The Jets’ starting defense may have struggled some so far in the preseason, but to a man, there’s no doubt they’ll right themselves in time for the Sept. 11 season opener.
Their uneven play is all relative, considering the starters haven’t been on the field for more than a quarter’s worth of action. But Saturday night’s tilt with the neighboring New York Giants will allow the Jets to really showcase their defense, as it’s the third preseason game and generally known as the “dress rehearsal” where teams play their starters well into the third quarter.
Veteran inside linebacker David Harris acknowledges that the Jets have kept things “close to the vest” for the most part this preseason, which is why he sounds like a guy who’s not overly concerned.
“I think we’re going to be all right. I know people are saying we aren’t playing well because of the first two preseason games, but we don’t scout and we don’t watch any film,” Harris admitted. “We don’t do any preparation for the other team. We go out there and play very vanilla, basic calls. I think once we get into the season, we’re going to do good things.”
They can start doing good things against a Giants offense that still has questions of its own. Wideout Victor Cruz may play, which would be the first game action of any kind since Oct. 12, 2014. Cruz, who practiced on Tuesday for the first time in over a week, would give the Giants a balanced passing attack to go along with Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, while also providing the Jets’ defense a great look in preparation of their opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Harris, who has 10 tackles and a sack this summer, believes that head coach Todd Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers will actually open things up against the Giants to better gauge where the starting defense is.
He added that the first two exhibition contests were more for the sake of the fringe guys and those who regularly don’t get the opportunities to showcase themselves. But Saturday night is for the starters and regular contributors.
“We play very vanilla defense in the preseason. The coaches are more focused on seeing guys play more technique and do the basics of the overall scheme of the defense,” Harris said. “But this game with the Giants will be a better test of where we are at. We do watch film before this game and we do a little bit of game-planning … We approach it as almost a regular season game even though it’s the preseason. It’s a good measuring stick for us.”
Harris has been tasked with being a mentor for fellow inside linebacker Darron Lee. The rookie has been learning at the feet of one of the franchise’s best linebackers, and will get the chance to display what he’s learned. It’s still unknown if the former Ohio State star will start alongside Harris, but with regular starter Erin Henderson nursing a stinger that he suffered in the second preseason game in Washington, Lee has been working next to Harris during practices this week.
Watching Lee go against the Giants’ jumbled offensive line will be fun to witness. But the real key to any improvement and gelling will have to begin with Gang Green’s defensive front. Pro Bowl defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is receiving more reps in practice, although it’s unknown if he’ll see any action on Saturday. Nose tackle Steve McLendon is one of the league’s strongest players. Sheldon Richardson is a tremendous three-technique, pass-rushing defensive end. And second-year defensive lineman Leonard Williams will give offensive linemen fits, as he rotates between his natural defensive end spot and nose tackle.
Such versatility along the front seven is the reason why Harris isn’t hitting the panic button this summer. Once Bowles and Rodgers open up the playbook and allow the front seven to run stunts and blitz more often, Jets fans will finally get to see the full breadth of their skills.
That’s at least the thinking that Harris is using, as he deemed good things will be shown in their annual clash with the Giants.
“We do want to go out there and start fast and be a little bit more crisp and sharp. Stopping the run better, play tighter coverage, and put pressure on the quarterback,” Harris said. “Hopefully we can get that done this game and it will be a good test. It’s the inner city rivalry and it’s always the most fun preseason game … The crowd on both sides are into it. It’s a good atmosphere.”