We will be providing position-by-position breakdowns leading up to Jets training camp this Thursday. For now, we focus on the linebackers.
Brian Bassett, TheJetsBlog.comOn the roster: Antwan Barnes, Nick Bellore, Quinton Coples, Jermaine Cunningham, Demario Davis, Troy Davis, Steele Divitto, AJ Edds, Jeremiah George, David Harris, Garrett McIntyre, Calvin Pace, Trevor Reilly (editor’s note: for sake of ease we are using the Jets own roster to delineate LBs and DLs)
2013 notes: The Jets linebackers had a bounce-back year in 2013 after a tough 2012, but was an extremely top heavy group with little depth. David Harris was back to his more consistent form from 2012. Harris was often around the line of scrimmage on tackles and led the team with 124 tackles and two sacks with one forced fumble. Second-year player DeMario Davis played much better in his second year by tallying 107 tackles alongside Harris and doing a better job of reading the play earlier and getting in the right place more quickly. Expect that to continue to improve from Davis now in his third season, something that might be more obvious in coverage. Behind Davis and Harris, Nick Bellore took less than a handful of defensive snaps all season.
Calvin Pace seemed to reinvent himself during the 2013 season. Designated pass-rusher Antwan Barnes (2 sacks) was injured in Week 5, Quinton Coples was recovering from injury and Ricky Sapp was scooped up by the Texans. This gave Pace the opportunity to become a pass rusher and he did so with a surprising 10 sacks — the first time in his career. Pace has always been a wizard at disrupting plays and holding contain on the edge which drives runners back inside. In 2013 Pace seemed to get blocked out and lose contain at times.
Coples had a slow start to the 2013 season as he recovered from a hairline fracture in his ankle suffered during the preseason. Coples pushed his recovery time, but his play was noticeably better in December than it was in October. Coples was able to pressure the quarterback much more effectively as he healed, showing dominance against New Orleans, Oakland, Cleveland and both Miami games.
Garrett McIntyre was helpful in replacement work. Jermaine Cunningham saw some time in weeks 12 and 13 as a pass rusher, but wasn’t able to move the QB off his spot.
Overall outlook: Players like Calvin Pace, Antwan Barnes and David Harris might be a year older, but that should be tempered by youth. The team got younger and deeper at both the interior and exterior positions by bringing in linebackers through the draft (Jeremiah George, Trevor Reilly) to add to their younger ‘veterans’ who are still getting better like Quinton Coples and Demario Davis. As a whole, the group looks good, but injuries could expose some of the rookies to more snaps than which they might be ready.
Camp competition: Of this group, the Jets major roles still up for grabs would be the team’s situational pass rusher and then the backup work. Antwan Barnes was brought in a year ago to be the team’s designated pass rusher, but his ACL tear against the Bills has left question marks as to what kind of shape he will be for the Jets this summer. Barnes has been positive about his recovery and expects to see the field in July (TJB, June 9) but he could have competition from Jermaine Cunningham and Trevor Reilly as well as the possibility of splitting snaps with Calvin Pace. Nick Bellore was tendered as a RFA by the Jets, so expect him to continue on as a special teamer, but see if they don’t try him in more defensive work to determine their long-term plans. Troy Davis seemed to impress Jets coaches last year in the linebacker meeting rooms so see what the team does with him in camp this summer. Also, Jeremiah George should be in the mix for backup depth at inside linebacker and Rex Ryan publicly stated that they draft him with such a role in mind. “Last year, we felt very fortunate to get by with only three inside linebackers. Nick Bellore had to back up both the MIKE [Harris] and the WILL [Davis] to the point where we didn’t really want to play him because we had no more backups. So here, [Jeremiah George] fits a role.”