Quarterback Mark Sanchez has been the only rookie to start a season opener for Rex Ryan. Now, Muhammad Wilkerson appears ready to do the same.
Ryan said that Wilkerson is the “starting defensive end right now” after practice yesterday.
“Right now, I can’t really think about starting,” Wilkerson said. “If I’m on track to be the starter then so be it.”
Wilkerson has been the buzz of training camp. He’s the ideal, big-bodied pass rusher Ryan needs off the edge in his 3-4 defense. At 6-foot-4, 315 lbs., Wilkerson has the size to clog things up in run defense and long arms to fill up passing lanes. The Temple product is already earning rave reviews from the coaching staff after one day in pads. During Monday’s afternoon session Wilkerson lined up along the right side of the defensive line and drew the attention of the veterans on defense.
“He’s a big, powerful guy,” linebacker David Harris said. “He’s got a big upside.”
His performance was even more noteworthy given that he was going against one of the league’s top left tackles — D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
“He looks pretty good,” Ryan said. “Him and Brick were really going at it yesterday.”
What makes Wilkerson ideal is that he brings a good pass rush from either his slot as a nose tackle or rushing into the backfield from an end position. His aforementioned frame coupled with good leverage in the hips and lower body strength makes him difficult to consistently block. For a Jets pass rush that at times was disappointing last year, the addition of Wilkerson is a boost.
More Asomugha Insanity: Despite the fact that All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha signed with the Eagles last week -- spurning an offer from the Jets -- the media at training camp continues its preoccupation with the team’s failed bid to bring in one of the league’s truly elite secondary players. The courtship of Asomugha was a high-profile pursuit by the Jets and the fact that they ended up “settling,” in the eyes of many, for re-signing Antonio Cromartie was seen as a big disappointment.
On Monday following practice, Ryan said he felt that Cromartie’s physical attributes -- he is a physical freak and boasts incredible measurables -- means he “probably has more talent than anybody playing the position, and that includes Revis.”
It’s heady praise, but the question has always been about Cromartie putting it all together and whether he has the willingness to play physical football. The Jets see that the intangibles are all in place for Cromartie to be among the best in the league at his position. According to safety Jim Leonhard, his teammate can be as good as Asomugha.
“If ‘Cro’ gets more consistent we believe he can be at that level,” Leonhard said.
More Westerman Talk: For the second time in less than a week, Ryan has been touting the upside of third-year defensive end/linebacker Jamaal Westerman. The former Rutgers product got a shout-out from Ryan last week on a conference call as a player who is ready to take a major step forward.
Westerman was mired behind first-round pick Vernon Gholston on the two-deep last year in a move that seemed somewhat political as the Jets tried to justify drafting Gholston. While he did draw some criticism from Ryan late last year following some less than stellar moments on special teams play, Westerman is coming off a solid offseason and looks the part of a two-deep player at linebacker.
“It’s his third year, it is time to unleash him,” Ryan said, calling Westerman the team’s “designated pass rusher.”
What impressed Ryan the most is that Westerman has spent nearly every day in practice the past two years going up against left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, which has helped the former Scarlet Knight progress. Mentally, the reps against an All-Pro offensive lineman can help or hinder a young player’s stride.
“Either you get beat down so bad you go home,” Ryan said. “Or you get better.”
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.