Friday, August 20, 2010

Position Overview: Linebackers

As good as the Jets are at wide receiver, runningback, offensive line, and the secondary, one could make the argument that the position the Jets are deepest at is linebacker. This unit boasts Bart Scott, David Harris, Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, and Jason Taylor, five big names who have earned, or in Harris's case, about to earn, a lot of money in their careers.

To start, no team has a better inside linebacking duo than Bart Scott and David Harris. Scott does most of the dirty work and all the talking while Harris is more of the playmaker and enforcer on the field. Harris led the Jets in tackles by a wide margin, and entering his fourth season, he has to be considered one of the best middle linebackers in the league.

After missing a few games in 2009, Harris reverted back to his rookie year form, making plays all over the field. In addition to his 127 tackles, he had 5.5 sacks and 2 interceptions. But even though he was the leading tackler on the best defense in the NFL, he still couldn't get voted into the Pro Bowl. Compared to his chatty counterpart Bart Scott, Harris is barely known. Just ask Cedric Benson.

Scott probably isn't worth the massive contract the Jets gave him before last season, but he's invaluable to this defense because of the attitude he brings and the knowledge of the defense. He's an extension of Rex Ryan on the field and the vocal leader of this defense. The knock on Scott is that he doesn't make enough big plays. Last year, he didn't force any fumbles or interceptions, and he only had one sack and one pass defensed. However, he was good in pass coverage and had an impressive 11 tackles for a loss. Plus, he takes on blockers to free up Harris to make more plays.

The outside linebacker spot in the 3-4 is supposed to provide the pass rush in the 3-4. The Jets' best pass rusher is Calvin Pace. When the Jets signed him to a long-term contract after just one good season, there were questions on whether he was a one-year wonder. But he's had back-to-back solid seasons for the Jets. After missing the first four games for failing a PED test, he had 8 sacks in the final 12 games. Eli Manning can attest to Pace's pass rushing skills.

Opposite him is the steady Bryan Thomas. He's an effective run stopper who has improved in pass coverage recently, but he's been been an inconsistent pass rusher over his career. To give the pass rush a boost, the Jets signed former hated Dolphin Jason Taylor. Thomas is still expected to start and get the bulk of the playing time, but Taylor will come in on passing downs. At 35 years old (36 opening night), Taylor is not the player he once was. But he did have 7 sacks last year, and the Jets hope that as a rotational pass rusher, he can be fresh and effective. The jury is out on just how effective he'll be.

Still, with Pace, Thomas, and Taylor, the Jets can throw a lot of different looks at teams. On passing downs, don't be surprised to see any of them with their hands on the ground as linemen to confuse opposing quarterbacks.

Jamaal Westerman leads the remaining depth. The undrafted rookie free agent from Rutgers has drawn a lot of praise from the coaching staff over the last year plus, but he didn't get a lot of playing time last year. His roster spot seems secure, as well as Lance Laury's. Laury will be a key special teamer. Kenwin Cummings will probably win a backup inside linebacker spot. Josh Mauga, Cory Reamer, Brashton Satele, and Tim Knicky will all contend for spots as well.

Most of those guys will only see the field in extremely small doses unless injuries hit hard. Either Scott or Harris would be tough to lose for this team, but the defense missed Pace for 4 games last year and Kris Jenkins for the last 10, so this defense has proven to be more than just one player. If this unit can stay healthy and on the field, there's no reason it can't continue to be one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL.

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