When linebacker Bryan Thomas went down last week in the loss at Baltimore, the Jets lost a veteran whom head coach Rex Ryan cited as an underappreciated playmaker. The injury to Thomas left an open competition at outside linebacker, a competition which now appears closed following Jamaal Westerman’s standout play in the Jets’ 30-21 loss at New England.
The former Rutgers product had three tackles, including a game-high two sacks of Tom Brady, in his first career start. In his previous two years with the Jets, Westerman had just 16 total tackles, with Sunday night doubling his career sack total.
“He played a great game for us in his first start, coming in for a core guy of our defense — Bryan Thomas,” linebacker David Harris told Metro. “He answered the call. Two sacks and some quarterback hurries, it was a great job.”
For Westerman, who had only played in 10 games prior to what is now his third NFL season, it has been a long-time coming. He made a splash during the summer of his rookie season, impressing in summer camp and signing as an undrafted free agent despite originally being a longshot to make the team. At Rutgers, he was used as a defensive end, but made the transition to outside linebacker in the pros. Westerman primarily contributed on special teams, but never seemed to truly settle into the linebacker rotation.
Last year, Ryan made it a point to say he wanted to see more from Westerman. In August, it seemed like Westerman had arrived as Ryan had called him the team’s “designated pass rusher.” But Westerman was still rarely used until last week, when he came into the game against the Ravens to register five tackles.
Despite what might be his breakout performance in the loss at Gillette Stadium, Westerman wasn’t too pleased with the way the afternoon played out. When asked if there was a measure of personal satisfaction from the performance, Westerman was clear-cut in his response.
“It’s cool I guess, but I can’t take anything good out of it. When you lose, it doesn’t matter,” Westerman said. “You feel OK, but we didn’t do what we have to do at the end of the game.”
Harris said that since the injury to Thomas, he has noticed that Westerman has been studying more and seems more involved in the mental side of the defense’s preparation. The soft-spoken Westerman, who was under-recruited out of high school only to emerge as one of the Big East’s top defensive performers, seems to be finding his stride when the Jets need him most.
It doesn’t replace Thomas, but Westerman’s performance is a positive from the game.
“He’s been a Jet for 10 years, he’s been playing good” Westerman said. “I feel like crap — you lose this game [and] no matter what you do statistically, it doesn’t matter.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.