Jets training camp begins July 23, with players reporting to Cortland, N.Y. At that point, we will start to get a clearer idea about what the Jets might look like in 2014, as they attempt to reach the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Until camp starts, players are relaxing, recuperating, and maintaining their bodies in preparation for the season.
In the meantime, as we do our own training camp prep here on our humble website, we are analyzing each of the Jets? positions?stars, lower-profile guys, strengths, weaknesses, stats, and everything in between.
We started our series ? one position a day, every weekday until we?re done ? with the quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, and offensive linemen. Up now are the defensive linemen. Coming Wednesday are the linebackers.
DE Muhammad Wilkerson, DT Sheldon Richardson, NT Damon Harrison
BACKUPS OF NOTE
NT Kenrick Ellis, DL Leger Douzable
1981 ? The last time, before last season, that the Jets had two players with at least 10 sacks. In 1980 and 1981, Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau both accumulated double-digit sacks, but the stat was not officially recorded until 1982. Last season, Wilkerson had 10? sacks. Strong-side linebacker Calvin Pace, benefitting from the respect commanded by the Jets? defensive line, accumulated 10 sacks ? the most of his 11-year career.
The defensive line is the best part of the Jets? entire team. It features their best (and mostly grossly underpaid) player, in Wilkerson, and the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, in Richardson.
(Rush outside linebacker Quinton Coples often plays along the line, as an edge rusher, but we will include him with the linebackers, for the purposes of these position previews, since the Jets technically play a 3-4 defense.)
Last season, the Jets ranked 13th in the NFL with 41 sacks, and 14th with a sack percentage of 6.5 ? the percentage of times opposing quarterbacks were sacked when attempting to pass. Those numbers probably would?ve been higher if the Jets? secondary was better, and held up for longer in coverage.
The Jets were also third in the NFL in run defense, with 88.3 rushing yards allowed per game. They ranked first in yards per carry allowed (3.4).
Wilkerson and Richardson are fast-rising players. Wilkerson is in just his fourth season. He is almost certainly on his way to a lucrative long-term contract. But in the meantime, the Jets are getting him for relatively modest salary cap hits of $2.187 million and $6.969 million in 2014 and 2015, because they exercised his fifth-year option for 2015.
How will Richardson handle his second go-around in the NFL? Teams now have a year?s worth of film on him. While Wilkerson commands probably the most attention on the Jets? defensive line, teams are also going to focus on Richardson, too. All of this could mean more opportunities for linebackers like Pace and Coples, rushing on the outside.
Harrison is the lowest-profile member of the Jets? defensive line. It might be easy to overlook him because he played 510 snaps last season (compared to 1,067 for Wilkerson and 906 for Richardson), since the Jets substituted for Harrison in nickel situations.
But Harrison should not be forgotten when taking account of this position group?s success. A former undrafted player from an NAIA school, Harrison beat out Kenrick Ellis for the starting nose tackle job last season, while Ellis was playing through a back injury. Harrison held onto the spot all year.
He is considered perhaps the Jets? best under-the-radar player, and they owe a large part of their run defense success to his presence in the middle of their line.
Douzable ? who got 242 snaps last year, to Ellis?s 210 ? is a versatile backup who can play inside and outside on the line. At 28, he adds a veteran presence to a young defensive line room ? a group of promising players who all return from last season, and who could be the Jets? foundation for years to come.
Jets position analysis: Defensive line stands out as team’s biggest strength – The Star-Ledger