The endless pursuit of the ever-elusive pass rush has left everyone winded. A priority was placed on securing outside linebackers that fit the 3-4 defensive alignment, and can introduce themselves to quarterbacks—over and over again.
The Jets were off to a hot start, laying quarterbacks down, and trailing only the Pittsburgh Steelers for a moment in 2008. Then everything changed, and the pass rush became a story of "too little, too late."
Blitz packages became a faded memory, pressure was never applied properly, and whenever the Jets got thisclose, the play was already developed and executed.
Dollars were thrown around to improving the Jets' pass rush, and for all the commitment to the outside linebacker position, the Jets' sack leader over the last two seasons has been DE Shaun Ellis with eight in 2008, and again in 2007 when he tied with David Harris, recording five sacks.
With nearly $20 million tied up in the position for 2009, it's coming to a point where the money has to be justified with results.
Outside of Calvin Pace, the promise at the position is heart-breaking.
Hi, Bryan! Want to Play Football This Year?
Bryan Thomas was Jets' enemy no. one last year when he confessed to slacking off after receiving his new contract. A player who the Jets should have never drafted to begin with had the audacity to admit that he took plays off!
In case anyone forgot, Ed Reed and Lito Sheppard were still on the board when Bryan Thomas was drafted in 2002.
And when he looked ready to redeem himself in 2008, Thomas regressed and became Mr. Invisible once again.
Was it Mangini's defensive scheming, or was he taking plays off again?
Whatever it was, Bryan Thomas became part of the problem down the stretch of the 2008 season. Top-paid players are expected to be difference makers on the field. If he can't help set the tone, then whose responsibility is it?
Then again, the Jets looked flat, uninspired, and lazy in December. Maybe he really did set the tone on the field.
What If He Wasn't Drafted Sixth-Overall?
Vernon Gholston's difficulties have been well documented. There are no intentions here to pick on someone who, by all accounts, is making a diligent effort to improve. But how much improvement should a sixth-overall pick need?
If you're at the top of the draft, it's supposed to be an indicator that you're among the best. Sadly, the preseason showed Gholston only remained with the team because of his draft position and contract.
In the spirit of absolute honesty, if Gholston wasn't the Jets' top pick, he would've been released in training camp. He was out-performed by less notable players on a regular basis.
Kenwin Cummings was undrafted out of Wingate and did a better job of earning a spot on the final roster. Yet, he was left to the practice squad.
Marques Murrell was also undrafted, and he looked more impressive in preseason than Gholston. Unfortunately, he's going to have to fight harder for playing time because New York has to justify Gholston and his contract.
Talented and driven players lose crucial opportunities to play in hopes that Gholston can even turn into a shadow of DeMarcus Ware or Terrell Suggs.
The next James Harrison could be riding the bench waiting for his opportunity.
The Truth Shall Set Them Free
The issues with the 2008 season remain a mystery. With no significant injuries to any player, why were 11 starters struggling so much?
Everyone is trying to read between the lines of the defensive failures, and only two explanations bounce off the page.
- The players aren't talented enough to be starters.
- The coaches didn't utilize the talent properly.
The former seems the most unlikely, leaving the blame on the coaching staff's shoulders. But everyone shouldn't be comfortable with that.
Fortunately, the answers are right around the corner. Rex's resume is impressive. The Jets' fans adore him, love his attitude, and the preceding reputation has everyone chomping at the bit.
That's the understanding everyone is patiently waiting for. Discovering who was most inept in 2008 rests in Rex Ryan's hands.
And if it becomes clear that the flaws were with the players, everyone should expect some explosions to come out of the Mad Scientist's laboratory in 2009.
Angel Navedo is the Examiner for the New York Jets and the Head Writer at NYJetsFan.com. Some of his work can also be found on MyGridironSpace.com—a premier social networking site built exclusively for NFL fans.
He can be reached here.