Jets defensive line has makings of young, elite unit

Quinton Coples, here getting to Chad Henne, led the team with 5.5 sacks last season. Credit: Getty Images
Quinton Coples, here getting to Chad Henne, led the team with 5.5 sacks last season.
Credit: Getty Images

If there is one strength to this year’s Jets team, it would be a defensive line that is young, talented and deep — along with a sprinkling of versatility.

Over the past three years, the team has stockpiled talent up and down their defensive line with three first-round picks taken in as many years. With the emergence of Muhammad Wilkerson last year as a Pro Bowl caliber end and a strong rookie debut from Quinton Coples a season ago, the Jets already have a very good defensive front.

Throw in first-round pick Sheldon Richardson this year and the entire unit is athletic and fast. Richardson will line up in either the 3-technique or the 5-technique due to his rare blend of size and speed. It all makes for an intriguing look with endless possibilities.

“That’s one of the things we’re working on — we’re creating — is to make sure we work on the things to become an elite group in the NFL,” Coples said. “We’re taking it one practice at a time but with the coaching staff and the way they have us playing, the sky is the limit.”

This is a core that could be in place for a while. There are five players along the defensive line who are 25 years old or younger, with third-year nose tackle Kenrick Ellis the veteran of the group. The team also took an undrafted rookie free agent from NAIA program William Penn last year named Damon Harrison, who saw playing time at the end of the season and has the potential to be a contributor this year.

Head coach Rex Ryan praised the mentality of Coples but wants to see this unit actually play together before hailing them as one of the best in the league.

“We have a long road before we can say that,” Ryan said. “Let’s play a couple games. But they are a talented group.”

The “New York Sack Exchange” from 20 years ago originally consisted of Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam and the unit led the NFL with 66 sacks in 1981. Jets fans still revere that group as arguably the best pass rush in franchise history.

Coples was asked if there was a unit currently in the NFL the Jets’ young pass rushers wanted to emulate and he just smiled and tilted his head slightly sideways.

“Us. Trying to look to be nobody else besides us,” Coples said. “At the end of the day, no disrespect or discredit to any defensive front out there, we want to be the best and make our own name.”

Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for live updates from training camp.


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