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A look at the outside linebacker competition

Nov 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (55) hits Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) In the 2nd half at MetLife Stadium.The Jets defeated the Dolphins 38-20. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (55) hits Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) In the 2nd half at MetLife Stadium.The Jets defeated the Dolphins 38-20. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
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With training camp around the corner for the New York Jets, there is one debate that has not seen the light of day enough.  That is the competition at the outside linebacker position for the upcoming season.

The New York Jets have had their fair share of struggles with outside speed and rushing the quarterback off the edge.  Offseason acquisitions to bolster their linebacker corps should help, but there is still a question as to who is going to start opposite at outside linebacker.

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Lorenzo Mauldin is the guy that seems to be penciled in on the Jets’ depth chart for one side.  Head coach Todd Bowles is optimistic that Mauldin can be a big player for the Jets in 2016.  Despite Bowles’ optimism, not even Mauldin himself is a sure thing.

Here’s what Bowles said courtesy of the Media Relations Department of the Jets:

"“In year two, we expect him to make a big jump as far as being a full-time player at outside ‘backer.  If he comes in shape that way, we’ll sit down and have that talk, but I expect Mauldin to be a major player this year.”"

Sure, Mauldin has shown flashes of his ability in the latter part of 2015.  He finished the season with 17 total tackles, four sacks, 16 hurries and seven hits on the quarterback.

As a third round draft pick, Mauldin spent the majority of his rookie season as a situational pass rusher, limiting his time on the field.  He still has plenty of work to do.  He will need to improve dropping into coverage, setting the edge, adding pass-rushing moves and understanding the techniques of an offensive tackle.

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It will be important for Mauldin to make great strides in camp and with more and more reps, be able to improve on-the-fly in 2016.

Unfortunately for the second-year linebacker, it seems there will be no more easing into his role.  The Jets need him now.

With that being said, there are a number of linebackers on the roster vying for the other starting job with the Jets.

Which player is going to step up and win the starting role?

Early front-runners for the outside linebacker spot opposite Mauldin (assuming he starts) have to be Freddie Bishop and Jordan Jenkins.

Bishop is an interesting prospect for the Jets having played a “stand-up defensive end” in the CFL for the last two seasons.  Over 28 games, Bishop posted 60 tackles and 14 sacks, 11 of which came in 2015.  Bowles was intrigued by his ability and knowledge of the position and decided he was worth the shot.

Jenkins is a great fit for the Jets having played a 3-4 scheme at Georgia.  Jenkins is physical at the point of attack, can set the edge and be a great run defender.  He has good ability to shed blocks and make plays similar to Jets’ linebacker Calvin Pace.

But is it far-fetched to think the Jets bring Pace back?  At the right price for situational roles and having his veteran presence with these young players, especially Jenkins, it might not be a bad idea for the Jets.

Other options for the Jets would include Mike Catapano and Trevor Reilly, both of which have experience with their defensive system.  Catapano has spent 2015 with the Jets before suffering a season-ending foot injury in Week 13.  Reilly has played two seasons in New York.  Unfortunately for Reilly, who certainly has shown improvement, he is an older player in a developmental position.

The Jets also have three-year veteran Josh Martin, who was signed by the Jets off the practice squad of the Indianapolis Colts in 2015 and Deion Barnes, who signed with the Jets after going undrafted in 2015.  Martin has spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and of course the aforementioned Colts.  These guys are likely practice squad players, or special teams guys at best.

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The Jets have some options.  Ideally, the Jets will play Mauldin, Bishop and Jenkins on a situational basis as they are all new to the NFL game; at the very least, Jenkins.  While he could come in and make an impact, it will suit the Jets best long-term to allow him to learn as they did Mauldin in 2015.

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