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Jets prospect Gholston better equipped for '09

6/15/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Vernon Gholston is more patient than you are.

Fans already popped the bust label on him faster than a Deacon Jones head slap.

Never mind that Gholston was only 22 years old. The New York Jets drafted him sixth overall last year to harangue quarterbacks, and he finished with zero sacks. He made one solo tackle. He was deactivated for an important Week 15 game.

"I don't know why people think my rookie year was upsetting or whatever," Gholston said recently at teammate David Clowney's youth football camp in Delray Beach, Fla.

"For me, my expectations are high, but at the same time I know coming to the NFL is going to be a challenge. You can't expect anything to be given to you."

But plenty was given to Gholston: $21 million guaranteed in his five-year contract.

That was his reward for looking like something off a comic-book illustrator's sketch pad and playing like a superhero at Ohio State. He was the Big Ten's defensive player of the year as a junior and decided to forego his senior year. He dazzled scouts at the NFL combine and was even more impressive at his pro day in Columbus.

As a Jet, however, his special power was invisibility.

"We all know he's fast. We all know he's strong. He's all that kind of stuff," new Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. "Now let's see it on the field."

Ryan intends to incorporate Gholston more into a team concept rather than count on him to be a star -- something sixth overall picks are supposed to be. Getting Gholston regularly on the field would be a significant step over last year.

Gholston's biggest opportunity could come as a defensive end in the nickel package. He won't line up as an every-down 3-4 outside linebacker. Not yet anyway.

"The tough thing is, I know where Vernon was drafted," Ryan said. "There's expectations for him individually. We're wrong by doing that.

"We just need to place our expectations on that unit. If we do that, sometimes in the stats, he may not show up individually or this player might not show up, but he might play a great game.

"Again, I know you guys are going to be, 'Well, he only had three tackles or one sack,' whatever it is. That's fine, but let's see how this group does. Let's see how we perform collectively. I know we'll be happy with Vernon."

Gholston laughs when he considers where he is now compared to this time last year. He missed so many offseason workouts that it curbed his development.

He was supposed to be learning a new position, but NFL rules designed to keep kids in class prohibited him from attending organized team activities because Ohio State's quarterly academic schedule runs late. Then he stayed away from the team until signing that gargantuan contract and missed the first two training camp practices.

Gholston struggled to pick up former head coach Eric Mangini's defense.

"Getting into pads is the easy part for me," Gholston said. "The hard part is the mental part of learning where you need to be and what's going on. That's what I missed out on.

"Last year, I came into training camp and had to start there, when everybody else was off and running."

About seven months later he was studying another system, but he already can tell a difference in comprehension because he was there from the beginning of Ryan's instruction.

"OTAs are huge. The installs are going in and at a pace you can handle," Gholston said. "Everything is done at a teaching tempo. Having these practices to iron out the kinks -- what you need to do, where you need to be -- is critical.

"My personal goal right now is just to learn the system in and out, learn the calls. That's the hardest thing. Once you grasp all that, the football part's pretty easy."

Ryan spent 10 years, the last four as defensive coordinator, with the perennially devastating Baltimore Ravens. He has been quick to praise Gholston and has gone so far as to compare him to Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, a three-time Pro Bowler.

Perhaps Ryan is going overboard in news conferences to help build Gholston's confidence, but it must sound more encouraging than Mangini's curt words -- and catcalls from the stands -- during an awful rookie campaign.

"It's hard not to enjoy watching him play," Ryan said. "I see him as a starter. It may not be in every package, but it's going to be in some packages. I think Vernon will definitely be able to help us this year. We're expecting him to."