Camp Countdown '09: Defensive Line
Perhaps the most important thing for the Jets this season is to keep NT Kris Jenkins healthy for 16 weeks. The Jets defensive success hinges on the large shoulders of Jenkins who is the most important player on the entire team. Jenkins impressive transition to the nose catapulted the Jets run defense from the bottom right to the top of the league. He completely stuffed the middle allowing the linebackers to cheat their ways to the sidelines cutting off lanes for any would be runners. When he wore down and tried to play through injuries the defense fell apart. The same issues of poor tackling and poor angles that have plagued this team for at least four years once again came to light and the defense had no answers for the last few games of the year. Even with those poor weeks factored in, the Jets still held the opposition to an impressive 14% below their rushing averages and it is all due to Jenkins. There is no viable alternative if Jenkins gets hurt. Sione Pouha has shown little in his time in the NFL and Howard Green is barely hanging on in the NFL.
Shaun Ellis returns for his tenth season as Defensive End with the Jets and remains one of the defenses better performers. Ellis is unique in that he still can get after the QB despite playing in the 34. With age creeping up there are days when you see bouts of inconsistency coming from Ellis. Ellis can be spectacular one week and almost non existent the next, but he is a steady run defender and gives it his all each and every week. Starting alongside Ellis is a question mark. The Jets traded away the overpriced and underperforming Kenyon Coleman on draft day, but that leaves a void as to who will be the starting right end for the team. Veteran Marques Douglas who followed Coach Ryan over from Baltimore is likely the leading candidate, but he should expect a good fight out of Mike DeVito. DeVito is in his third year with the Jets and has been a very good backup for the team thus far. There is probably a good chance that he could end up as a starter at some point this season. Even if he does not, the Jets will likely need to feature a rotation of players and DeVito will play likely just as much as if he was a starter.
Itís likely Rex Ryan will tinker with the defense and use both the 34 and 43 alignments, which will hopefully lessen the wear and tear on the three projected older starters. A player such as Pouha may be effective in the 43 and the 43 also gives the team the chance to slot players such as Vernon Gholston down on the line to rush the passer. Outside of the four top names there isnít much out there to be hopeful for. Itís a group of undrafted free agents, none of whom seemed to stand out in the minicamp reports. The Jets are so thin when it comes to depth on the line that they may be forced to carry the best UDFA they have. Really the defenses performance boils down to Jenkins. Rex Ryan pictures this team as an attacking defenses that takes chances and forces the opposition into a mistake. That defense only works if you can stop the run. The Ravens did not have those off the charts 14+ sack artists that teams have to gameplan for. What they had was a defense that can not be run on which forced teams to throw the football. With teams in a passing mode right from the start Ryan was able to get creative and let certain guys just go after the ball. If the opponents can run all over them, as the New York Giants did when they embarrassed Baltimore, the defense loses itís ability to stand out. If Jenkins canít be a factor for 16 games and the run defense disappears, the Jets defense will not be very good. Itís that simple. If Jenkins plays well and stays healthy for the entire year there is no reason why the Jets canít have one of the better defenses in the NFL.