Camp Countdown '10: Defensive Line
Clearly the weakest positions on the team, in terms of depth, is along the defensive line. Starting Defensive End Shaun Ellis is 33 years old and the Jets were rumored to have considered parting ways with him this offseason. Ellis, in his final contract year, reportedly approached the Jets about an extension and was turned down by the club. Ellis is the longest tenured Jet, and in many ways one of the most unappreciated, but he has ups and downs every week and age has clearly slowed him down these last few seasons. Opposite Ellis will likely be Mike DeVito, who came on strong last season as a key reserve in Rex Ryan's defense. DeVito was a rotational guy who played around one third of the defensive snaps last season and always played well when he had his chance. DeVito will now have to carry that effort into a full load of plays as he moves to the starting lineup.
The depth behind those two players is paper thin. The Jets did not retain starter Marques Douglas, opting for youth rather than experience. Ropati Pitoitua is the guy that the Jets will be counting on to become the rotation guy that gives Ellis a break and helps DeVito. Pitoitua has excellent size and has been with the Jets for the last two seasons. The Jets will hope that he grows into the role the way that DeVito and NT Sione Pouha blossomed after a few years on the roster. Expectations will also be high for former first round selection Vernon Gholston to find a home as an end in the defense. Gholston has been one of the bigger draft busts of the decade and this will be his last chance with the team. He is undersized for the position, but could find a role when the Jets switch from three to four linemen. He has put on some weight and strength was never an issue with Gholston, so he has a chance. Matt Kroul spent all last season on the practice squad and will have a chance to be in the rotation since he is familiar with the system. Also competing are Rodrique Wright, who spent last year out of the NFL, Ty Steinkuhler, who was in camp with the Jets and on the Practice Squad towards the end of the year, and UDFA Jason Lamb, who may be a bit undersized for the Jets defensive scheme but could find a home on special teams.
The interior of the line has even less depth and the Jets are really banking on Kris Jenkins being fully recovered from injury and Pouha to be able to duplicate his 2009 success. When healthy Jenkins is one of the best nose tackles in the game. His size makes him near impossible to move and he is arguably one of the strongest in the NFL, able to use a forearm to throw centers to the ground as if they were high schoolers. The problem is Jenkins is rarely healthy and to count on him for a full 16 games is not realistic. Pouha had spent a few seasons on the team without standing out in any manner, before he had a breakthrough 2009 when Jenkins' injury forced Pouha to see the majority of the teams snaps. Pouha was a force against the run and became an unsung key in the Jets rise to the top of the league in defense. The team is banking on Pouha to continue to play well which will allow reduced snaps for Jenkins and hopefully keep him fresh and healthy. The only other player that the Jets project to be a DT is Martin Tevaseu, a major longshot to make the team that will get plenty of preseason playing time if he looks passable in practice due to the lack of position depth.
Realistically the Jets have to simply be hoping that they get by one more season with this nucleus up front. For Rex Ryan and his blitzing schemes to work they need excellent run defense and solid linemen that can occupy blockers. With Ellis a year older, Jenkins coming off another injury, and two players expected to duplicate what may have been one year success this could be the biggest weak spot for the team. A lot of the success is going to hinge on DeVito and Pouha proving they can do it two years in a row. If they can do that the line will provide the Jets with enough to keep the defense strong. If they falter it could be a long season. The Jets have more players that are better suited to a 43 front and there may be much more of that worked into the gameplans to take advantage of the seeming excess of outside linebackers such as Jason Taylor who can rush the passer with his hand in the dirt. These young guys will get a significant look in the preseason and if it looks bad early the team will be very active on the waiver wire in early September. The Jets will likely carry 6 or 7 players on the line and keep their fingers crossed that the staff can get one more season out of this group.
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