 in sacks four different times. In three of those seasons, Minnesota ranked in the top four in the category, two of which led the league. Conversely, Minnesota ranked first in rush defense during Dunbar’s first three seasons, second in his fourth, and in the top eleven during in his final two.

The acquisition of Dunbar is going to pay dividends for the Jets early and often. In Minnesota, Dunbar produced 3 Pro-Bowlers, including Allen, the three time All-Pro Defensive End. Considering he worked with only 4 starters, 75% of his starting line earned trips to the Pro Bowl. Dunbar will undoubtedly be able to maximize the talents of players like Coples, Mohammed Wilkerson, Aaron Maybin, and Sione Pouha. Expect the Jets defensive line to have a completely different look under Dunbar this season.

3.) Quinton Coples will be used solely as a Defensive End. False. Don’t be confused by this. Coples will be used primarily as, but not limited to, a Defensive End, and will see time elsewhere. The common assumption would be to think outside linebacker, however, as previously stated, Coples is coming to New York to play with his hand on the ground. Expect to see several formations that slide Coples to the inside in a defensive tackle role, especially during passing situations.

As a junior at North Carolina, Coples was forced to play defensive tackle for the majority of the season due to the immense amount of players the program lost due to suspension. During his time there, Coples recorded 10 sacks, an astonishing number for an interior defensive lineman. He certainly has the size to compete on the inside, and his speed will give him a superior advantage against guards and centers.

Coples has the potential to turn into what Justin Tuck was early in his career for the Giants, seamlessly switching from the outside and inside on the defensive line, while being able to defend the run and rush the passer from either position. On passing downs, the Jets will likely replicate what so many teams around the league are doing these days by placing their best pass rushers in the game, regardless of their roster position. Don’t be surprised to see Coples and Pouha line up on the interior with Wilkerson and Maybin lining up at end in a variety of passing situations this year.

4.) The Jets will be in a four man front for the majority of their defensive snaps in 2012. Fact. This could very well be 51% to 49%, but don’t be surprised if it is even greater. The Jets know the strength of their team lies in the secondary and in their defensive line depth. While the line backing corps is promising, outside of David Harris there are still some question marks. Bart Scott has reportedly dropped weight and looks rejuvenated in comparison to his play last season. DeMario Davis is turning heads at OTAs, and should eventually prove to be an excellent piece of this defense, but the Jets are wise enough not to depend on the rookie out of Arkansas State too much in his first year. Maybin should have a very promising season, but like Davis, needs to show consistency before the team can lean on him as a pillar of the defense. Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace are nearing the back end of their careers, and each need to have bounce back years after a disappointing 2011.

In order for the Jets to be successful on defense this season, they need to have their best 11 players on the field for the majority of plays. This includes their defensive line, and their secondary. Although the safety position was a bit of a hole last year, the Jets have certainly addressed the need this off-season by adding LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell in free agency, while drafting the young and talented duo of Josh Bush and Antonio Allen. New York also has arguably the best cornerback trio in all of football in Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and the up and coming Kyle WIlson.

WIth the addition of Quinton Coples via the draft, the Jets now have one of the most youthful, talented defensive lines in the league. The key for their success will be how they mold together. Mohammed Wilkerson is poised for a breakout season after a very impressive rookie campaign. Then, of course, there is Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha who are the heart and soul of this unit. You won’t see too many flashy numbers from either of these two, but their presence alone, presumably both at defensive tackle in a four man front, will not only help with the development of the young guys, but will command respect from opposing offensive lines across the league. Marcus Dixon and Kenrick Ellis should be able to provide some quality depth as well. This could be a very dangerous group as they develop together throughout training camp and into the season.

5.) Mike DeVito will be far less significant this season than he has been in the past. False. The notion that DeVito is slowly going to ride off into the sunset due to the addition of Coples may hold some truth down the road. However, for this season, that assumption could not be farther from the truth. We already know the Jets’ plan to use more four-man fronts this year, and a big part of that is because of DeVito. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and Rex Ryan realize what DeVito brings as a competitor, player, and leader, and have openly acknowledge the importance of getting him on the field.

Outside of his play, DeVito will play a key role in rebuilding the Jets fractured locker room. While this is certainly already in progress, as displayed by the new attitude we have seen from the team thus far, DeVito is at the point in his career in New York where he is respected as an unquestioned leader of this team. DeVito is one of the hardest working, most blue collared players on the entire roster. His influence over the young guys, particularly on the defensive line, will go miles in terms of their development. Coples, Wilkerson, and Ellis are fortunate to be in an environment with a player like DeVito.

6.) At least one player on the Jets defensive line will get double digit sacks this season. Fact. This is an extremely bold prediction considering the fact that the Jets have not had a single player record double digit sacks since John Abraham notched 10.5 in 2005, a six-year drought. However, the Jets have some serious under the radar talent when it comes to pass rushers. Aaron Maybin, who will likely fluctuate between linebacker and defensive end this year, led the Jets with six sacks last season after missing the first four games. With a full season ahead of him, combined with a complete off-season with the team, and the fact that he has added over 10 lbs since the end of last year, Maybin could turn into a significant force in the Jets pass rush.

Aside from Maybin, Muhammed Wilkerson is due for a big year after his impressive rookie campaign in which he started from day one and recorded 3 sacks. Quinton Coples’ talent level alone will give him the potential to achieve this accomplishment in each year of his career, however he will be asked to live up to that potential and rise to the occasion very early for Gang Green. How he handles this will ultimately be the key to his success, and should determine his degree of achievement.

Each of these young men should benefit greatly from the new scheme, as well as the addition of Dunbar. There is far too much talent and potential on this unit for someone to not reach the double-digit mark in sacks. Adding the expert that is Dunbar will surely maximize that potential, and ultimately allow a player to reach this feat.