It’s hard to believe that just four short weeks ago, the New York Jets were a team with their entire fate resting in their hands, still considered a plausible contender for a strong playoff run.
In the blink of an eye, Gang Green awakens from a month-long nightmare, finding themselves sitting home on their sofa. It is difficult to decipher what, if anything, is certain about the Jets heading into the 2012 offseason.
A closer look at the state of the team, though, may show that there is a kernel of hope, a small group of players who overachieved this season. These six players, all relatively young and talented, may comprise a new core of leadership team that upcoming seasons will revolve around.
A side note: As a matter of principle and protest against the potential retention of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, I have barred any offensive player from this list. Not that they would qualify for it anyway; I stand by my decision.
If you cannot appreciate the 2011 performance of nose tackle Sione Pouha, it is nothing more than a confession of the worst sort of football X and O ignorance.
As a defensive line coach myself, the play of the colossal Samoan and former Utah Ute was regularly a cause for DVR rewind. The precise technique he combined with violent explosion and brute strength was phenomenal.
Any football coach, from Pop Warner to the pros, looking for the perfect case study in defensive line play needs to get a hold of the film from Pouha’s safety against Kansas City. It is an absolute thing of beauty. It was this type of play that Pouha provided all season long.
Pouha’s performance this season was also a consistent one, racking up 41 solo tackles and 16 assists over 15 starts. If it weren’t for the exceptionally deep pool of outstanding interior defensive linemen in the AFC, there is no doubt Pouha would be on his way to Honolulu this season.
As the world around him falls into disarray, there may be something bubbling under the surface in New York that may not be glaringly obvious at first glance: the common location of overachievers on the field. Those who have followed Rex Ryan’s coaching career know that his path has always centered around the defensive line and linebacker corps.
It's fair to say the Jets have developed a defensive front four that they will be able to hang their hat on for quite some time to come.
No player on the Jets 2011 roster exemplified Rex Ryan’s philosophy on football than defensive end Mike Devito. Although he suffered from a nagging knee injury throughout this season, Devito constantly flew to the football with reckless abandon in his fifth season as a Jet. His 27 tackles and two forced fumbles helped make the 2011 season second in production only to his 2010 campaign.
Considering DeVito had this level of production in spite of an injury-limited season of only 11 starts, these statistics stand out even more.
How can any true fan of the Jets not appreciate Mike DeVito? A native New Yorker, DeVito may be the personification of working-class, unrelenting play that the Jets can rebuild their reputation on.
I think its safe to say that many of the preseason concerns surrounding the small-school prodigy from Temple have subsided. The kid many said could not survive the bright lights of the big city has done so, and then some.
Wilkerson posted 35 solo stops this season and 13 assists to his rookie credentials. He also sprinkled on a safety, three sacks and a forced fumble to a season intended to serve only as his learning curve.
The only growing pains the 6’4”, 315-pound newbie incurred were the ones he put on opposing offenses, ranking fourth among rookie interior linemen in tackles.
There is a tremendous upside to the big 22-year-old, as his 2011 performance is enhanced by the reality that he is a small school product now integrated into a very intricate Rex Ryan defensive scheme. Wilkerson is another example of the Jets youth looking to take the reigns in 2012.
There is no other entry in this list who was able to qualify with only one 2011 start.
You have to be one heck of a tremendous talent in order to convince Rex Ryan, a coach who seems at times to think it is eternally Baltimore circa 2000, to release veteran loudmouth linebacker Bart Scott. Josh Mauga is the catalyst for this looming change.
The value of the native Hawaiian linebacker is not in the statistics; Mauga only tallied 25 tackles and one interception on the year. The value of his performance is the intensity and aggressiveness he played with when given the opportunity.
When many adorned in green last Sunday seemed to have one foot already on the plane heading home, Mauga continued to attack the football, leaving a lasting impression that could in turn lead to the Mad Backer being shown the door.
Maybin may have cooled off a bit down the season stretch as teams began to account for his pass rush talent, but his improvement in 2011 was a rare highlight for the Jets this season.
The six sacks that rushed Maybin into midseason prominence may have accounted for his entire career sack total, but the confidence that the young linebacker gained is immeasurable.
Maybin may have finally found the right mix of speed and technique that will help him overcome the lack of physical size that has hamstrung him early in his young career. He also benefited greatly from being used as a situational pass rusher, saving his energy and legs for strategically planned game situations.
Given another offseason to tune his skill set, Maybin could be a phenomenal counterpart to the monster interior linemen the Jets have cultivated. Perhaps one day, one day far far away, the Jets could actually develop a pass rush that doesn’t require a quantum-physics blitz scheme.