The loss of Bryan Thomas last Sunday night to a season-ending Achilles injury is cause for concern for the Jets, who are losing a veteran outside linebacker at a position that is already thin. After Thomas, who was is in his 10th year in the league, there are a handful of young, unproven players to fill the void.

The timing couldn’t be any worse. Sunday afternoon in Foxboro, the Jets will face a Patriots offense that runs a lot of underneath routes, likes to get their running backs involved in the short passing game and relies heavily on dual tight end sets. All this means the Jets were counting on their linebackers to step up in New England, even before Thomas went down.

“I think we’ll have a combination of guys fighting for that job. There is Josh Mauga, who has been cross-trained for that,” head coach Rex Ryan said. “You can use four down linemen if you need to. You always have different plans going in there.”

None of the plans are ideal.

 

Mauga is in his second year with the team and has yet to make a start in the NFL. Mauga, a fairly good athlete, can play outside linebacker. But before Thomas’s injury, he was on the two-deep behind Bart Scott at inside linebacker. It isn’t an ideal fit; but in terms of his pass coverage and ability to stop the run, Mauga is probably the most complete option the Jets have.

“I just try to be physical and be a playmaker out there,” Mauga said. “I watch Bart and Dave [Harris] out there, making plays, Calvin [Pace] being a beast off the edge — that’s the kind of player I want to be.”

The endorsement of former Rutgers defensive end Jamaal Westerman, converted to outside linebacker, was less than ideal. Westerman was touted by Ryan as the team’s “designated pass-rusher” in August, but he has just nine tackles this year and his only career sack came in 2009 when he was a rookie.

Westerman could be in the mix for more snaps, but Ryan gave a lukewarm endorsement of the fan favorite.

“Could be. If Westerman steps up and plays that way, then maybe,” Ryan said.

The option which excites Jets fans the most is Aaron Maybin, who was picked up last week and registered his first career sack in the loss at Baltimore. A former first-round pick who was released by the Bills in August, Maybin has forever been tagged with the label of “bust.” But Maybin adds athleticism and speed as he showed on Sunday night. There is no doubt he can close on the pocket in a hurry.

“It was good to be able to get out there, but when you come out of the game with a loss, it really doesn’t matter. There is still a lot more that needs to be done, even on my part. It definitely felt good, but I didn’t have any doubts that I could perform well in this defense. I expect a lot out of myself,” Maybin told Metro after last week. “I was excited and I’m very excited about future prospects, but I want to work on the little things so that Sunday isn’t it for me, so that there is more development.”

There is hope that Maybin can develop with the Jets in ways that he didn’t in Buffalo.

Having never been on a winning team during his two seasons with the Bills, Maybin was called upon to be an instant starter and playmaker at a time when he was still transitioning and learning how to play as an outside linebacker. In New York, and with a talented Jets defense, Maybin can just focus purely on being the team’s designated pass rusher and is not being called upon to carry too much of a load.

“We have so many weapons on this defense, it’s great for the young guys like me to go out there and play. For me, I can just go out there and rush the quarterback when you have two cornerbacks like Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, who make the quarterback hold onto the ball, giving you a chance to get to them,” Maybin said. “That lets me just go out there and play. When you have that talent around you, it makes your job easier; it makes it more fun. The pressure isn’t there.”



Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.

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