Dan Leberfeld: He made some solid plays in the preseason games, but also made some glaring mistakes. He is making a major transition from a 4-3 college defensive end to an NFL 3-4 outside linebacker. It's a whole new world for him, and it's going to take some time for him to get acclimated. But even with his head spinning, you can see that rare combination of strength and speed. He can shed offensive linemen and also run around him. There were scouts that didn't love his instincts. We will see over the course of time whether this is a problem. I expect him to have a limited role early in the year because he's clearly not comfortable with his new position and the team's defense. The Jets start Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace at outside linebacker. Gholston will be the third OLB.
Q. The Jets acquired Kris Jenkins in the offseason to anchor the run defense; how has he looked?
DL: He is making a major transition from 4-3 defensive tackle to 3-4 nose tackle, but has definitely flashed during the maturation process. From his days with Carolina, he's used to running upfield and trying to make plays in the backfield. In the 3-4, he needs to stay at home more. He has to learn patience in his new role. But even while he's learning his new role and mindset, he made a number of really impressive plays in the preseason. And the linebackers have commented on what a great body guard he is for them, keeping offensive linemen for getting to the second level. Jenkins looks like he's right out of Central Casting to be a 3-4 nose tackle. He is 6-4, 359 pounds with a thick build from head to toe. And not only is he huge, but he's also powerful. He can bench-press over 500 pounds. Once he's comfortable in his new role, he will likely emerge as one of the top 3-4 nose tackles in football.
Q. Is Calvin Pace, the outside linebacker the Jets beat out the Dolphins for, looking like the stud pass rusher he was advertised?
DL: Calvin Pace certainly looked like a stud pass rusher in the third preseason game when he beat Giants left tackle David Diehl for two sacks in about a half of action. You can see why the Dolphins and Jets really wanted this guy in free agency. While he struggled as a 4-3 end his first few years in Arizona, his last year with the Cardinals, in the team's new 3-4 defense, he blossomed into a really good player. His size and skill set are better suited for the 3-4 OLB role. He's got good linebacker size along with being fast, strong and smart — four really good characteristics for a 3-4 OLB. And he's in his prime. Pace looks like the real deal and should have a big impact on the Jets defense this year.
Q. What's the strength of the Jets defense?
DL: I don't know if the Jets defense has a particular strength. Potentially, the outside linebacker position could turn into a strength with Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, Vernon Gholston and Marques Murrell. But I wouldn't call it a strength yet. The Jets' best player on defense is probably inside linebacker David Harris, who looks like a future star. He is great at shedding offensive linemen and making tackles. He's also a very good blitzer. Another candidate for the team's top defensive player is safety Kerry Rhodes, who is the consummate center fielder. I would say the strength of the Jets defense is the complexities of their 3-4 front and the confusion they cause for opposing teams with their chicanery.
Q. Should we expect the Jets' return game to be as potent as last year?
DL: The Jets' return game could be awesome this year. They are loaded with so many good returners, they don't know what to do with all of them. Justin Miller, who made the Pro Bowl two years ago, returns after missing last year with a knee injury. Last year, Leon Washington took over and returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. Now with Miller back (though he did hurt his toe in the preseason), it will be interesting to see how the Jets coaches mix and match these two. Also in the mix is former Green Bay Packer first-round pick Ahmad Carroll, who looked very good returning kicks in the preseason. He has tremendous speed.