FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Muhammad Wilkerson knew something was wrong with his ankle early in the season.
The New York Jets defensive end wasn’t his usual playmaking self, unable to move around the field the way he has for most of his career.
“It sounds like an excuse,” Wilkerson said Thursday. “It’s just football. It’s part of the game. It’s something I learned from.”
Wilkerson broke his right leg in last season’s finale against Buffalo and spent the entire offseason rehabilitating the injury. His ankle was affected, too, and it didn’t respond the way he initially thought it would a few games into this season.
He played in 371 of 386 defensive snaps through the first six games, but his production was lacking.
“I think we just didn’t have a plan, as far as myself and the training staff,” Wilkerson said. “We didn’t have a game plan going into the season. We didn’t really get one until maybe halfway into the season. I’m happy that we did find a plan and it’s working and we’re going to continue to do that throughout the offseason.”
Wilkerson felt fine to start the season after having surgery last January, so a game plan wasn’t necessarily needed at that point.
He had 1½ sacks in the season opener against Cincinnati. But, he has just two sacks since — not exactly what the Jets were expecting when they signed Wilkerson to a five-year, $86 million deal in the offseason.
“It was my first major injury and it’s something I have to grow from,” he said. “It’s feeling better toward the end of the year.
“The doctor who did the surgery told me it would take about a year to feel better and get back to the player that I am, so I’m happy about that. I’m looking forward to finishing on a good note and keep rehabbing my ankle in the offseason and get ready for a strong year next year.”
But Wilkerson’s comments raised questions about whether he and the Jets perhaps botched his rehab by not having a firm plan in place regardless.
Wilkerson insisted the decision was “mutual” and wasn’t blaming the team’s training staff, saying it is “the greatest” He also said, however, there probably should have been a plan early in the season.
Wilkerson could have helped himself, though, by communicating to the team and trainers that his ankle was bothering him a bit so that he could cut back a bit on his practice and play time.
“We figured out a game plan and it was too late,” he said. “I guess I thought I was good to go and maybe I just needed more time, more rehab. But like I said, the game plan, we have one now and I’m going to continue with that moving forward.”
Wilkerson is sixth on the team with 62 overall tackles and third with 10 tackles for loss. He had a career-high 12 sacks last season and made his first Pro Bowl, though, so having just 3½ this season is a glaring indication that something is wrong.
He missed the seventh game of the season because of pain in the ankle, but was also suspended for a quarter against Miami two weeks later for missing a team meeting.
That had many fans and media questioning his drive and wondering whether he had become complacent after getting a big payday in the offseason — regardless of how ineffective the leg injury was making him.
“At the end of the day, people know who I am,” he said. “People are always going to criticize me, regardless. I’m really not concerned about that. I know the player I am and who I’m capable of being.
“People in this building know who I am and what I can do. That’s that. It doesn’t really matter what other people say or feel about me.
“I’m not going to let that get me down because at the end of the day, they didn’t go through what I went through.”
Wilkerson has no regrets in how everything went down, and said he’ll need no additional surgery in the offseason. He’ll continue to rehab the ankle after the season and is confident he’ll bounce back.
“I know I’ll definitely feel better next year,” Wilkerson said. “You’ll see my play next year.”
NOTES: WR Robby Anderson (hamstring), RB Matt Forte (knee), WR Brandon Marshall (hip, shoulder), CB Nick Marshall (hamstring), LB Lorenzo Mauldin (ankle), DT Steve McLendon (hamstring), RB Bilal Powell (knee), TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (hamstring), RB Brandon Wilds (hamstring) all sat out practice. Wilkerson, CB Juston Burris (knee) and DT Sheldon Richardson (back) were limited. … CB Darrelle Revis on “how badly” he wants to keep playing after a season of struggles: “I’m under contract, so I’m still playing. It’s my job.” … Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey on whether this has been his toughest year in coaching: “Yeah, it has been. It really has been, just with all that’s happened with the injuries and the way it’s gone. I’ve not been through one exactly like this.”
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