Despite not making any big splashes in the first week of free agency, New York Jets General Manager, John Idzik, has been seeking low cost, low risk veterans with versatility and potential upside. So far, Idzik has signed RB Mike Goodson, Guard Willie Colon, Defensive Tackle Antonio Garay, and most recently Outside Linebacker Antwan Barnes.
While Goodson, Colon, and Barnes each have a high chance of earning a starting job when the Jets meet in Cortland for training camp this summer, Garay will more likely be asked to serve as a backup in the defensive line rotation, with Quinton Coples, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Kenrick Ellis poised to be the starters on the defensive front.
Garay, however, should not be viewed as nothing more than a backup. While the role he will serve will technically be deemed “backup,” Garay has the potential and versatility to be a vital part of what could be an excellent defensive line rotation.
When former Jets Defensive Tackle Mike DeVito left for Kansas City last Tuesday, New York not only lost an important locker room presence, but also a key part of what made the defensive line the best unit on the team last year. DeVito had the size and was athletic enough to play in a number of positions along the defensive line. He was effective as a 3 technique (outside shade of the opposing guard) as well as a 5 technique (outside shade of the opposing tackle). And although not as effective, DeVito also served as a rotational Nose Tackle last season, due to the inconsistency in health of Sione Po’uha and Kenrick Ellis.
Having a defensive lineman who can play a myriad of positions in a defensive scheme cannot be valued enough. The ability to use one roster spot to fill multiple roles is often undervalued. In losing DeVito, the Jets not only lost a player, but lost some much needed flexibility in keeping a defensive line rotation that would remain fresh late into games.
Enter Antonio Garay. While health has been an issue throughout the majority of Garay’s career, he has put together full 16 game seasons in two of the last three, while participating in half of the San Diego Chargers’ regular season contests last year.
Surely, health will be the biggest factor in how Garay contributes with the Jets next season, but if he can remain active, he has the type of versatility that can surpass that of DeVito’s.
Garay has proved to be effective in every position along the interior of the defensive line. He can serve as a two gap plug at nose tackle, while demonstrating ability to generate an interior rush. He has shown he can be a penetrating 3 technique, and he can also generate a pass rush as a 5 technique, the common alignment for a defensive end in a base 3-4.
Let’s take a look at the film for some demonstration.
The image below is from San Diego’s 2012 contest against the Carolina Panthers. Garay (denoted by the red circle) is aligned as a 5 technique on the outside shoulder of the right tackle.
At the snap of the ball, the tight end split furthest out runs a seam route, splitting the outside and inside linebackers to Garay’s side of the field. The tight end closest to the line of scrimmage assists the tackle in setting up his pass pro on Garay before eventually breaking off to the flat as a check down option for quarterback Cam Newton.
When the tight end releases off of the block, Garay uses a quick chop to the tackle’s outside arm to disengage himself, while working the edge in his pass rush.
Newton, feeling pressure from the defensive end opposite Garay, steps up into the pocket, but because of Garay’s quick strike to get to the edge, he stands little chance of escaping. However, Newton’s athleticism has allowed him to avert situations like this and normally avoid sacks in the pocket.
Garay defends this very nicely by demonstrating impressive lateral bend and agility to the inside to ensure he meets Newton just as he begins his plan of escape.
The overall heads up play demonstrating the ability to maintain position against a double team, effective hand technique, and overall mobility allows Garay to record his first, and only, quarterback sack of the season, as shown in the image below.
And what would a sack be without a celebration? Garay shows some intensity and swagger by stealing Newton’s famous “Superman” dance following his sack.
The next play is a demonstration of Garay’s ability to play the 3 technique. Garay not only shows a little more versatility on this play, but he demonstrates a fantastic amount of power in his initial punch.
As he comes off the ball, Garay maintains leverage by jacking the opposing guard underneath his chest plate, literally knocking him back onto his heels, putting himself in an optimal position to react to the coming play.
Carolina’s Mike Tolbert takes the handoff and looks to follow lead blocker, Greg Olsen, into the hole between the center and right guard. However, with Garay controlling his blocker, any sign of daylight quickly diminishes.
Tolbert runs into no man’s land, and is eventually dragged down by Garay after a gain of just one yard.
The next play is a demonstration of Garay’s ability to contribute at the nose, as well. The image below is from San Diego’s week 16 contest against the Jets. Shaded slightly on center Nick Mangold, Garay is at more of a 1 technique here, but certainly a true nose in San Diego’s base 3-4 front.
At the snap of the ball, Garay engages Jets center, Nick Mangold, and quickly reads flow to his right based on Mangold’s downhill step toward the sideline, as well as the direction of his helmet.
Before allowing Mangold to get across his face and leave him stranded, Garay recognizes flow and screams down the line of scrimmage, providing help from the inside in the event that the back was eventually turned in by the contain players. With the outside linebacker properly setting the edge, the back looks to cut it back to the inside where, if not for the quick reaction and hustle of Garay, there would be a cutback lane for him to gain some positive yardage.
Instead, the back is forced to keep stringing the play to the outside, and eventually is stopped near the sideline for a short gain. Garay makes it all the way over to where the play was stopped as insurance for the unlikely event that the back was able to get by the two initial tacklers.
In short, there is plenty to like about Garay. He is versatile enough to succeed in roles at each position in a 3 man front, has excellent power, above average mobility, and most importantly, an excellent motor.
The question, of course, will be his health. Will Garay remain healthy enough throughout the duration of the year to be an effective contributor on the defensive line? If he can, he will be an excellent weapon for Rex Ryan to plug into different alignments and situations, while providing some relief to any of the starting defensive lineman. His versatility and ability to play in multiple spots on the interior also keeps the option open for New York to fluctuate between 3-4 and 4-3 fronts, something that we may see more of this season, depending on how the remainder of the roster is filled out following next month’s draft.