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Jets' defensive riddle: How to incorporate Big Three into one scheme

Taking a respite from Ryan Fitzpatrick and the New York Jets' quarterback situation, let's shift into X's-and-O's mode with a scheme-related question as it pertains to the defense.

@RichCimini: I happen to agree with you, Nolan, but I don't think Todd Bowles will deviate from his 3-4 base.

Right now, their challenge is finding ways to get Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams on the field together. After all, the whole point of coaching is to get your best players in the action. Defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers addressed this the other day, saying, "As we look at it now, our main question is, how are we going to line up? That would be a good question as we get close to training camp because those three guys are really good football players. ... It probably would be more advantageous for us to get them all on the field at the same time."

But that's tough to do in a 3-4 base because none of them plays nose tackle. Let's play coach for a moment. In a 4-3 front, you could play Richardson and Williams inside, with Wilkerson as the strongside end and Lorenzo Mauldin as the weakside end (a position he played in college). You'd have David Harris at middle linebacker, with Erin Henderson on the strong side and rookie Darron Lee as the weakside 'backer. Looks good, right?

Your question piqued my curiosity about last season's rotation with Wilkerson, Richardson, Williams and nose tackle Damon Harrison, now a former Jet.

Below you will see the playing-time leaders (based on snaps) at the various positions on the defensive line, via ESPN Stats & Information. Unfortunately, I don't have a count on how many plays the Wilkerson-Richardson-Williams troika played together. It happened quite a bit late in the year because Richardson was moved to outside linebacker. That won't happen again, according to the coaches.

One thing to remember when you're reading these snap counts: Each defensive-line position is included, regardless of scheme. As you know, the Jets didn't play a basic 3-4 on every play -- they switched fronts -- which explains why there are five different positions. Also note that Richardson missed five games.

FIRST AND SECOND DOWN

Left end: Wilkerson 333, Williams 38, Richardson 16.

Left tackle: Wilkerson 263, Williams 131, Harrison 94, Richardson 51.

Nose tackle: Harrison 313, Williams 26, Wilkerson 23, Richardson 4.

Right tackle: Williams 310, Harrison 86, Richardson 77, Wilkerson 22.

Right end: Richardson 162, Williams 102, Wilkerson 30.

THIRD DOWN

Left end: Wilkerson 71, Williams 17, Richardson 15.

Left tackle: Wilkerson 67, Williams 35, Richardson 18, Harrison 8.

Nose tackle: Williams 26, Wilkerson 26, Harrison 18, Richardson 2.

Right tackle: Williams 54, Richardson 31, Harrison 19, Wilkerson 8.

Right end: Richardson 37, Williams 19, Wilkerson 15.

Basically, the Jets have three very talented interior-type linemen in Wilkerson, Richardson and Williams, all of whom are 300-plus pounds. I think Bowles and Rodgers are smart enough to know they have to be flexible, mixing up their fronts. A lot of those decisions will be game plan oriented, based on the opponent. If the Jets are facing a power-running team like the Buffalo Bills, you could see the Big Three in a 4-3 front, with newcomer Steve McLendon on the nose. Against a spread offense, they might go with a smaller, faster front, which could mean rotating the Big Three.

To me, this is the most challenging scheme-related decision facing the Jets.