Training camps are opening up, but John Idzik and the New York Jets are not through adding veteran free agents to fill in some last-minute holes before camp goes into full swing.
With the status of veteran outside linebacker Antwan Barnes being largely unknown as he recovers from ACL surgery, the Jets covered their bases with the signing of former Jacksonville Jaguar Jason Babin.
Having been involved in one of the most involved rebuilding projects with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Babin's career may have taken a sharp turn for the worse in recent years. Despite his recent bout of irrelevancy, Babin has a unique skill set that, if used properly, could give the Jets the most ferocious, well-rounded defensive line in football.
Babin is only three seasons removed from his stellar 18.5-sack season with the Philadelphia Eagles. Injuries, age and the quality of football played in Jacksonville have prevented him from getting anywhere near those types of numbers, but there is no doubt that Babin has enough left in the tank to help the Jets' average edge pass rush—assuming they use him properly.
Return of Wide Alignments
The farther away from the ball Babin is lined up (laterally), the more success he has. Specifically, Babin enjoyed his peak years in the Eagles' "wide nine" alignment, which put the defensive ends at the "nine" position on the defensive line, far outside the reach of the offensive tackles.
This alignment gives the defensive ends plenty of space to build speed and operate one-on-one against tackles. As a result, it comes as no surprise that a speed rusher like Babin enjoyed so much success in this alignment.
The Eagles abused this alignment at the cost of their run defense, but it helped Babin crank out sack numbers at an industrial rate.
On this Week 2 play against the Atlanta Falcons in 2011, Babin is lined up in the "nine" position. This helps him elude the tight end from a chip block, build up speed and explode past right tackle Tyson Clabo for the easy sack.
Here, Babin has no responsibilities to stop the run, hold containment or chip the tight end. With the amount of space he had, he was able to convert his explosive speed into power when he made contact with Clabo, gain leverage and hit Matt Ryan before the play ever had a chance.
Babin's ability to convert speed into power was even more evident on this sack against the Giants (also in 2011). Here, the right tackle is actually able to cut off the outside lane, forcing Babin to resort to a classic bull rush.
Babin is able to drive the tackle all the way into Eli Manning, earning another sack. He is not necessarily known for his raw power as a pass-rushing specialist, but his ability to turn speed into power is what makes him so dangerous.
Simply put, when he was asked to get to the quarterback and put in a position to do so, Babin delivered.
The Jets are not known for using a lot of his type of alignment, but they can use this information to put him in wider alignments on passing downs. In other words, the Jets should avoid using Babin on stunts or inside moves and simply allow him to do what he does best on the edge, leaving the grunt work in the middle for the Jets' talented defensive linemen.
Restricting Babin's Use
As great of a pass-rusher as Babin was in his glory days with the Eagles (individually speaking), there is no getting around the fact that he hurt the team with his lackluster run defense.
|Jason Babin: Run vs. Pass|
|Year||Pass Rank||Rush Rank||Sacks||Stops|
|Pro Football Focus|
At times, Babin appeared to be downright disinterested in stopping the run. Some of this could be derived from coaching and personnel—their personnel (fast and undersized) and scheme (spread out in the wide nine) was designed to stop the pass and slow down the run if it was convenient.
However, even when Babin was lined up in more traditional alignments, he was hardly stout at the point of attack. Lined up against a tight end (in his defense, it was Vernon Davis), he was easily taken out of the play.
Here, Babin is lined up in the "sixth" position, directly across from the tight end—not exactly an ideal position to defend the inside run, but much closer than his usual rush position from the nine spot.
Davis is able to easily handle Babin to create a huge hole for Frank Gore, who generates a big 40-yard run out of the play.
There is a lot more at play here than just Babin's alignment—the Eagles were too wide at all four defensive line spots to be in position to make a tackle and the linebackers and safeties were too slow to converge. Still, watching the play in motion brings Babin's effort into question.
Despite his shortcomings as a run defender, Babin was a highly effective player during his peak years of 2010 and 2011—but what type of player are the Jets getting in a 34-year-old defender?
Babin With the Jets
It is clear why the Jets brought in Babin—the recovery of pass-rushing specialist Antwan Barnes off an ACL injury has not gone as smoothly as hoped, evidenced by the fact that Barnes was placed on the PUP list at the start of camp, according to Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger.
Babin, who was signed on the same day as Barnes' placement on the PUP list, figures to directly assume Barnes' role as a situational pass-rusher on third downs.
Even with the surplus of defensive talent around him, expecting Babin to approach his career-high 18.5 sacks would be unrealistic at his age. However, it was evident last year that Babin is more than capable of being an effective player in the right situation.
Babin ended the season with a respectable 7.5 sacks in 2013, but his sack totals do not tell the entire story. According to the chart above from Pro Football Focus, Babin was the ninth-best pass-rusher at his position in 2013.
With 17 quarterback hits and 34 hurries, Babin's impact was felt on plays where he rushed passes and disrupted timing without recording official statistics, just as he did on this play against the Colts in the final game of 2013.
Once again, Babin is lined up in his more comfortable position on the outside and the result is expected—Babin gets the pressure and the pass is rushed and incomplete.
With the Jets, Babin is in a position to increase his production even as he ages another year. Not only will he be playing alongside arguably the best defensive line in football, but the Jets will be playing with a few more leads than the Jaguars had to work with last year.
With Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples doing heavy lifting in the run game, it is difficult to craft a more ideal situation for Babin to flourish in than what he will be placed into with the Jets.
More leads equate to fewer running plays to defend, which gives Babin more chances to do what he does best—get after the quarterback.
Assuming Rex Ryan is smart enough to keep Babin off the field on run downs, the biggest risk that comes with Babin is his character.
Babin's ability as a pass-rusher has allowed him to enjoy a 10-year career, but there is a reason why he will be playing for his seventh team this year—he can only be used in a limited role and has previously been accused of being a less-than-stellar character to have in the locker room.
The timing of his release with the Eagles, which came soon after a locker room rift with other veterans went public, suggests that Babin is only tolerable if he produces sacks on the field (Babin had 5.5 sacks at the time of his release).
Even the Philadelphia beat was glad to see Babin go, wishing him well with a strong hint of sarcasm:
Tremendous human, Jets beats. RT @KimJonesSports Jason Babin has agreed to terms with Jets, according to someone familiar with negotiations.— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 23, 2014
Since making a mistake with Mike Goodson last offseason, John Idzik has been careful not to bring in any less-than-stellar characters into his building. Barnes' injury forced Idzik's hand to roll the dice on a questionable character in Babin, but for the role he will play on the team as the primary third-down pass-rusher, the risk will likely be worth the return in production.
Only time will tell whether or not Babin becomes an egg in the locker room or buys into Ryan's loose atmosphere to flourish in New York. If Babin can stay in line and perform up to his capabilities, his presence could be exactly what the Jets need to get their defense back into the "elite" category, where Rex Ryan's defenses have become accustomed to residing.
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