Calvin Pace Suspended: New York Jets Open OLB Competition for Camp

Angel Navedo@NamedAngelSenior Writer IJuly 4, 2009

MIAMI - SEPTEMBER 07:  Calvin Pace #97 of the New York Jets lines up on defense against the Miami Dolphins at Dolphin Stadium on September 7, 2008 in Miami, Florida. The Jets won 20-14.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

The NFL has announced the suspension of New York Jets' starting outside linebacker Calvin Pace, citing a violation of the league's substance abuse policy regarding performance enhancing drugs.

The suspension comes after Pace tested positive for what he describes as "an over-the-counter dietary supplement." The former first-round pick has been deemed ineligible for the first four games of the 2009 season.

The Jets acquired Pace in 2008 during their free agency blitz, signing him away from the Arizona Cardinals with a lucrative six-year, $42 million contract with nearly $22 million in guaranteed money.

Pace was easily the Jets' best linebacker in 2008, recording 80 tackles and seven sacks. He also forced five fumbles, recovered four, and returned one 50 yards for a touchdown.

Clearly, his suspension leaves a significant void in the Jets' defensive line-up to start the regular season.

In a summer already headlined by the looming quarterback competition between Mark Sanchez and Kellen Clemens, the suspension forces the Jets to acknowledge and evaluate their depth sooner than expected.

While all eyes will remain fixated upon the offensive signal callers, the opened door ushers in new opportunities along the depth chart for unrealized potential, and for unproven commodities to stake their claims.

The first name to leap to the forefront of everyone's mind is Vernon Gholston, and whether or not he's prepared to be thrust into a starting role. Gholston has been at the center of the Jets' defensive concerns this offseason, as fans and coaches expect him to become a productive fixture in the rotation.

If he isn't ready for the responsibility, the role could fall to one of the hybrid defensive end-outside linebackers on the roster.

Marques Murrell and rookie Jamaal Westermann, two undrafted free agents who impressed during spring activities, could emerge as favorites for the position if Gholston can't validate his role as a sixth-overall pick.

Westermann signed with the Jets after an impressive career with Rutgers. Although he failed to generate interest in the draft, he immediately received praise from Rex Ryan for his hard work and football intelligence.

The collegiate defensive end is said to be picking up the defense extremely well. Ryan experimented with him during minicamps, utilizing him as an inside linebacker as well.

Murrell is in his third season with New York. Signed away from the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad in 2007, Murrell has impressed coaches with his speed, motor, and natural pass-rushing ability.

Needless to say, Pace's suspension comes as an absolute shock. If there was going to be an outside linebacker whose job was evaluated this summer, most fans expected it to be Bryan Thomas.

Two consecutive seasons of mediocrity, after one average campaign in 2006, have made Thomas' position an area where the Jets could afford to upgrade.

Nonetheless, whoever earns the position while Pace serves his suspension should be in the running to replace Thomas when No. 97 returns to action on Oct. 5.