Sunday, August 1, 2010

Position Overview: Secondary

It's official: Darrelle Revis is holding out. So what better time to look at the Jets' defensive backfield on the day its best player threatened not to play?

Revis Island

Revis could have easily been Defensive Player of the Year last year, and his coaching staff consistently called him the best cornerback in the NFL. Now he wants to get paid like it. With three years and $21 million left on his contract, it's unlikely the two sides come to a long-term fix anytime soon. If he holds out past August 10th, he loses an accrued year towards free agency and the $20 million in the next two years of his contract are no longer guaranteed.

Most expect him to come to camp by August 10th, and he's too good a player and competitor to fall off in play too much. Remember, he held out until August 15th his rookie season, so this wouldn't be the first time he's done this. If Revis comes back, the Jets have the most talented cornerback trio in the NFL. Last year, the Jets had the league's best pass defense. Yet, outside of Revis and safety Jim Leonhard, the defense has gone over a tremendous overhaul.

The New Guys

The Jets were one half short of making the Super Bowl last year. One of the big reasons they fell short was the secondary could not contain Peyton Manning when it needed to. Now, Lito Sheppard, Kerry Rhodes, and Donald Strickland are gone, and in their places are Antonio Cromartie, Brodney Pool, and rookie Kyle Wilson.

Cromartie and Wilson replace the injury-prone Sheppard and Strickland as the two cornerbacks with Revis. Both are athletic specimens who should excel in man-to-man defense. Once considered one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, Cromartie still has the size and speed that helped make him elite. His play sagged in the past few seasons, but he blames a shift from man-to-man to zone that hindered his play. Back in man-to-man and playing opposite Revis, Cromartie should overwhelm most teams' no. 2 receivers. If not, he has nobody to blame but himself.

The rookie Wilson was considered in the top 10 but unexpectedly fell late in the first round. He has the quickness to cover slot receivers, which is very important against teams like Indianapolis, New Orleans, and New England. His presence should give Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine a lot more options in blitz packages because if all goes according to plan, the Jets have three players they can trust on an island. That leaves eight guys Ryan could toy with and possibly send after the quarterback.

Pool replaces Rhodes, whose play did not back up his talk and off-field persona. Pool is much quieter, but he's a more willing tackler whose interception totals have risen each of the last three years. He's had concussion and migraine issues in the past, so staying healthy will be a key for him. If he can't, or if he disappoints at all, Eric Smith is talented enough to take the job. He lacks elite athletic ability, but he makes up for it with his size, tackling, and blitzing abilities. Going into last season, not much was expected of him, but Smith quickly became a Ryan favorite. Still, they'd rather him come off the bench.

The Rest

The rest of the depth are mostly guys who can contribute on special teams. Dwight Lowery will be the dime back. He's got good ball skills and cover ability, but he simply isn't quick or fast enough to cover some receivers. James Ihedigbo is a big hitter the Jets like to blitz with, but he commits too many penalties. Marquice Cole impressed in training camp last year, and he'll probably compete with the speedy but oft-burned Drew Coleman for probably the last defensive back roster spot..

Bottom Line

The best pass defense in the NFL just got better. The best cornerback in the NFL just got some help. There are questions about Cromartie's head, Wilson's inexperience, and Pool's injuries, but talent and coaching should outweigh those problems. Cromartie is the key. He has all the ability to be a superstar like Revis, and remember, he's playing for a new contract, so he has all the motivation to play hard and focus this season. The sky is the limit for this group.

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