Camp Countdown '10: Linebackers
Perhaps the deepest position for the 2010 New York Jets is the linebacker position. It's a group that Rex Ryan expects to get more out of then he was able to in 2009 and wants to see them attack the QB much moreso than they have in the pass. The Jets boast two very good ILB's in Bart Scott and David Harris. While Scott clearly did not live up to the hefty price tag that he came with, it is undeniable that he is most responsible for changing the attitude of the team on the field. It was apparent from the first snap of the 2009 season against the Texans that Scott was bringing an aggressive attitude to the team that had been absent since 2004. Scott is a big talker and is the guy to get in a teammates face if he thinks the guy is not playing well on the field. That fiery attitude can also be a detriment at times when he loses his cool during a play, but he should be a big contributor to the team this season. Harris is quiet off the field but probably the biggest hitter the Jets have. Harris is one of those rare players with the ability to hit the QB and also deliver knockout blows to the opposing runners. He is one of those players that always seems to be involved in the tackle and he may be the best player on the defense not named Darrelle. Harris led the Jets in tackles, was third in sacks, and fourth in interceptions in 2009. He is playing for a contract in 2010 which the team hopes only makes him better.
Behind Harris and Scott will be a number of players vying for a role. A lock to make the team, but perhaps see few defensive snaps, is Lance Laury, formerly of Seattle. Laury is a special teams ace that was signed to basically take the role that was vacated by Jason Trusnik when he was traded to Cleveland during the 2009 season. He will get an opportunity to prove he can play on defense as well during training camp. Kenwin Cummings would look to be the player with the best chance to make it as a rotation player. Cummings, undrafted out of Wingate in 2008, has been on the team both as a practice squad member and member of the active roster these last two seasons. Cummings has decent size and is a tireless worker. He has all the smarts to be the guy making the calls for the team and it would not be a shock for him to one day be a special teams captain. Physically he is not gifted like other players, but he can work his way into the rotation this season. Cummings could be pushed by UDFA Cory Reamer, who really impressed the Jets during rookie minicamp, after which he was offered a contract. Reamer is not the most physically gifted player but is known to have a high football IQ, which is usually a big benefit for an inside linebacker. Brashton Satele is one year removed from playing in college, but made enough of an impression to get a chance. He impressed teams with his athleticism prior to the draft and that athletic ability could give him a chance to make it over Cummings and Reamer, especially if he makes an impression on the coverage units. Finally, Joshua Mauga, who tried out for the Jets last season and spent a few weeks on the practice squad, will get a chance to make the team.
The Jets are hoping that the signing of former Dolphin Jason Taylor gives the team the boost they need in pressuring the QB. Taylor was an interesting signing by the Jets simply because for over a decade Taylor has professed how much he hates the organization. Taylor was a tremendously talented player for Miami that will likely go to the Hall of Fame, but the Jets are not getting a Hall of Fame talent. Taylor can still rush the passer and make big impact plays, but he is probably best suited to being a part time player, a role he may not accept. The Jets are banking on the scheme to get 10 sacks out of Taylor, but that may or may not be a reasonable expectation. The team is also hoping for big things out of Calvin Pace, who is something of a mystery on the field. Pace has tremendous talent and athleticism and the ability to take over a game on defense, but often disappears for games at a time. He led the Jets in sacks last year at 8 and pressures, with 35, despite missing 4 games due to a PED suspension, but the Jets want more consistent performances from him in 2010. Last years other starter, Bryan Thomas, will likely get sent to the bench due to the arrival of Taylor. Thomas has a role on the team in coverage and is solid in run support, but has no ability to pressure the Quarterback. The Jets want a more aggressive player than Thomas as he is one of the reasons they are forced to blitz so often, so he may strictly be a first down and short yardage down player in 2010. Thomas may also see a lot of time as an end in a 43 set.
One of the more interesting stories of camp will be the development of former Rutgers standout Jamaal Westerman. Westerman made some waves last year in camp showing a natural ability to rush the QB and also showed tremendous versatility by pitching in at OLB, ILB, and DE. Everyone who viewed the team said he was a far better pro after just a few practices than Vernon Gholston and the coach seems to be pulling for him. He would seem a certainty to make the squad and might be able to push for significant playing time. A player with an outside chance may be UDFA Kevin Basped out of Nevada. Basped is learning the LB position with the Jets but is a freakish athlete with measurables that translate into a potential pass rusher. The Jets openly admit he is a project, but he had a lot of interest around the league and other teams made him offers before he chose the Jets. Also competing for OLB position is Ezra Butler, whose battles with off the field issues will probably make this his last chance to make it in the NFL.
Last season the Jets carried 10 linebackers and they will likely carry a high number again this season. The definite players look to be Scott, Harris, Taylor, Pace, and Laury which leaves many opportunities open for others. One of the potential stories that may develop is the fate of Thomas. The Jets were rumored to consider dropping Thomas during the offseason, a rumor that Ryan claimed was false, and Thomas is due to earn 3 million in 2010, a hefty price tag for a part time player. If Westerman has a strong camp he could push Thomas off the team. Cummings should also make the team if he has a decent camp. The Jets special teams coach strongly believes in using linebackers for specials so how well the candidates play in that role might be the deciding factor in who does or does not make it. If Satele and Reamer show the ability to play well on specials both could make the team in 2010. The Jets could be forced to carry Basped for a week if they truly like him and fear losing him to another team. Usually after the first wave of September waivers passes it is much easier to waive a player and then store him on your practice squad. Butler and Mauga both look like long shots to make the team.
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