One of Rex Ryan’s favorite defenses last season was the 4-2 nickel slide. We discussed it briefly in this article overviewing the Jets defense but basically it replaces a linebacker with an extra defensive back, who flexes out over the slot receiver, while the Jets move down to a 4 man front.
One of the most critical positions in this defense and one of the most critical positions in today’s NFL for any defense is the slot corner. Here are a few different articles discussing the position in depth from Pro Football Focus and ESPN but generally it is your nickel back, who will be responsible for covering the slot receiver, along with playing in the box to provide run support and in Rex Ryan’s defense will be asked to blitz off the edge relatively frequently.
Considering the influx of spread offenses and teams running the ball from 3-wide sets more than ever, versatility and physicality are of increasing importance for a slot corner. He won’t just be matched up on a team’s #3 receiver for man coverage against the pass. He will have to handle tight ends or H-Backs when they are flexed out, he will have to prepared for frequent runs at him out of a spread formation and as mentioned before he will need to get after the quarterback, particularly in the Jets defense.
In 2012, there was a wide range of players rolling through the position for the Jets. In their week 7 game against New England, little used Isaiah Trufant was given the assignment with hopes of slowing down Wes Welker. For a role player, Trufant played admirably well in this game. However, considering his size (5-7, 170 pounds) he is not a realistic week to week option. He is also a bubble player on the 2013 roster.
The player who probably took the most reps at the spot in 2012 was Eric Smith (shown below against Seattle). Smith is a safety and at 6-1, 207 pounds provided adequate run support and decent pressure off the edge. Yet he is a major liability in coverage, particularly against quicker tight ends and wide receivers. Here is one of his rare positive moments from the position last season but overall there is a reason he hasn’t been a signed by a team yet.
Kyle Wilson also saw a good-sized share of reps at the spot, as later in the season the Jets began moving Wilson back inside and allowing Ellis Lankster or Darrin Walls to play more on the outside. Wilson is 5-10, 190 pounds and is generally a willing tackler against the run. Yet, his man to man coverage is inconsistent at best and he has never showed any effectiveness as a blitzer coming off the edge.
2nd year safety Antonio Allen was given a few select chances at the role in his rookie season. Including his first NFL action against the Indianapolis Colts, where he actually started the game with a blitz off the edge from the position. In the second quarter, Allen would record his first NFL sack on a similar play. He has good size at 6-2, 202 pounds and is more than willing to stick his nose in for run support. Allen really plays more like a linebacker than a safety but that also means he struggles with coverage, particularly against quicker players.
So who do the Jets turn to for this position in 2013? Expect to see some type of platoon situation depending on the match-up or how the season progresses but the following players should be in the mix -
Kyle Wilson - The de-facto number one option at this spot to start the season out. Wilson has good size for a corner and doesn’t hesitate to play physical but his continued troubles tracking the ball in the air and with quicker slot receivers is endlessly frustrating.
Antonio Allen - Flashed intriguing potential last year. He must improve his coverage or he can never be used extensively at this spot. Allen has the highest ceiling as a blitzer and in run support though.
Aaron Berry - Keep an eye on Berry to have a bigger overall role in the Jets defense this year, particularly at this spot. He is lankier than Wilson but has better natural cover skills, particularly in man to man. If Berry shows himself to be a willing defender against the run and can bring some heat off the edge, he could diminish Wilson’s playing time substantially.
Darrin Walls - Another guy who you need to watch this pre-season. Walls came on strong at the end of last year and has good size at 6 foot, 190 pounds. The physical talent is there to be a factor on the Jets defense and now he has some experience under his belt.
Jaiquawn Jarrett - An Eagles draft-bust and castoff, the Jets scooped up Jarrett who is currently their #4 safety. At 6 foot, 196 pounds maybe Jarrett can find a new home in the slot. He should be adequate in run support but can he overcome coverage issues unlike Eric Smith?