Rookie nose tackle Kenrick Ellis went from not knowing if he’d play this year to suddenly becoming a developing part of the Jets defensive line.
The Jets’ third-round pick made his NFL debut last Monday night after spending all five previous games on the inactive roster. After praising Ellis during preseason camp, head coach Rex Ryan
didn’t activate the player until Week 6.
All Ellis did was go out and get three tackles in limited snaps.
“The game is not too big for him. He was telling me practice is tougher,” head coach Rex Ryan said. “He’s what we think he can be. I think he’s got a chance to be really something, and a young man that’s really working hard. It’s good to see him have some success.”
It has been a winding road for Ellis to get here. He went from being one of the nation’s most highly-recruited linemen in high school to being kicked out of South Carolina for repeated violations of team policy. He took his skills to Hampton, where he dominated competition for two years, but was also arrested for assault. His trial for that incident will happen after the season.
Ellis won’t talk about the incident, and he remains relatively humble about the strong start to his NFL career.
“For me, it’s just a matter of getting it done. It was fun and I’m glad that it happened, but it is just the first step,” Ellis told Metro. “I want to get back to work and get ready for the next game.”
The Jets were fully aware that Ellis was a risk, but also saw reward when they drafted him. Not many players his size can move like Ellis, who ran a clocked 5.19 second time in the 40 before the draft.
Ellis is the prototypical nose tackle for the Jets’ 3-4 scheme. At 6-foot-5, 346 pounds he is a space eater that can clog up the middle and force the opposition’s ground game to go wide. But as evidenced by his three tackles against Miami, Ellis is much more than that. He earned rave reviews leading up to the draft for his ability to translate his leverage into a legitimate pass rush.
The Jets are expecting him to contribute more than just his length and girth to their defensive front.
“He’s a big guy, but more than being a big guy, he’s very athletic and can move,” defensive end Aaron Maybin said. “He moves so well, not just east-to-west, but north and south. He’s quick, so he is good in the pursuit. He’s a phenomenal player and adds so much to our defense.”
Ellis said after his debut, “I had a lot of phone calls and text messages; a lot of people wanting to support me.” Now with another opportunity on Sunday, Ellis might be ready to take that next step. The Chargers like to run the ball wide, and having a player like Ellis who can get after the running backs vertically can help shrink the field for San Diego.
“The focus for me isn’t on the past, on last week. I got to look ahead to just getting better, getting another week of practice in and hopefully, playing some more,” Ellis said. “Just getting after it so that I can play more and help the team more.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.