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Monday, July 22, 2013
Camp preview: Defensive line

By Rich Cimini

Breaking down the Jets, position by position, as they prepare for training camp, which opens Thursday:

Position: Defensive line

Projected starters: Muhammad Wilkerson, Kenrick Ellis, Sheldon Richardson.

Kenrick Ellis
Kenrick Ellis is preparing for his third NFL season -- but his first as a starter. What kind of production will the Jets get from him?
Projected reserves: Antonio Garay, Damon Harrison.

New faces: Richardson, Garay.

The departed: Sione Po'uha, Mike DeVito.

Player to watch: Richardson. The Jets' scouts were so high on Richardson (No. 13 overall pick) that they rated him fourth on their draft board. He's an athletic lineman with a terrific motor, and he's expected to play a key role on the revamped line. The question is, does he fit Rex Ryan's 3-4 base defense? Richardson isn't accustomed to being a two-gap lineman, so there will be a transition period. Ryan won't get the best of Richardson if he lines him up as a 5-technique end in a straight 3-4 front, so he's likely to move him around, using him in 1- and 3-technique positions as well.

Potential strength: Without question, this is the youngest and most athletic defensive line of the Ryan era. And it should be. After all, they've picked first-round linemen in the past three drafts -- Richardson, Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, who will be used in a hybrid role. Wilkerson, entering his third year, has a chance to be one of the best 3-4 DEs in the league; some say he's already there. The line started to get a bit creaky last season, especially with the banged-up Po'uha at nose tackle. The '13 group has a chance to be special if it realizes its potential.

Potential weakness: Depth. A bad injury to one of the top four players would be devastating. The depth isn't as bad as it looks on paper, because they can use Coples, Calvin Pace, Antwan Barnes and Garrett McIntyre -- all outside linebackers -- at defensive end in certain fronts. Nevertheless, they still need a veteran backup to increase the comfort level.

Wild card: Ellis. This is Year 3, so he's out of mulligans. After two years of adversity (injuries and legal problems), Ellis steps into a starting role, replacing the well-respected Po'uha. Basically, Ellis was handed the job based on his potential. He has the size (6-foot-4, 346 pounds) and raw ability to control the point of attack, but he's still green and needs technique work. His small-college background bought him a two-year honeymoon. Now it's time to deliver. If not, Garay could assume the starting job on the nose.