When you start talking about the New York Jets, you should really start with their defense. It’s the strength of their team heading into the 2012 season, and just like after winning a coin toss, that’s how Rex Ryan likes it; defense first. We’ll start our position-by-position previews of the 2012 Jets in the trenches with the defensive line, a unit the Jets are hoping can take a leap from last season.
The Jets’ best player on the line is nose tackle Sione Pouha, who enters his seventh season with Gang Green. Since Rex Ryan came to town in 2009, Pouha has become an elite-level nose tackle, specifically in the run stopping game. Even if he doesn’t record a ton of tackles, he warrants a double team from opponent’s offensive lines and clogs up lanes.
Since Rex Ryan has bee with the Jets, they’ve always been a steady if not totally-dominant defense, and a lot of that has come from the consistency of their front line and its ability to keep running games at bay. However, the Jets have always lacked true pass rushing from their defensive line, and they hope to have addressed that need in this past year’s draft when they took Quinton Coples out of North Carolina. The knock on Coples is his questionable work ethic and attitude. The Jets are banking on the fact that they won’t have to worry about his motivation and he’ll show his unquestionable physical skills. He had 20 sacks as a junior in 2010, and the Jets desperately need to generate a better pass rush from their front line without having to blitz. Receivers can get open on even Darelle Revis is a quarterback has all day to throw.
Muhammad Wilkerson enters his second season after a pretty impressive rookie season. Wilkerson started all 16 games a year removed from playing in the MAC for Temple and handled himself well, registering three sacks, 35 tackles and a safety (thanks to Luke McCown). You can only expect Wilkerson to improve; although he doesn’t project as a dominant pass rusher, the Jets will be damn tough to run against with Wilkerson and Pouha up front.
When the Jets line up in a 3-4, you hope the three starters on the defensive line are Coples, Wilkerson and Pouha. If Coples isn’t starting, that means he’s had a bad camp, and you get the sense that Coples needs to get off to a good start or he could end up in the doghouse quickly. Either way, Rex always likes to use his depth on the line, and the Jets have solid depth guys in Marcus Dixon and Mike DeVito, who had maybe become the NFL’s most unlikely good player the past two seasons. Kenrick Ellis remains a guy with a lot of potential that the Jets hope to see more from as he enters his second pro season.
The Verdict: The Jets’ defensive line has a chance to be better than last year’s, and that probably hinges on what Coples gives them. If the kid has his head straight and works hard, he could be a stud and give the Jets a sorely needed pass rusher from their line. If Coples is average or ends up on the bench and replaced by DeVito, the Jets will still have a solid if unspectacular unit.