The New York Jets offseason has gone just about as well as any fan could have hoped for — at least on paper — but there were one or two problem areas that were neglected.
On the defensive side, the greatest concern is probably stopping the run and the front office surprised everyone when they chose not to replace Foley Fatukasi at defensive tackle. Reportedly, the Jets did attempt to do so in free agency but when that failed, the theory was that the franchise might draft some help in the trenches.
In the end, general manager Joe Douglas did, selecting rookies Jermaine Johnson II and Micheal Clemons. The problem was that neither could provide the necessary impact at D-tackle — or so we thought.
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DL Coach Reveals Master Plan
During a press conference on June 8, Jets defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton told reporters that Gang Green will lean on Clemons’ versatility during his rookie campaign.
“Whitecotton says Clemons has the ability to play inside & out, similar to [John Franklin-Myers],” relayed Connor Hughes. “Jets will use him in multiple places this year.”
Using that blueprint, the Jets organization has turned Franklin-Myers into a breakout star. One could argue he was the franchise’s best player in 2021 but “JFM” definitely offered more when he was able to move around the defensive line the season before.
Apparently, Whitecotton and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich have the same plans for Clemons, and that skillset opens up a world of opportunity for the defense.
For starters, dual-position players generally free up roster space. Where you might have needed two bodies to fill two roles in the past, you only need one. A good example is backup offensive lineman Dan Feeney, who served as the second-string center and left guard in 2021.
Secondly, it gives you another intriguing option at defensive tackle, which is currently short on quality depth. Behind Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins — who are both coming off down years — are Solomon Thomas, Nathan Shepherd, and second-year prospect Jonathan Marshall.
Ideally, you’d like at least one of those three reserves to win a job in training camp, but you don’t need all of them. Rankins also profiles as a potential veteran cut if players like Thomas or Marshall outperform him.
If the Jets can utilize both Franklin-Myers and Clemons as inside-out assets, the entire defensive line and 53-man roster should benefit.
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Can the D-Line Rebound?
The Jets’ defensive line was supposed to be the strength of the organization last year but it never materialized under head coach Robert Saleh and Ulbrich.
A large part of their failures can be attributed to growing pains. Gang Green transitioned from a 3-4 to a 4-3 in 2021 and they also underwent a shift in mentality.
“Attack,” Whitecotton told the media when asked what the coaching staff would like the D-line to do. “That’s it. Attack.”
The other problem was talent. Carl Lawson went down with a torn Achilles in August and pass rushers like Johnson, Clemons, and free-agent addition Jacob Martin weren’t on the roster.
This group should finally live up to their potential in 2022, but they won’t be anointed this offseason — they’ll have to prove it on the gridiron like everyone else.
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