Training Camp Preview: Defensive Line

Nov 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams (92) rushes the quarterback during the first half at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Dolphins 38-20. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams (92) rushes the quarterback during the first half at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Dolphins 38-20. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

As the New York Jets approach training camp, we take a closer look at some of the positional units. What’s there to look for from the defensive line?

Wow has the dynamic shifted since the beginning of July for the defensive line of the New York Jets. It looked as if defensive end Sheldon Richardson would be suspended for a substantial amount of time but will only miss Week 1 of the regular season.

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Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was considering a lengthy holdout and that kind of distraction could derail a team, before they even began. Fast forward a couple weeks, Richardson and the Jets lucked out with his suspension and Wilkerson finally is locked down for the next five seasons.

All the Jets players are due to report on July 27th, ahead of their first scheduled day of camp on the 28th. Now that the Jets have all the moving pieces in place, it’s time to take a look at what’s ahead.

The Jets primarily run a 3-4 scheme on defense, their starting 3-4 defensive ends currently are Wilkerson and Richardson. While at nose tackle will be free agent acquisition Steve McLendon, who left Pittsburgh in the offseason.

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Their first round pick from last season, Leonard Williams, will be a vital cog in this year’s defensive line rotation.

Not as much as originally thought, now that Wilkerson is locked in and Richardson’s suspension ended up only being a one game dock.

Williams will be starting Week 1, due to that aforementioned suspension.

Plus according to reports, Wilkerson is going to begin training camp on the PUP (physically unable to perform list), due to the broken leg he suffered in the regular season finale last season against the Buffalo Bills.

The Jets believe that Wilkerson will be ready for Week one against the Cincinnati Bengals. With that being said, there is a much different look to this unit from a depth perspective and the obvious elephant that is no longer in the room in Damon Harrison.

Former backup Leger Douzable has bolted to Buffalo and the Jets added Jarvis Jenkins from the Chicago Bears along with McLendon, to round out the rotation. Arguably, the Jets improved their depth at the position, but lost star power in Harrison.

The biggest question heading into training camp is will head coach Todd Bowles implement more four man fronts to take advantage of the talent he possesses along the defensive line?

While former Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan always said he contorts his system to the players at his disposal, Bowles believes in the 3-4 base defense but he’s not stuck to it. Bowles will find creative ways to cause mismatches in the trenches so that these athletic and versatile defensive linemen can get after the quarterback.

The Jets have great depth and they’ve been remarkably consistent over the years on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, much of that can be attributed to the prime time draft selections, eight straight first round picks have been defensive players.

In the grand scheme of things, there are four main things the Jets need to look out for so this positional group can truly live up to its potential throughout the season.

new york jets
new york jets /

Dec 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) is sacked by New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

First thing is Wilkerson’s health, the Jets will predictably bring Wilkerson back slowly, which means he’s probably not going to be participating much if at all during the length of training camp this year. Which means other guys along the line will be getting extra opportunities to show their worth.

Secondly, Richardson’s attitude and preparation in training camp, he won’t be playing in his second straight season opener due to suspension. Richardson must have the right mindset as he progresses through camp and gets ready for his impact which will start in Buffalo Week 2 on Thursday Night Football.

While it’ll be tough to evaluate the trade-off from Harrison to McLendon/Jenkins in training camp, that’ll be the big thing as we go through camp and some preseason action. It remains to be seen what’s the drop-off, if there is any, in the rush defense for the Jets.

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Finally, Williams again taking advantage of the presented opportunity (another Richardson suspension) which will give him the starting nod Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Can he get those sack numbers up in his sophomore season? It’s all about practice, how you practice is how you play. Seeing how Williams develops in year two will be a huge tell-tale sign on how the Jets’ defense performs this year.