One of the big reasons the New York Jets' defense wasn't as dominant last year as it had been in 2009 and 2010 under Rex Ryan was an off year from its linebacker corps. The Jets had a very solid unit in Ryan's first two seasons as head coach, but in 2011 the unit took a step back because of a few factors; one being injuries, as reliable starter Bryan Thomas missed most of the year. And reason two, age.
It seemed as though middle linebacker Bart Scott aged about 15 years from 2010 into 2011. Interestingly, since Scott's now-famous "Can't Wait" rant after the Jets beat the Patriots in the 2010 AFC Divisional Round, he hasn't been the same player. We'll see if last year was an aberration or, which is far more likely, that Scott is on the absolute downside of his career and is what he is at this point. If so, the Jets will need some of their depth players at the position to step up and make an impact.
Jets 2012 Expected Linebackers: David Harris, Bart Scott, Bryan Thomas, Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, Aaron Maybin, Josh Mauga, Ricky Sapp, DeMario Davis
In David Harris the Jets have one of the best under the radar players in the National Football League. He's rock solid and is in the prime of his career. He's really the lone elite player in this unit. The Jets had high hopes for Calvin Pace when they brought him over as a free agent from the Arizona Cardinals, but Jets fans have yet to see what warranted all the attention. While he was never a sack force with the Cardinals, the Jets definitely envisioned him being a double digit sack guy. He's had eight, seven, 4.5 and 5.5. sacks in his four years as a Jet. For a team that needs to put more pressure on the quarterback (and seemingly forever has), Pace has been a big time underachiever. Additionally, he - like most of the Jets linebackers - is not very good in coverage.
Thomas missed 12 games last year due to injury, and at 33 years old is a question mark heading into this season. He enters his tenth year as a Jet, which is an accomplishment in and of itself, but he's never been a real force at pressuring the quarterback. He's averaged about three sacks a season, and that's probably the ball park you expect him to land in if he plays regularly. He's always been incredibly reliable and consistent against the run.
Aaron Maybin was one of the lone Jets in 2011 that actually had a good year. After the Jets picked him up off the scrap heap from the rival Buffalo Bills, Maybin turned into the Jets' most legitimate pass rusher. He led the team with six sacks in just 13 games. He doesn't do much else, but Ryan obviously found a formula that worked last year, and the Jets hope Maybin hasn't been figured out. He's certainly a bit one dimensional.
Third round pick DeMario Davis will have a chance during training camp to make his stamp on a Jets linebacking corps that needs some youth. Rex Ryan has already made a Ray Lewis comparison to Davis. That ain't happening, but I'm sure the Jets hope Davis can become a starter by next year. Josh Mauga and Ricky Sapp add depth.