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Training Camp Preview: Linebackers

Dec 19, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; New York Jets inside linebacker David Harris (52) tackles Dallas Cowboys running back Darren McFadden (20) during the game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 19, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; New York Jets inside linebacker David Harris (52) tackles Dallas Cowboys running back Darren McFadden (20) during the game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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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 linebackers?

The biggest positional unit in need of a face-lift has been the linebacker corps of the New York Jets. Finally in 2016, it seems the youth movement continued with the additions of CFL star Freddie Bishop, UGA product Jordan Jenkins, and in the first round, Darron Lee from the Ohio State University.

Related Story: Analyzing an underrated defense

While this unit now has plenty of young guns chomping at the bit, they still have a healthy dose of veterans on the roster. Starting with their defensive leader and often referred to as the glue of the Jets’ defense, David Harris.

The Jets’ defense has been good, actually they’ve been really good over the years, and despite coaching and regime changes they’ve remained stout. They have never finished worse than 11th in overall defense in the last eight years, they’ll look to continue that streak in 2016.

One of the biggest questions at linebacker for the Jets is can Bishop actually make the conversion to the pro game?

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While Bishop’s signing didn’t make a ton of national headlines, it should’ve.

The expectations of the Jets are that they potentially have the next Cameron Wake on their hands.

He’s got a certain nastiness about him that’s infectious and he will be well received by his new teammates.

Bishop is a dark horse candidate to start opposite of Lorenzo Mauldin.

Speaking of starting positions, another big question is how long can Erin Henderson stave off the Jets’ first round pick Lee?

This is a very intriguing question for the Jets, in terms of, what combination of guys they implement in their 3-4 base defense. While the formations are fluid and the team isn’t forced to put any round pegs in any square holes, they should look to take advantage of the speed on the roster.

Head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan said one of their top missions this offseason was to improve the speed of the defense and they really did that. Lee is fast, athletic and intelligent; Henderson will have to continue his play from late last season to keep the young hungry Lee off the field.

When it comes to sacks, can we finally see a double-digit sack outside linebacker for the Jets? Well, technically we saw this happen in 2013 when Calvin Pace finally reached the double digit sack plateau, but outside of him it has been a while. The Jets have been searching for a long time, they drafted Vernon Gholston back in 2008 with hopes of finding their defender offenses had to plan around.

Dec 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (55) and linebacker Demario Davis (56) reacts after a sack of Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (not pictured) during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Titans 30-8. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The last time it happened was back in 2005 with John Abraham lurking on defense, could this be the year? Mauldin, Jenkins, Bishop there’s a ton of uncertainty but there’s also a lot of hope.

Looking at the depth chart, let’s start from the inside and work our way out, Harris and Henderson will be the starters entering training camp. Lee, the Jets’ first round pick from this season, will start behind Henderson and work in sub-packages until he’s ready for a starting role.

On the outside, Mauldin will occupy one spot and will be a full-time starter. The other spot there’s some blank checks waiting to be filled.

Jenkins is the favorite entering camp, his film and stats remind folks of a younger Pace, limited sack potential but a blue collar guy who does a lot of different things well. If the Jets opt for more of a risque candidate, they’ll go for Bishop who is an unproven CFL star looking to break into the NFL landscape.

A much higher ceiling than Jenkins, but a much lower floor as well. The depth of this unit includes a few tweeners who can float between the inside and the outside.

Bruce Carter and Lee have scheme versatility, speed and some nice coverage skills to add a different dimension to this unit. There are some sleeper candidates that can make the roster and contribute on special teams and certain sub-packages that could surprise many in 2016.

Taiwan Jones out of Michigan State is a thumper and Trevor Reilly has been on the roster and has shown flashes, but could really make a name for himself this season. This is going to be one of the tougher positional units to decipher as we progress to the final 53-man breakdown, how many will Bowles and Maccagnan keep?

Keeping an eye on a few things, with so many young guys on the roster, we will hopefully see one of the most competitive roster battles in years which breeds success. With the new CBA, these players will have to make their impact with less padded practices, and take advantage of these minimal opportunities.

One of the major things that plagued the Jets’ defense last season was the coverage inability of their linebacker corps. In particular, Demario Davis was burned on a handful of occasions on the wheel route by opposing running backs. Some of us Jets fans still have nightmares of that Week 3 affair against the Philadelphia Eagles from last season.

must read: Training Camp Preview: Offensive Line

Finally, with the Jets’ defensive line fully intact (Muhammad Wilkerson has reached a long term contract agreement with the Jets), the linebacker corps should be able to flow easier. Especially when considering the influx of speed with this unit, their ability to rush through the open lanes should change the dynamic of how the Jets blitz and stuff the opposing running game.

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