By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — If you are tired of reading about the trials and tribulations of the Jets’ beleaguered offense, today is your lucky day. It was assumed that this team would be very good defensively, but I’m here to tell you what you probably already know but have forgotten under an avalanche of the-sky-is-falling articles:
This “D” could very well be special.
This team has its fair share of issues. We all know what they are. But I’m not one of these people who puts much stock in what happens during the preseason, short of serious injuries. The fact the Jets are the first team since 1977 to not score a touchdown in their first three preseason games really matters little because until we see the entire blueprint and situational execution of what this offense is supposed to be, what happens in basically meaningless exhibition games is hardly worth the heightened blood pressure so many are experiencing these days.
The bottom line with the Jets is they will score points, eventually. Mark Sanchez looked great on Sunday night against Carolina, zipping through his progressions nicely as his maligned offensive line showed serious signs of life with Austin Howard at right tackle. The running game, while still a work in progress and probably in need of an explosive back, took some baby steps as offensive coordinator Tony Sparano spent the better part of the time his starters were in there working on getting Sanchez more in tune with his receivers.
Sunday night, regardless of the score, was very much a step in the right direction for this offense, one that should carry over to Week 1 against Buffalo, when you know there won’t be very many, if any, scenarios where Tim Tebow is asked to throw on 3rd and 16. People just need to relax with their ridiculous over-reactions to seemingly everything the Jets do, both on the field and off.
If there is something to get excited about, which would make it probably the only thing those out on the ledge might take some solace in, it’s this defense, specifically the early play of the line. When the Jets brought in Karl Dunbar from Minnesota to employ his version of trench warfare he envisioned the Jets being very deep along the line and so far they are proving to be that and more.
In ushering out the 3-4, which is what they played in their first three seasons under Rex Ryan, the Jets are in the process of ironing out the wrinkles in a new version of the 4-3, which fits the personnel and collective wingspan of these players. The Jets are massive and athletic up front, regardless of a specific player’s specialty.
With the talent the Jets have there’s simply no excuse for them not to be a fearsome unit against any quarterback, and that includes the scramblers extraordinaire. If they don’t produce significant pressure and sacks on a weekly basis there’s something very wrong.
First-round pick Quinton Coples is 6-foot-6, 290 pounds and showing he was worth the risk on draft night. There are questions about his practice habits, but so far this preseason he’s shown a penchant for exploding off the ball, handling double-teams and rag-dolling opposing skill position players. Second-year end Muhammad Wilkerson (6-4, 315) appears poised to emerge off an under-the-radar rookie season, what with his superior strength and nose for the football. Then there is the combination of Sione Pouha, who may emerge as a Pro Bowler, and Mike DeVito, who are each 6-3 and combined 630 pounds of nasty run-stuffing humanity.
The best of the bunch down the road, however, could prove to be Kenrick Ellis. The pushing 350-pound second-year tackle out of Hampton must have found himself during his short stay in jail during the offseason because he’s been playing like a man possessed so far in the preseason.
Ellis was everywhere on Sunday night, chasing Panthers quarterback Cam Newton all over MetLife Stadium, batting down passes and stuffing the run like his freedom depended on it. If Ellis carries his inspired play over to the regular season the Jets may simply have too many guys to block — and that’s not even considering the linebacker or two they’ll likely send on any given down.
Speaking of the linebackers, Bart Scott looks like the real deal again. He obviously heard many saying he was old and needed to reinvent himself if he was to stick with the Jets. The 11th-year pro is lighter, quicker and has made his presence felt on numerous occasions over the last few weeks. Provided stud David Harris is 100 percent following his leg injury on Sunday night and any of Calvin Pace, Aaron Maybin, Bryan Thomas or third-round pick DeMario Davis step up, the Jets should be fine at the position. The linebackers still have to show they can cover running backs, but assuming quarterbacks will have a lot less time to throw, that issue isn’t of gigantic importance right now.
Heading into the offseason, safety was viewed as a position that required an immediate upgrade. It appears the Jets have addressed the issue and then some. The combination of LaRon Landry and fellow veteran Yeremiah Bell, coupled with the lockdown corner combo of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, figures to make the Jets as fearsome in the secondary as they have been in years. Landry, a physical specimen unlike any the Jets have seen in a while, has been announcing his presence with authority, delivering vicious blow after vicious blow. Bell has been nicked up and fairly quiet, but the 34-year-old has been a consistently good coverage man for years and if he’s healthy should be a fine compliment to Landry’s wrecking ball ways. And if Bell can’t go, rookie Josh Bush has shown he might not be a bad option in a pinch.
The Jets still need to find out who Kyle Wilson is. The third-year corner out of Boise State has yet to prove he’s the cover guy that Ryan envisioned. It stands to reason, considering who the Jets have outside, that whoever Wilson is on will become the hot read. He needs to show he can be relied upon, but so far his feet have looked slow and he’s often been caught without his head in the proper position. We’ll see where this goes.
At the end of the day the Jets will need this defense to be better than advertised. And while I’m not in any way convinced it will have to hold opponents to single digits every week, it will have to be at least a top 5 unit by the end of the season. That shouldn’t be asking too much considering the Jets finished fifth in overall defense last season and are clearly a unit with more upside now.
And just to reiterate, the Jets will score points. It will be on this defense to avoid giving up long, time-consuming drives, something it struggled with in key spots last season. The Jets have all the components this season to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks and running backs.
If it doesn’t work out, the Jets better not make excuses. If they do, the overly fickle fan of this franchise will finally be justified in screaming bloody murder.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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