In a half a season full of ups and downs, the Jets have had many positives to take from the linebacker position. More importantly, John Idzik is getting a great grasp on what needs to be done in the upcoming offseason at the position. While one young players career is blossoming, another former star’s has been rejuvenated. Not all is perfect in Jets land though, as there are major concerns at outside linebacker. Let’s give out overall grades from the first half of the season.
Grading System: For the 2013 season, I’ll use a simple grading scale when reviewing the linebackers. Each player will receiver a number 1-10, with 1 obviously being abysmal and 10 being outstanding. At the end of each review, I will nominate a linebacker poised to have an excellent game in the following week. Let’s get to it.
A former second round pick, Harris developed into a star by his third professional season. The “Hitman” was regarded as a top flight run stopper on one of the best defenses in football. Unfortunately for the Harris, his fall began as soon as the entire Jets “circus” began. A once feared defense crumbled in 2012, with Harris looking quite slow and “washed up.”Coming into the 2013 season, Harris answered concerns about his game immediately. Once again he is a dominant run stuffer but still very limited in coverage. The excellent group of defensive linemen playing in front of Harris have given him space to stop the ball carriers for minimal gains. A stat that is impossible to track but deserves a mention is how many screens Harris sniffs out and disrupts. Although his coverage ability is below average, he spies and contains his zone very well against opposing runners and mobile quarterbacks. Look for Harris to continue his resurgence in the second half of the season with many match ups against teams with very average rushing attacks.
Davis received a very small amount of snaps as a rookie last season and many began to worry if he was rushed into the starting role. Halfway through his sophomore season and Davis seems to be one of the solid pieces in place of the newlyrevamped front seven. His speed is a dimension the Jets linebacker corps has been missing for the past few seasons. He is a sideline to sideline linebacker and a sound tackler (as shown in chasing down Vincent Jackson week 1 to save the game).
While it is safe to say Davis has exceeded expectations in his first year as a starter, there are still observable growing pains. At the moment he is a solid linebacker with the potential to become a star linebacker. He hasn’t shown superb playmaking ability and has come up short on a few interception opportunities. He only has one sack but his speed is an asset to Rex’s variety of blitz packages. It is quite hard to knock the duo of Davis and Harris, as they have shut down top flight runners such as C.J. Spiller andDoug Martin. If this tandem can keep up their success, they will earn the reputation of one of the best stopping inside linebacker duo’s in the entire NFL.
McIntyre is a career depth player that has carved a nice role in Rex Ryan’s defense. He is often brought in on early downs as an edge run stopper or a stop gap player due to injuries. In his limited role he will display an occasional pass rush or decent run defense, but needs to remain a depth player. There have been a few occasions where McIntyre gets eaten up on an edge run and Antonio Allen bails him out by pressing up in the box. Overall, a very average season for a very average player.
Unfortunately for the Jets, Calvin Pace has been relied on all season as a starting outside linebacker. He surprisingly has four sacks but many of them are from being unblocked, as the defensive linemen often draw much of the attention. At times Pace has failed to set the edge, with the best (or worst) example being Stevan Ridley’s 17 yard touchdown scamper in the second Patriots match up. Right tackles have eaten Pace the entire year, which is real unfortunate considering he is the one guy with one on one match ups week in and week out. John Idizik will look to draft his replacement come May 2014.
Quinton CoplesPossibly the low point of the Jets season so far, where has Quinton Coples been? He is consistently losing one on one match ups. In the preseason this man was unblockable, which leaves one wondering if he is fully healthy? Better yet, is he even ready to play outside linebacker after missing significant time in the early portion of the season?
I hate to be one to make excuses, but something is not right with Coples and it is definitely not lack of talent. If he can somehow get his motor going in the second half of the year, this front seven goes from great to elite.
There is not a ton to say about Barnes as his knee injury has ended his season. What is clearly obvious is that Barnes is the speedy edge rusher this team has missed since John Abraham was a Jet. In the limited time we saw him play, he would blow by tackles and force the quarterback into the mouth of the defense (Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson). I’m looking forward to his return next season along with the speedy edge rusher the Jets select early in May’s draft.
Linebacker Poised For Second Half of the Season Success: At this point, it is hard to see Demario Davis slowing down anytime soon. He is a speedy, young, tackling machine that looks poised to elevate his game to the next level. If he can get his hands on his first interception, it is hard to imagine any offensive player catching him before the end zone.