All Eyes on Vernon Gholston: Sky Is the Limit for New York Jets Linebackers

Dan Israeli Contributor IIIMay 28, 2009

For the Rex Ryan regime to pay immediate dividends this year, the new head coach will need to improve the Jets' 29th-ranked pass defense from last season.

Two new additions, free safety Jim Leonhard and cornerback Lito Sheppard, should help the situation, but when you look at the success of Ryan's Baltimore defense over the past few years, it all starts with linebacker play.

The Ravens were second in the league last season in pass defense, bringing a disruptive scheme play after play, highlighted by a league-leading 26 interceptions.

Of course, any team with Ed Reed (nine interceptions last season) patrolling the open field is bound to be tops in the NFL in picks. However, those other 17 takeaways came from all over the field.

Organized chaos indeed.

But back to the linebackersan area of untapped potential for the restocked Jets defense.

Leading the pack is prized free agent signing and former Ravens inside linebacker Bart Scott, whom Ryan will likely mold as the Ray Lewis of his new team. Paired with the well-versed David Harris, coming into his third season, the Jets have a formidable inside linebacker duo.

Harris will be asked to facilitate a lot, allowing Scott to be the dynamic blitzer all Jets fans are anticipating to see let loose. At the same time, Scott can also disrupt the passing lanes and should definitely improve on his 2008 season, when he didn't record any interceptions.

That leaves the two outside spots, with Calvin Pace guaranteed his slot on the strong side. In Pace, Ryan sees the same outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid he had in Terrell Suggs, so expect to see him playing down on a lot of snaps.

Speaking of Suggs, Ryan has said he sees the same making in last year's disappointing sixth overall pick, Vernon Gholston.

It will be Gholston's production, and whether or not he can secure a starting job opposite Pace, that will determine just how high the Jets' linebacking corps can soar this season.

Gholston is a physical freak, a workout wonder. He has yet to transfer those skills to the professional playing level, but that can also be attributed to a lack of opportunity.

Standing in his way, but not really, is Bryan Thomas. He started last season but is now coming off two lackluster years, and it's blatantly obvious that Ryan and the Jets organization wants their first-round pick of a year ago to start.

Gholston will need to continue in his transition from defensive end to outside linebacker, and in doing so he must fully understand his role, in full pads, during the course of a 16-game season, with different offenses being thrown in his direction week-to-week.

Will Gholston accomplish the task? Only time and training camp will tell, but with a strong surrounding bunch in New York's defensive midfield, he certainly won't have to be the leader.

A strong season to grow on will do just fine and help propel the Jets linebackers to the NFL elite.