New York Jets Training Camp: Wilkerson Named Starter; Right Decision?

For the second year in a row, Rex Ryan has handed his first round draft pick a starting position before football activities truly get under way. Last year he named Kyle Wilson his nickel back and punt returner, this year he has named Muhammad Wilkerson his starting defensive end. We know things didn’t work out too well for Wilson last year, so why did Ryan choose the same route this year?

The Jets are still in negotiations to bring veteran defensive end Shaun Ellis back. Even though Ryan backtracked somewhat and said he would have Ellis start in name so he could keep his streak of starts going with the franchise, but still have Wilkerson take the bulk of the reps, why would Ellis come back under those terms? He is still a productive player, who dominated the New England Patriots in the playoffs last year and now might look to bolt to one of the Jets rivals to stick it to Ryan or the Jets front office if they can’t come to an agreement.

I understand the Jets want production out of their first round pick but there is no reason to hand him the job, even if you plan on starting him regardless. Without Ellis in camp, at least say he has to battle veterans Ropati Pitoitua and Marcus Dixon for reps to push the most out of him. Personally, I still think it would be smart to bring Ellis or maybe Trevor Pryce back to mentor Wilkerson and allow him to ease his way into the starting line-up. Let him start out working primarily on pass rushing downs and then gradually work into being an every down player.

I love Rex Ryan’s bravado and confidence in his draft pick, but let the guy take a few snaps before naming him a starter and simultaneously pushing away a well-respected veteran who will end up in the franchise’s Ring of Honor one day.

New York Jets Defense Needs To Be More Consistent

It is the pride and joy of Rex Ryan and everything the new look Jets are supposed to be about: a smashmouth, aggressive defense that opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators have nightmares about preparing for.

At times the defense has lived up to this reputation, notably in the beginning and end of the 2009 season…up until the second half of the AFC Championship Game of course.

In the 2010, the expectations were extremely high for the defense, with talk around the locker room about it potentially becoming one of the best in league history, considering their 2009 production and the addition players like Antonio Cromartie, Jason Taylor, and Brodney Pool. Unfortunately, in many regards the defense took a step back last year.

2009

  • 252.3 total yards allowed per game – 1st in NFL
  • 153.7 passing yards allowed per game – 1st in NFL
  • 98.6 rushing yards allowed per game – 8th in NFL
  • 236 total points allowed (a ridiculously low number when you consider how many points opposing defenses and special teams scored on the Jets in 2009)
  • 17 interceptions

2010

  • 291.5 total yards allowed per game – 3rd in NFL
  • 200.6 passing yards allowed per game – 6th in NFL
  • 90.9 rushing yards allowed per game – 3rd in NFL
  • 304 total points allowed
  • 12 interceptions

Outside of improving their rushing defense in 2010, the defense also had 8 more sacks and forced 2 more fumbles. However, generally the numbers were down especially in points allowed, total yards allowed per game, and passing yards allowed per game.

The decline in 2010 could be partially be attributed to the unit’s top two players taking a step back from 2009. Darrelle Revis missed time early in the year and wasn’t himself until after the Jets bye in week 6. He had zero interceptions last year compared to the 6 he had in 2010. David Harris was also more productive in 2009, than in 2010 as he recorded 28 less tackles, 2.5 less sacks, and 2 less interceptions last season.

There were obviously other factors at work, including opponents adjusting to the Jets scheme after seeing a full year of game tape and Jim Leonhard missing the second half of the year. Whatever it was, the unit seemed to take a step back in the regular season.

What is frustrating is that we saw just how good the defense truly could be in the playoffs last year as they led the charge behind knocking both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady out of the playoffs by beating them in their own building. Don’t be fooled by Manning or Brady’s numbers in those games because the Jets defense effectively contained Manning and forced him to keep settling for field goals and beat the hell out of Brady, who inflated his stats in garbage time.

The inconsistency showed itself again in the first half of the AFC Championship Game, where Pittsburgh ran up 17 points on the defense who then finally flipped the switch and shut them out in the second half, even though they couldn’t up with a key stop late in the 4th quarter to give their offense a chance to win the game.

In 2011, the Jets will benefit from getting a healthy Jim Leonhard back and drafting defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson in the first round. However, they could also suffer the setback of losing Antonio Cromartie, Brodney Pool, Eric Smith, and Shaun Ellis to free agency.

Whoever is filling out the Jets depth chart, let’s hope Rex Ryan continues to mix up his strategy the way he did in the playoffs, which caught two of the league’s best offenses off guard and that defensive unit as a whole will take a step forward next season.

Jets Should Pay Up For Veterans Ellis and Woody

Two of the financial decisions the Jets will have to make this off-season will be how much they are willing to invest in bringing veterans Shaun Ellis and Damien Woody back. In both cases, the team shouldn’t hesitate to spend a little extra money to get another year or potentially two out of both players.

The 34 year old Ellis has spent his entire 11 year career with the Jets and you have to think he would like to finish his career where he started it. He approached the team to rework his deal last year and was denied but hopefully this off-season they could find a reasonable middle ground to get him back for a year or two as a mentor for rookie Muhammad Wilkerson. He put together another productive season last year with 36 tackles and 4.5 sacks and also had arguably the best performance of his career in the Jets divisional round upset of the Patriots. Trevor Pryce would be a cheaper option but isn’t as effective and had injury issues last season.

It would help Wilkerson reach his true potential if he had a season to learn behind Ellis, who is a very good 3-4 end against both the run and pass, and also remains one of the leaders in the locker room. Wilkerson wouldn’t immediately be forced into a starting role and could work up as a rotational player until eventually taking over.

As for Woody, it is too risky to now ask second year player Vladimir Ducasse to take over at right tackle considering he hasn’t the chance to work with any of the coaches in the off-season. They could bring Wayne Hunter back as veteran insurance but Woody is a better overall player and has good chemistry with the rest of the line. He likely won’t have high contract demands and bringing him back for at least one more season, gives Ducasse time to learn a new position behind a quality, proven veteran.

The money spent on getting Ellis and Woody back for 2011 doesn’t just improve the Jets depth and talent at defensive end and right tackle respectively, it will also help young players like Wilkerson and Ducasse by giving them more time to get acclimated behind veterans.

Lockout Off-Season: Rounding Up Top Jets Defensive Storylines

Earlier today we looked at the top storylines on offense…now to the other side of the ball

Defensive Line

  • Draft Heavy, Veterans Leaving?

The Jets spent their first two draft picks on defensive lineman, Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis, and released Kris Jenkins. There is also speculation that both Shaun Ellis and Trevor Pryce won’t be brought back, with Ellis leaving via free agency and Pryce contemplating retirement. However, it would be smart for the Jets to keep at least one, hopefully Ellis who is the longest tenured player on the team, to help mentor the rookies and ease their transition into the NFL.

Linebackers

  • Draft Ignored, Free Agent Answers?

The Jets didn’t select any linebackers in the NFL Draft and as of right now have some depth concerns. Unless they are anticipating a bigger role for players like Jamaal Westerman or Josh Mauga, they may look to coax Jason Taylor out of retirement or sign a free agent like Matt Roth.

Secondary

  • Everybody’s A Free Agent

Seriously…Antonio Cromartie, Drew Coleman, Eric Smith, Brodney Pool, and James Ihedigbo all need new contracts and obviously some tough decisions will have to be made.

  • Jim Leonhard On The Mend

Leonhard has recovered well this off-season from his season-ending injury in the middle of last year.

  • Is Wilson Ready?

If Antonio Cromartie leaves via free agency, Kyle Wilson will likely have to step into the starting line-up. He struggled his rookie season, is he ready for a bigger role?

Thoughts On Ongoing Jets Off-Season Workouts

Click here for more coverage of the New York Jets off-season workouts

1. Great work by Sione Pouha organizing the Jets defensive lineman for workouts in North Jersey. This is a group that will have some new pieces in the rotation with draft picks Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis, along with Ropati Pitoitua coming off season ending surgery now in the mix. It is also encouraging to hear that Shaun Ellis will join the workouts later in the week, considering his status with the team is up in the air. Let’s hope any work Wilkerson gets in the off-season will contribute to him making some type of immediate impact whenever the season starts.

2. It is encouraging to hear Mark Sanchez talk about putting together full team workouts, if the lockout continues to carry on. He stated he thinks somewhere around 50 players would show up, which would be great since New England only has around 40…every victory counts, right?

3. Speaking of New England, what is with the paranoia of keeping the media away from your team workouts? Did the secrecy pay off last year in January? Nobody is stealing the information about what routes you are running on air.

4. Jamaal Westerman is taking part in the defensive line workouts and had also worked out with Bart Scott and a few other Jets at the TEST facility in Martinsville, New Jersey earlier in the off-season. It is good to see Westerman getting after it, as he will have a chance to maybe contribute in some of the Jets defensive packages this season considering their depth chart at linebacker.

Click here for more coverage of the New York Jets off-season workouts

Underappreciated Lineman Anchor Jets Defense

There was no question the New York Jets needed to upgrade their defensive line this off-season. They had issues with their depth and struggled to consistently get after the quarterback. However, that doesn’t diminish the fact their defense was ranked third in the NFL last season at stopping the run and managed to generate enough of a pass rush to knock both Petyon Manning and Tom Brady out of the playoffs.

Two-thirds of the Jets starting defensive line are relative no-name players who don’t necessarily fit in with their big name, big talking counterparts. Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito have both very quietly developed into quality NFL starters and are a big part of why the Jets defense has been so successful the past two years.

Pouha has admirably stepped in for an injured Kris Jenkins in both 2009 and 2010. Jenkins was released this year, leaving Pouha as the official full time starting nose tackle. He is coming off a career year, where he racked up 59 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 recovered fumbles. A 3rd round draft pick of the Jets in 2005, Pouha has fought off early injuries in his career and multiple coaching changes to develop into the starting nose tackle on one of the league’s best defenses. The Jets drafted Kenrick Ellis in the third round this season, who should be able to spell him and could eventually develop into his replacement a few years down the road.

Mike DeVito is an undrafted free agent from Maine, now entering his fifth year with the Jets. He has clawed his way up from being an extra body in training camp, to the practice squad, to a rotational player and now finally to being a starting defensive end. The Jets showed confidence in him before last season by letting Marques Douglas walk in free agency, which left the starting job to DeVito. He responded with 59 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, and 2 forced fumbles. He is a good fit in Ryan’s scheme and is solid against the run.

The Jets first round pick Muhammad Wilkerson will likely replace Shaun Ellis in the starting line-up, if not this year, than likely next year. He should provide a pass rush out of the defensive end position, while DeVito can continue to plug up the run.

When discussing the Jets defense, it is usually names like Darrelle Revis, David Harris, Bart Scott, and Calvin Pace that come up first. However, don’t discount the production they are getting from blue-collar players like Pouha and DeVito.

The Importance Of Bringing Shaun Ellis Back

Despite the New York Jets selecting defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson in the first round of the NFL Draft and then adding defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis in the third round, it still remains important to bring veteran Shaun Ellis back for the defensive line rotation.

Despite never being a truly great player, Ellis has been a consistently very good defensive end, against both the run and pass for his entire 12 year career with the Jets. We know he still has gas in the tank after the way he dominated the New England Patriots offensive line in the Jets divisional round win last year.

With the NFL having a shortened off-season (and maybe a shortened regular season for that matter), you can’t expect Wilkerson to be ready to step into a starting role from day one. Players like Ropati Pitoitua and Marcus Dixon also haven’t shown enough yet to be considered strong candidates for a starting defensive end spot. It would be beneficial for Wilkerson’s development to spend a year learning from Ellis and coming off the bench before taking over for him full time.

Ellis has spent his entire career with the Jets and is a leader in the locker room. However, that isn’t the primary reason to work something out with him. Ellis is still a productive player at a position the Jets need help at.

You can’t assume a rookie or a player coming off an Achilles injury can start on one of the league’s best defenses, especially after this off-season. Hopefully, Mike Tannenbaum can work out a short term deal with Ellis to ease Wilkerson’s transition to the NFL and give the Jets better depth on their defensive line.

12 Pack Of Jets Off-Season Thoughts – Edition #15

A quick, refreshing 12 pack of off-season thoughts on the New York Jets

1. Adam Schefter stirred the pot on the Plaxico Burress to the Jets rumors again this week by mentioning it in his insider column. I think Plax could be a good low cost option to replace Braylon Edwards for a year or two. It is hard to picture Burress being anything but on his best behavior in the next couple of years after the amount of time he spent in jail and the Jets will need to replace Edwards’ size if he leaves.

2. We all know about Jets West but don’t forget about Jets Southwest, where Darrelle Revis and Kyle Wilson have been workigt out. It is great to see Revis taking Wilson under his wing because if Antonio Cromartie leaves via free agency, Wilson will be taking over one of the hardest defensive spots in football…the man opposite Revis Island. Also don’t forget about Jets East, which features players like Jerricho Cotchery, Bart Scott, and Vladimir Ducasse. We have Jets getting better all over the country…

3. Good debate on 1050 ESPN Radio today about the better rivalry at the moment: Yankees/Red Sox or Jets/Patriots. Obviously historically Yanks/Sox will always take the cake but the past couple of years, Jets/Pats has been a more bitter and entertaining match-up. The headlines don’t even compare. Yankees and Rex Sox are too damn respectful of each other these days. Somebody get in a fight or something.

4. Random Jets offensive prediction for 2011 – Joe McKnight will have over 500 total offensive yards from scrimmage. I think Brian Schottenheimer will turn him into an effective weapon on screens and outside handoffs.

5. Random Jets defensive prediction for 2011 – The Jets defensive line rotation will turn into one of the team’s major strengths, led by strong rookie years from both Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis, along with improved performances from Marcus Dixon and a healthy Ropati Pitoiuta.

6. Random Jets special teams prediction for 2011 – It will be Kyle Wilson who ends up taking over the punt return job and showing the production we all expected from him last year at that position.

7. Great move by the Jets taking quarterback Greg McElroy in the seventh round. They needed a long term backup to develop and he should learn plenty from both Mark Sanchez and Mark Brunell this year. McElroy is a proven winner with the right mental make-up to handle a backup role.

8. Remember to join the discussion at TOJ’s Forum Page

9. Similar to how the Bilal Powell selection should serve notice to Joe McKnight, it should serve notice to Shonn Greene. This is the year for Greene to show he can be the number one back he was during the Jets 2009 playoff run. Rex Ryan already called him his “bell cow” so now let’s see it.

10. Nick Mangold passing time during the lockout…

11. Congratulations on a great career to Alan Faneca who is a sure fire Hall of Famer. Faneca was very good for the Jets in his two seasons with the team and was important in the development of Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

12. May 16th and we are still waiting for words on appeals, stays, complete shutdowns, and 8th circuits when we should be talking OTAs, trades, and free agency, sad and confusing how such a good thing could be messed up by greed and money.

12 Pack Of Jets Off-Season Thoughts – Edition #14

After a one week hiatus for the NFL Draft, the 12 pack is back with twelve assorted thoughts about the New York Jets…

1. Rex, Rex, Rex – The guy is everywhere. He might have did about 4,000 interviews this past week to promote his new book, which I am currently working through. I can tell you already that it is a must read for any Jets fan or anybody who gets a kick out of Ryan’s personality. Yet, if you don’t like Rex, it will be just be more fuel to your fire. He remains true to himself in the book, which is no filter, borderline cocky, and brutally honest. Do I think it is a little much for Ryan to be writing a book two years into becoming a head coach, without a winning Super Bowl? Not necessarily, the guy has enough stories to tell with his long assistant coaching history, being Buddy Ryan’s son, and the amount that has happened in his first two years as a head coach to craft an interesting read, so more power to him.

Very glad to see that Rex didn’t go on Mike Francesa’s show by the way.

2. The People’s Champ – Braylon Edwards popularity with Jets fans has skyrocketed over the past year. His decision to show up for Jets West and even mention taking a hometown discount, when SantonioHolmes was nowhere to be found and has already made it clear he has no interest in signing the Jets tender and wants to go to the team where he can get the most money possible, has only helped Braylon’s popularity. Most fans seem to believe Braylon’s heart is truly in New York and admired the consistency and toughness of his play in 2010. Does that mean he will be back or will take a discount that will actually make a different? Only time will tell…

3. LT Glide – I am going to expand on this in an article for SB Nation later in the day, but you have to love the attitude of LaDainian Tomlinson. How about this first ballot hall of famer taking the time to attend Jets West with mostly rookies and also saying he will embrace being a third down back in 2011? Tomlinson has been a model teammate since joining the Jets and is beyond valuable with the leadership and experience he provides on offense.

4. Tiger Formation – It is was also impressive that Brad Smith decided to show up for Jets West without a contract. There is a good chance he won’t be back next year, as another team will probably offer him more money and a bigger role on offense, yet if he does end up back he will have a jump on getting more reps at receiver if Edwards or Holmes leaves.

5. Too Early On The Compliments – All the beat writers have been raving about fifth round pick Jeremy Kerley, by saying how quick and fluid he looks at receiver. Let’s see this guy in pads and with some defenders around him first before giving him too much credit. I do think he has good potential but you can’t get worked up over any thing you saw at these past workouts.

6. My Two Cents – On the Braylon/Santonio and defensive backs debate I posted earlier this week – I think Holmes is a better all-around receiver than Edwards, but if Edwards will come that much cheaper than it could be a smarter move to bring him back. Beyond that, if Holmes refuses to sign his one year tender as a restricted free agent (if he remains that under the new CBA), then try to work out a trade for him if he isn’t going to be reasonable on his long term contract demands. The Jets don’t need another holdout headache this summer. In terms of the DBs, I think Antonio Cromartie and Brodney Pool should be brought back as starters, and then you go from there depending how much money guys like Eric Smith and Drew Coleman are being offered. The Jets should be able to work out a fairly cheap deal with James Ihedigbo.

7. McKnight Anger – Glad to hear Joe McKnight is “pissed” and that it “added fuel to his fire” when the Jets selected Bilal Powell in the NFL Draft. McKnight should already be pissed about how he represented himself last year. If he has head on straight, he has an immense amount of talent and can be a dynamic playmaker in the Jets offense. Let’s hope the Powell selection helps push him even harder this off-season.

8. What About Powell? – You never know, especially with injuries but I think Powell will likely end up spending many games inactive this season. After LaDainian Tomlinson retires, hopefully he can become Shonn Greene’s primary backup, while McKnight moves into the third down role.

9. Entourage – How does everybody feel about the selection of Scotty McKnight? Does it bother you to see the Jets selecting Mark Sanchez’s buddy or do you think his chemistry with Sanchez and productivity at Colorado will lead to a successful NFL career?

10. Jets/Giants – How much fun is Christmas Eve going to be? Personally, I think Rex stirring the pot on a rivalry that isn’t really there is a great thing and will just make their regular season meeting that much more entertaining. Since Rex has taken over, the Jets have been the better, more interesting, and more entertaining team…let’s just hope that will equal a Super Bowl sooner rather than later because it is going to take one of those for the Jets to truly dominate this town.

11. Lockout – stay…appeal…stay…8th circuit…deny…stay…appeal…the clock is ticking.

12. Weekend Video Clip – More Muhammad Edition

New York Jets: Who Is On Thin Ice After Draft?

After seeing how the Jets spent their six draft picks over the weekend, which players from the 2010 team could be on thin ice heading into this upcoming year?

  • Shaun Ellis – Personally, I think it is still a smart move to bring Ellis back as a mentor for Muhammad Wilkerson and because the guy should finish his career where he started it. He is the longest tenured Jet and a respected leader on the team. However, the Jets aren’t going to overpay for him now after spending their first round pick on a defensive end. They could also bring Trevor Pryce back as a cheaper mentoring alternative for Wilkerson.
  • Kris Jenkins – Not that he was likely to be back anyway, but the Kenrick Ellis selection seals his fate.
  • Kellen Clemens – Good as gone.
  • Kevin O’Connell – Will probably be given a chance to compete in training camp with Greg McElroy but unless he blows him away (not likely considering his past few summers) he will join Clemens.
  • LaDainian Tomlinson – Everything we have heard since the draft indicates that he will still be back and it would be the smart move to have him return. The Jets need his leadership, receiving ability, and pass protection. Yet, you have to wonder if Bilal Powell looks good in the pre-season, if the Jets would consider letting him go.
  • Joe McKnight – If he replicates his 2010 summer and Powell is productive, the Jets could part ways with their 4th round draft from last year to make room for their 4th round pick this year.
  • Brad Smith – If Smith is commanding too much money, the Jets have drafted a player with a skill set to be his replacement in Jeremy Kerley. Even if Smith’s contract demands aren’t outrageous, they will have a tough time bringing him back with Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards both looking for new deals.
  • Patrick Turner – Will Sanchez’s old buddy from USC get bumped from the roster by his new buddy on the team, Scotty McKnight?