New York Jets Fact Or False: Defensive Line Edition

This week’s edition of New York Jets Fact Or False. Chris Gross on what to expect from a revamped Defensive Line this season.

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.

Can Kenrick Ellis Finally Move On Following His Legal Resolution?

Yesterday, New York Jets defensive lineman, and former 3rd round pick, Kenrick Ellis pleaded guilty to assault and battery charges that have been stemming from a 2010 incident at Ellis’s former place of education, Hampton University. According to his attorney, Ellis will likely serve 45 days in a Virginia prison beginning on June 15th of this year, which will cause him to miss the opening days of training camp. Although this legal issue is unfortunately going to cost him some training and practice time, the resolution to this case could be just what Ellis needs to finally propel his NFL career and fulfill his vast potential.

Coming out of John I. Leonard High School in Lake Worth, Florida, Ellis was regarded as a 4 star prospect, according to scout.com, and was widely considered to be the best defensive tackle prospect from the Lake Worth area since Patriots All-Pro Vince Wilfork. In his final two seasons in high school, Ellis tallied 139 tackles and 24 sacks, while earning scholarship offers from Rutgers, Tennessee, South Carolina, Michigan, Michigan State, and North Carolina.

After finally deciding to become a member of the Gamecocks, Ellis redshirted his freshman season, before recording 11 tackles the following year. With a promising collegiate career seeming inevitable, Ellis was unfortunately reprimanded for repeated violations of both university and team policies, and transferred to Hampton University in Virginia. In his final two seasons as a Pirate, Ellis recorded an amazing 30 tackles for loss, which, considering his immense size (6’5” 346 lbs) is tremendous.

With Ellis having the legal case lingering over him heading into the NFL Draft, he dropped to the 3rd round, despite his great potential, where he was eventually selected by the Jets with the 94th overall pick. Since becoming a member of the green and white, Ellis, who is a native of Jamaica, has constantly had fears of jail time and even the possibility of deportation hanging over his head. The resolution to this case that has been pending for nearly two years should finally give Ellis some closure, and allow him to move on with his NFL career, without being weighed down by his troubled past.

Once he is released from prison, presumably in late July/early August, Ellis will surely be around the right guys to ensure his character develops where it needs to be in order for him to accentuate his abilities as a player. Fellow Jets Defensive Lineman Marcus Dixon is no stranger to legal trouble. In 2003, Dixon, coincidentally a fellow Hampton University Alumni, was found guilty of statutory rape in Georgia and was sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison. After serving about a year of his sentence, the supreme court overturned the case, and Dixon was released and able to continue his NFL career. If there is anyone fitted to mentor Ellis on leaving his troubled past behind him, while focusing on moving forward, it is certainly Marcus Dixon.

Ellis’s situation is surely not the first case of an NFL player having to serve jail time in between seasons. In 2009, the Giants’ Ahmad Bradshaw served 31 days in prison to complete a 60-day sentence he faced as a result of a petty larceny charge he attained while attending the University of Marshall in 2006. Similar to Ellis, Bradshaw began his collegiate career at the larger University of Virginia, but was dismissed following an underage drinking arrest in 2004. In the three seasons since serving his jail sentence, Bradshaw has rushed for 2,672 yards and 24 touchdowns, while playing a vital role in the Giants’ most recent Super Bowl run. The Jets would be ecstatic to see Ellis provide a similar level of production following the resolution to his legal troubles.

The key for Ellis’s success will be his ability to buy into the workman’s mentality that is prevalent on the Jets’ Defensive Line. Led by current Nose Tackle Sione Pouha, Ellis has an excellent veteran mentor to learn from in terms of play, character, work ethic, and leadership. Combine that with the constant exposure he will have to blue collar guys like Dixon, Mike DeVito, and Mohammed Wilkerson, and Ellis should have no problem developing into the player the Jets envisioned him to be when they selected him in last year’s draft. Physically, the potential is sky high. Now, Ellis must prove that he can be mature enough to handle the responsibilities of an NFL player and teammate.

How Yeremiah Bell Fits In With The Jets

Heading into the offseason, the New York Jets most obvious need, along with Right Tackle, was undoubtedly the Safety position. To say the Jets were poor in this part of their secondary last year would be an understatement, and in a division where you face two of the NFL’s top tight ends, in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, twice a year, safety play is crucial to the success of a defense. The Jets have taken another step in addressing the position by adding free agent Yeremiah Bell this past Friday. Bell will join LaRon Landry and rookies Josh Bush and Antonio Allen as the four safeties New York has added this offseason.

There are some concerns about how Bell will fit in, since he is very similar to Landry in terms of play. Like Landry, Bell is a very physical safety whose talents are best utilized in run support. So, the obvious question that comes about is why the Jets would add two strong safety types, when the greater need is in coverage. However, there are numerous factors as to why this signing makes sense.

1.) The Jets will be taking a more physical approach toward covering tight ends this season. While New York needs people who can keep up with guys like Gronkowski and Hernandez, they could be moving more towards a scheme that requires the safeties to play more physical in coverage. This includes a heavy amount of jamming at the line of scrimmage, while doing anything possible to disrupt the routes of the opposing tight ends. The Jets could certainly run packages where they put both Landry and Bell in press type coverage, while allowing someone like rookie Josh Bush, who has fantastic cover skills, to play in a centerfield type role, where he excelled in college. With the ability to bring in Bush, Eric Smith, and Kyle Wilson as the nickel corner, expect New York to mix it up with personnel in the defensive backfield through a number of various schemes to keep opposing offenses on their toes.

2.) Bell gives the Jets much needed veteran depth at the safety position. Besides Landry and Smith, the other four safeties on New York’s roster have played in a combined 12 NFL games. Although rookies Antonio Allen and Bush are very promising, combining them with DeAngelo Smith and Tracy Wilson as your only backups in the event that Eric Smith or the injury prone Landry get hurt would be an idiotic move. Veterans in the secondary will be crucial not only to the success of the defense, but also to the development of the young guys.

3.) Jim Leonhard is not healing well enough from his season ending knee injury for the Jets to commit to him. The Bell signing most likely signifies the end of Jim Leonhard’s run as a Jet. Leonhard has been a valuable piece to Rex Ryan’s defense since joining his defensive mentor in coming to New York three seasons ago. However, season ending leg injuries in each of the past two years have seemed to seal his fate with the Jets. If this is, in fact, the end of Leonhard in the green and white, his cerebral contributions, and constant fire and tenacity to Ryan’s scheme will surely be missed, and will be difficult to duplicate. Unfortunately, though, health has caused Leonhard to become too much of a liability for the Jets to invest in.

Although it may not sit well with most fans, opting for Bell over Leonhard is a smart, safe move. Since his rookie season, in which he played in 13 games, Bell has played in all 16 games in each of his 8 seasons in the NFL, with the exception of 2007 when he suffered a torn Achilles in week one, which sidelined him for the entire year. Since recovering, Bell has never missed a game, while recording over 100 tackles in each season following his injury.

Other than the concern that Bell is too similar to Landry in terms of ability, another popular issue that has caused some alarm for Jet fans is how he will be able to pick up Rex Ryan’s complex defensive system. Although he may not be on Jim Leonhard’s level anytime soon, the notion that Bell will not be able to pick up the scheme because it is too complicated is being blown way out of proportion. Every defense in the NFL is complex, and Bell is a professional. While it certainly may take some time for him to truly get comfortable, he should get a full grasp of the defensive concept in no time. Fortunately for him, he has a great amount of time between now and the start of training camp, and will be surrounded by players like Darrelle Revis and Eric Smith, who are very familiar with the scheme, to help him adjust mentally.

Jets Fantasy Football Preview

First a few updates:

1. Rex Ryan spoke today at a summer camp he was working and as usual had a few interesting things to say. First off, he stated that Vernon Gholston is his starter in place of Calvin Pace. I think this may be more of a PR move to boost the kid’s confidence and quell some questions about how he performed in OTAs. If Gholston struggles in pre-season, he could start the first series week one and then be subbed out for the rest of the game for Marques Murrell, Jason Trunsick, or somebody else. He still has to earn his reps. Ryan also commented about how confident he was in his group of receivers, and mentioned one unnamed player who he believed was going to turn some heads this year (I am thinking Chansi Stuckey, since he had such a strong mini-camp).

2. I advise everybody to check out (www.GreenRewind.com) Marty Schupak runs a great podcast over there and I actually will be on the program tonight, so if you want to hear my voice, go check out the web site and check out all of Marty’s past shows…all quality Jets material. I also added his link over on the side of the home page.

3. No news on Thomas Jones or Leon Washington….although Rex Ryan stated he expects both to be at the beginning of training camp (only 9 days away)…we’ll just have to see.

4. Another day…another Yankees win and hopefully another Boston loss tonight.

Jets Fantasy Football Preview

Who doesn’t play fantasy football these days? The Jets haven’t been a popular team in the fantasy world the past few years and that doesn’t look to change this season. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t value on their roster. Let’s take a look:

Best Bets:

1. Jets Defense/Special Teams – The Jets are generally ranked as a top 7-10 defense in most fantasy outlooks. They were very good last year, creating a high amount of turnovers and scoring a handful of defensive touchdowns, and that shouldn’t change under Rex Ryan who will be more aggressive than Eric Mangini. Also, Leon Washington is a constant threat to return a kick for a touchdown which increases their value. They don’t have a dominant pass rusher but have playmakers in the secondary with Darrelle Revis, Kerry Rhodes, and Lito Sheppard, a dominant defensive lineman in Kris Jenkins and a deep, solid group of linebackers.

2. Dustin Keller – Since the Jets are thin at receiver and will be starting a young quarterback, Dustin Keller should be receiving plenty of looks this season. Keller already had 48 catches his rookie season, despite splitting playing time with Chris Baker and Bubba Franks, both of whom are now gone. He should also be their primary red-zone target because of his size and the difficulty he creates in terms of match-ups. Keller is a very good option as a starting tight end for your fantasy team, and should be good for 60-65 catches with 6-7 touchdowns.

Quality Starters:

1. Thomas Jones – It is unfair to expect Jones to match his monster 2008 season, which saw him rack up 1519 total yards with 15 touchdowns. However, he should still remain the 1,100+ yard back that he has been the past four seasons. Leon Washington and Shonn Greene will cut into his touches and maybe a few of his goal-line looks (especially in Greene’s case) but Jones will be the Jets primary ball carrier and they are going to be running the football alot, making him a solid #2 option at RB in most fantasy leagues.

2. Jerricho Cotchery – Cotchery has been a fantasy disappointment that last two seasons after breaking on the scene in 2006. Yet, he is the Jets unquestioned number one receiver in 2009 and should have more looks than he has ever seen in his career. Cotchery is probably out of place as a #1 but he will still be a productive player this season. You shouldn’t be concerned about his catches or yards, since he probably will be in the 80-85 catch/1100-1200 yard range, the real question is how many touchdowns will he score? His career high for a season is 6, which was 3 years ago. I am not sure he will top that this season, making him a #3 WR in most fantasy leagues.

Sleepers:

1. Leon Washington – It is hard to consider #29 a sleeper since has was a pro-bowler last season and is a big time playmaker, yet he doesn’t receive enough touches to be a fantasy starter. Hopefully, Brian Schottenheimer will include him more in the offense in 2009, making it worth having him as a spot starter/backup. Last year he had 783 offensive yards and 9 total touchdowns, you should expect a bump in those numbers this season.

2. David Clowney – While I think Chansi Stuckey will start opposite Jerricho Cotchery, Clowney has a better chance to provide more big plays and touchdowns. I am hoping Clowney can turn into Dedric Ward on the 1998 Jets, with his key long TD receptions and huge yards per catch average. Clowney is hit or miss this year but should be the Jets primary deep threat and could be worth a late round draft pick and a spot start if you are desperate.

Super-Sleepers:

1. Shonn Greene – The Jets #3 running back entering training camp but if Thomas Jones/Leon Washington have any type of extended holdouts, he could quickly see his reps climb up. Even if both players are around all summer, Greene should see some short yardage/goal-line/4th quarter touches. It remains to be seen exactly how many goal-line carries he will get, which will ultimately determine his fantasy value this season.

2. Brad Smith – Maybe the versatile Smith can put it all together in his fourth year at wide receiver. He has the size to be a weapon in the red-zone and also should see some carries on reverses and in the wildcat formation. I wouldn’t bank on him doing anything of fantasy value in 2009, but you never know.

Jets Highlight of the Day: Highlights from Dustin Keller’s rookie season in Green and White…great fantasy option at tight end in 2009.