FLORHAM PARK- Things have changed quite a bit from the last time New York Jets cornerback Darrin Walls put on the team’s green-and-white jersey.
After leaving the facility last year following a 4-12 campaign, Walls worked to rehab the tendonitis in his knee, then went home to Pittsburgh for two weeks and did his best in getting away from the game.
Now that he’s back, he’s seen he’s not the only one. Suddenly that cornerback meeting room that he once held the top spot in has become a bit more crowded.
“All of us aren’t going to be here when the season starts,” Walls said. “But that’s the good thing. We’re going to compete everyday and compete against each other to make ourselves better.”
In 2015, the Jets secondary was picked on week-in-and-week-out by an opponent’s quarterback and receivers. New York let up the third-most touchdowns and third-highest quarterback rating. They intercepted just six passes, tied for the fewest of any secondary in the NFL.
When new GM Mike Maccagnan was hired just weeks after the regular season’s conclusion, he made it a goal to fix the bruised and battered backend. In came Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine, along with defensive-minded head coach Todd Bowles.
Walls, who played each of the last three seasons under former Jets head coach Rex Ryan, says he’s seen some similarities between Ryan’s defensive scheme and Bowles. Both units want to be aggressive and dictate the game. But unlike last season, the emphasis has suddenly been placed largely on the secondary.
“We want to have press corners,” Walls said. “We want to have guys that can challenge receivers at the line. That’s what I’ve seen so far. I’m excited to see how it goes because it’s still early. But as far as what’s been put in, it’s looking pretty good.”
Walls said having the team’s strength be the secondary isn’t exactly the wrong way to go. In fact, the way he puts it, the great teams are the ones that have the cornerbacks as their cornerstone.
“If you have good corners, you can do whatever you want,” Walls said. “If you have guys that can take the receivers out of the game like we do, then you can get after the quarterback a little bit. We’ve got a good group of guys right now.”
The question now is which in the group will be the ones taking the field for the Jets regular season opener against the Cleveland Browns. Sure, Skrine, Cromartie and Revis are locks, but Walls, second-year pro Marcus Williams, Dee Milliner, Dexter McDougle and more are competing for two, maybe three spots.
But at this moment, Walls says he’s not worried about that. He’s just happy to be back on the field
“Being back with the guys is always good,” Walls said. “It was good to get away, but now that we’re back, I’m happy to be back at it.”