Most Important Players in New-Look New York Jets Defense
During the team's recent minicamp, Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine talked about more changes in the team's defensive philosophy.
Recognizing that their defensive line has become a much stronger unit than their linebacking corps, Ryan and Pettine claimed the team would be using a 4-3 defense much more than the 3-4 they have featured in the past.
The switch makes perfect sense, as the league has caught on to their "exotic" blitz packages causing major problems when trying to generate a consistent pass rush.
Also, it simply gets the Jets' best players on the field more often.
Give Ryan and Pettine credit for adjusting their scheme to fit the personnel that they have on the roster. Too many coaches try to do things the opposite way by fitting ill-equipped players into a set scheme.
For the change to be successful, certain players will have to play major roles in the new defense.
Sure, Darrelle Revis still needs to provide his lock-down coverage while Sione Pouha and David Harris must stuff the run with the same ferocity that they have in the past, but the following six players will play a large role in determining whether the Jets' new 4-3 defense will be a success.
Part of that has to be blamed on the fact that he has been playing out of his natural position since coming to the Jets.
When the Jets utilize the 4-3 defense this year, Pace is expected to play right defensive end and will be asked to get himself to the quarterback.
Although Pace did have success playing outside linebacker in Arizona, and during his first couple of seasons with the Jets, it's always been believed he was a better fit at defensive end.
One of the keys to the 4-3 is having two defensive ends who can do their job in getting to the quarterback on a consistent basis.
Pace will be one of them.
Quinton Coples will be the other.
Rex Ryan hasn't said whether he drafted Coples specifically with the scheme change in mind, but he seems to be a perfect fit for it anyway.
Like Pace, Coples will be asked to consistently generate pressure on the outside on his own, without the help of any elaborate schemes.
Coples has been drawing positive reviews for his work so far with the team and seems poised to become the dangerous pass-rushing defensive end the Jets have lacked for so long.
Coples has even shown versatility in taking some reps at linebacker, but in the 4-3 he will be asked to play with his hand on the ground.
If Coples or Pace struggle in their assignments in the 4-3, the Jets will have major problems generating the pressure needed to be successful in their scheme.
Muhammad Wilkerson had a solid rookie year least season by all accounts, but he needs to continue to develop if he is going to play the vital role in the 4-3 the Jets expect him to.
Wilkerson wasn't exposed as a rookie last year, but he wasn't spectacular either.
When the Jets line up in the 4-3, Wilkerson will shift inside and work as a pass rusher and inside run stuffer.
The coaches are high on his talents and fully expect him to continue to develop.
Wilkerson's presence was one of the deciding factors in employing the 4-3, so the coaches better be right in their projections.
Wilkerson has shown that he can handle himself in this league, now he just needs to show up on the stat sheet a little more frequently.
Does it concern anyone that one of the keys to this 4-3 defense is currently sitting in a Virginia prison?
Kenrick Ellis is serving time on his 45-day jail sentence and is scheduled to be released three days after the Jets start training camp.
What should be even more of a concern is that Ellis was very much overmatched as a rookie last season.
Ellis appeared in just five games as a rookie, often finding himself inactive on game day. During the chances that he did get, Ellis didn't have much of an impact, making just five tackles.
By no means is Ellis being projected to become a starter this year, but he is going to be counted on to be an important part of a rotation along with Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha.
Ryan has said that Ellis is among the most improved players on the squad, and cited the fact that he can now do 10 sets of 10 pull-ups with a 35-pound weight strapped to him.
That may not sound like a major accomplishment for an NFL player, but considering the fact that Ellis at one point could not even do a single pull-up, it is.
When it comes to making plays in games though, nobody is going to care how many pull-ups Ellis can do.
If Ellis really has improved as much as Ryan says he has, the Jets defensive line has the potential to be one of the best in the AFC.
In his first year as a Jet, Aaron Maybin had more of an impact in the 239 snaps he played than others did in nearly three times the amount of snaps.
This year though, Maybin has put on an additional 20 pounds and hopes to play a larger role in the defense.
In an article by Brian Costello in the New York Post, Rex Ryan even said as much:
I expect him to have a big year rushing the passer for us. And I also think knowing the system better, I think there’s some things that we can do with him. Maybe it’s some base situations as a backup that we can use him [in] also."
Maybin has already proven that he can get to the quarterback when given the chance. If he is able to develop his all-around game, he could truly be a headache for opposing offenses to deal with, especially with all of the other pieces around him.
Although Maybin's role is yet to be determined, expect him to remain a blitzing linebacker to start, but don't be surprised if he takes some turns as a defense end just to see what will happen.
Part of the reason the Jets will utilize a 4-3 defense this year is because the linebacker unit simply isn't as strong as the defensive line.
If early reports about Demario Davis are accurate, the gap between the two units might not be as wide as expected.
If the Jets had to put a 4-3 defense on the field tomorrow, Davis probably would be towards the back of the rotation at linebacker.
But as the season wears on, Davis may turn out to be so explosive that Mike Pettine can't keep him off the field.
Davis seems to be a sideline-to-sideline player who plays with an extremely high motor. If that description turns out to be accurate, he would be the only Jets linebacker who fits that profile.
Davis' development isn't absolutely crucial to the Jets running a successful 4-3 defense, but the faster he picks up the scheme the better.
If Davis can reach the potential that some are already whispering about him, it will make the Jets defense that much more fearful, no matter which formation they use.