Training camp preview: Linebacker

July, 20, 2014
Jul 20
8:00
AM ET
Breaking down the New York Jets' roster, unit by unit, in preparation for training camp, July 23:

Position: Linebacker

Projected starters: David Harris (MLB), Demario Davis (WLB), Calvin Pace (SLB), Quinton Coples (RUSH).

Projected reserves: Nick Bellore, Jermaine Cunningham, Antwan Barnes, Jeremiah George.

Notables on the bubble: Garrett McIntyre, IK Enemkpali (sixth-round pick), Trevor Reilly (seventh round).

Coples
Harris
Player to watch: Coples. The elements are in place for a breakout season. Position familiarity? Check. This is his second year at the rush-linebacker spot. Conditioning? Check. Coples said during minicamp that he dropped 15 pounds, putting him in the 270-275 range. The question is whether he can commit himself to being a dominant player. Some of his teammates will tell you that Coples is frustrating because he doesn't maximize his talent. Former Jets great Joe Klecko articulated the sentiment with his "Tarzan/Jane" comment. Said Coples: "I know this is a big year for me, stepping up and being a leader on this team and being more productive than I was the first two years."

Top storyline: Can the elder statesmen of the group, Harris (30) and Pace (33), maintain their production? It shouldn't be a problem for Harris, who enters a contract year and should be highly motivated. The big question is whether Pace can re-create what he did last season, surprising everyone with a career-high 10 sacks. He played with a chip on his shoulder after being cut and re-signed, performing well enough to land a two-year, $5 million contract. The Jets can't afford a drop off by Pace because, let's be honest, there's no heir apparent at his spot.

Training camp will be a success if ... : They can identify a third edge rusher to go along with Coples and Pace. Based on his track record, Barnes is the leading candidate, but he's coming off major knee surgery and could be limited in camp. Cunningham, a former second-round pick of the New England Patriots, is hoping to reboot his career with the Jets. He displayed some flash in minicamp, but he hasn't played in a game since 2012. The rookies, Enemkpali and Reilly, have a long way to go.

Wild card: Davis. He didn't produce enough big plays last season for someone who rarely came off the field -- one sack, one interception and no forced fumbles. Davis has the speed to be an effective three-down player, but some opposing scouts question his instincts. This will be his second year as a starter, so there should be a spike in production.

By the numbers: You can't blame the pass rush for the woes against the pass last season. It forced opponents to release the ball in 2.52 seconds, the sixth-fastest rate in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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