Jets defense settling in

The emphasis turned to the anything but the defense this offseason more than in years' past for the Jets. While a new offensive coordinator was added, special teams saw big upgrades, and the offense got two big jolts at tight end and wide receiver, the Jets have added a few rookies to the mix on defense but go into 2005 with a starting roster that, other than replacing Jason Ferguson, looks similar to that of 2004.

The last several offseasons for the Jets have focused on changes on defense, with five or six new starters brought in every season until they could find the right mix. The Jets finally achieved that mix last season in Donnie Henderson's first year as defensive coordinator.

With a better run defense and improved pass rush over what they showed the previous three seasons under Ted Cottrell, the Jets changes on defense were minimal this past offseason. Without making a big splash in the free agent market, the Jets bolstered their defense with a pair of mid-level signings for the front seven and using the draft to address needs in the secondary.

The Jets were left with a big hole in the middle when nose tackle Jason Ferguson left for Dallas via free agency so the Jets signed Lance Legree from the Giants. The four-year veteran will get first crack at the starting job - he has a good relationship with Jets defensive line coach Denny Marcin back from when both were with the Giants.

"They told me I'm in a position, you know, that I have to come in and work, but I could very easily start on this team," said Legree.

The Jets also used their third-round pick on Sione Pouha, a hulking a 6-foot-3, 325 pound defensive tackle from the University of Utah.

"The talent and people you go against is a whole different level," Pouha said of life in the NFL. "It's important that I fill my piece of the puzzle in relation to the whole scheme. I have to get myself ready physically, mentally and emotionally."

The Jets will likely use a rotation of tackles including James Reed but burgeoning superstar Dewayne Robertson will really get a chance to shine in Ferguson's absence.

The linebacking corps was greatly improved with the addition of Defensive Rookie of the Year Jonathan Vilma in the middle but the Jets needed depth, hence the signing of six-year veteran Barry Gardner, who started the last five games of the season at middle linebacker for the Browns in 2004 and was also a force on special teams.

While second-year player Erik Coleman is ensconced at one of the safety positions, the Jets are sill looking for a safety to play on the other side. Jon McGraw will get the first chance at starting but the Jets have an eye for the future.

They drafted Kerry Rhodes and Andre Maddox in the fourth and fifth rounds and Rhodes in particular will be given a chance to compete for a starting job in training camp, just like Coleman did as a rookie in 2004.

Cornerback Justin Miller, the second of two second-round picks, will eventually start but is still raw and will likely be placed in the role of returning punts and kicks as a rookie.


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