You see it happen to at least one team every year in the NFL. A unit that appears deep and reliable is suddenly made shallow by injuries. Even the best and sturdiest of units is, at most, two injuries away from becoming a weak point.
During the offseason, one of the hardest decisions New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan faced was deciding which defensive linemen to cut. The entire unit played great during the summer and preseason, and the depth was off the charts.
Sione Pouha was considered by many to be the best nose tackle in the NFL. Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson were both first-round draft picks (2012 and 2011 respectively) and had been living up to expectations.
Mike DeVito was one of the most reliable run-stuffers in the NFL. Kenrick Ellis was a talented young 2011 draft pick carrying high expectations. Lastly, Damon Harrison was a potential diamond in the rough on the practice squad.
The Jets had five quality starters and a solid guy waiting on the practice squad for a unit that only requires three players in the 3-4 base defense. Marcus Dixon—a very solid backup—was released to make roster room prior to the season opener.
Skip ahead six weeks.
Which injury is the most worrisome for the Jets?
Sione Pouha is missing multiple games with a back injury. Kenrick Ellis is out for up to six weeks with an MCL injury. Mike DeVito is probable but still nursing a neck injury. Meanwhile, rookie Quinton Coples is still getting used to NFL conditioning, and cannot play every snap.
The result is that Harrison is on the active roster and is seeing more snaps. With his solid play, he is showing the whole NFL that he is at least a legitimate backup, if not a viable starter.
What that means for the Jets is that they cannot put Harrison back on the practice squad. Another team with less defensive line depth would snatch him up in a heartbeat for their active roster.
This is a dilemma for the Jets. If they put Harrison on the practice squad, they lose him. However, if their starters regain health, they have no room for Harrison on the active roster.
By the end of this season, the Jets defensive line could be a powerhouse again. On the other hand, it could be an injury-shredded mess. Nobody knows which will happen, but the Jets have to be very careful not to lose Harrison and then discover that they need him again.