Memo: Gholston & Thomas Must Stand And Deliever For Rex Ryan
No one ever said it would be easy being a rookie in the NFL, especially when one is the sixth pick in the NFL Draft. When a player is picked that high, great expectations are anticipated; others expect him to be the next breakthrough rookie who sets records, becomes a perennial MVP candidate, and a key player in achieving a Super Bowl victory, proving he is worth the millions thrown his way.
For Vernon Gholston, the ticker tape parades will have to wait. There is no longer talk of his being a key piece in a championship team. No MVP talk. No new records set. The only talk revolving around Gholston these days has more to do with his nightmarish 2008 season. The rookie rarely saw the field under Coach Eric Mangini, and when he did play, he recorded a mere four tackles in 15 games. He was lost in translation about the playbook; his place on the team, and his overall confidence shattered.
Now, with Rex Ryan as the head coach, Gholston will get an opportunity that many people seldom receive in life: a second chance.
Ryan preached, since his arrival in late January, that he can can find the right formula to make Gholston into a superior outside linebacker. Hey. Dr. Rex found a way to turn around Terrell Suggs in Baltimore. So ...
"We hope Vernon can be a great player. We expect him to be a great player. If he can't do that for me, he's never going to do it," Ryan was quoted as saying during his introductory press conference in January. So far, Ryan has nothing but praise for Gholston's progression through OTA's remarking that he is getting better with each passing day.
The fact remains though, Gholston will be up against a lot this summer. Not only is he battling his own demons, Gholston still competes for an every down spot at outside linebacker, a position that right now is held by Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace.
This sets up a very interesting position battle for training camp, and one that will be extremely pivotal to the Jets success in 2009.
The Jets really don't have that dominant player on the outside; they didn't draft an outside linebacker, and, outside of Suggs, who resigned with Baltimore, there really isn't any other solid outside linebacker available at a good price in free agency. This leaves the Jets with two decent players in Pace and Thomas and a total quagmire in Gholston. All three should see significant playing time throughout the season, but if Gholston is going to break the lineup, it might come at the expense of Thomas.
Thomas has had a career very similar to Gholston. In 2002, Thomas was a first round draft pick with the high expectation that he would become a dominating defensive end. Things didn't work out for him his rookie year, as he recorded only nine tackles in 15 games. Talk about parallelism. Many tabbed Thomas as a bust even before he had a chance to adapt to the NFL.
Since that time, Thomas has improved. Eric Mangini moved him from the D-Line to outside linebacker in 2006; Thomas enjoyed a break out season recording 8.5 sacks and 77 tackles. Thomas has established himself as a decent player, but not exactly the dominant player that the Jets thought they were getting in 2002.
Moreover, Thomas is very inconsistent. He lacks commitment on every play, and he is double-teamed easily. His last two season's in Mangini's system were very disappointing. In fact, Ryan really hasn't talked too much about Thomas, compared to his regular praise and declarations of Gholston. Thomas's stats don't help his cause either. Thomas accrued 47 tackles in 2007 and 58 tackles in 2008, totaling 8 sacks in those two years combined. This doesn't mean that Thomas occupies Ryan's proverbial dog house, but he will need to step it up, big time this year if he wants to keep his job.
Meantime, after a very slow start to his career with the Arizona Cardlinals, Calvin Pace shows flashes of brilliance the last two seasons. In 2007, his last year with the Cardinals, Pace recorded 93 tackles, 6.5 sacks and an interception. Last season, with the Jets, Pace was very good, totaling 80 tackles, 7 sacks, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Pace possesses good athletic ability and size. At 270 pounds, he is quick on his feet and seems to always put pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Unless Pace really falls off this season, it is hard to imagine him losing playing time to either Gholston or Thomas, but never say never. Both Thomas and Pace have had inconsistent careers, so if one, or both, has a drop off because of the learning curve with the 46 Defense, it won't be totally suprising.
This leaves a window of opportunity for Gholston. While at Ohio State, Gholston was a sack machine. In 2007, he had 14 sacks, setting an Ohio State record. In 2006, Gholston posted 8.5 sacks and 53 tackles. Keep in mind, a college season is much shorter than the NFL season, so these numbers are extremely impressive.
Ryan believes that Gholston can be the next version of Suggs. Granted, in his first season with the Ravens, Suggs had 12 sacks, compared to zero for Gholston, but he recorded only 27 tackles in 2003. Ryan pulled Suggs aside and re-inspired him and formed him into a complete player. Since that time, Suggs has had five straight seasons of 60 plus tackles and eight plus sacks in four of those years.
At 6'3" 264 pounds, Gholston is the right size for outside linebacker; in fact, he is almost the exact same size as Suggs. He is going to have to learn the Ryan's 46 Defense backwards and forwards, and he must do that quickly if he expects to be a starter on opening day in Houston, but that is something that is more easily said than done.
It takes time for any player, rookie or veteran, to fully grasp a brand new system, but do not expect this battle to end when the leaves turn to gold in September.
Expect Thomas to get the nod as the starting outside linebacker since he is an eight year veteran, who is expected to grasp a new scheme a lot quicker than a second year player. Gholston is essentially starting over, digesting an entirely new system in his second NFL season. As the year progresses, Gholston should see more playing time if either Thomas or Pace struggles, and if he can prove himself to be extremely reliable by coming in on substitutions, then, perhaps, the Jets have something very big here; in fact, they would have something that few teams have:depth.
One reason the Steelers and Giants have won the past two Super Bowls is their depth on the defensive side of the ball. The Giants could plug in Osi Umenyoira, Mathias Kiwanuka, Justin Tuck, Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins into just about any position on the front seven, and these players find a way to put an extreme amount of pressure on the opposing quarterback and offensive line.
If Gholston can develop into something special for the Jets, they can use different formations and looks on opponents, featuring both Gholston and both Thomas in on a play with one at linebacker and the other at defensive end, slide Shaun Ellis to the blind side, and blitz with Gholston, Thomas, Pace and Ellis. That might be enough to get the job done, adding a new dimension to the famous 46 defense.
With many foucused on the Jets quarterback battle between Mark Sanchez and Kellen Clemens, the battle for outside linebacker will be the key for victory in 2009.
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