Coach's big decision: Who's the nickel?

October, 27, 2012
10/27/12
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The Jets need a plan for Dolphins WR Davone Bess, a very good slot receiver. Do they stick with Isaiah Trufant as their slot corner -- he played well last week -- or do they go back to Ellis Lankster, who struggled against Bess in the previous meeting?

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Trufant
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesIsaiah Trufant
Some background: In Week 3, Darrelle Revis shut down Bess for nearly three quarters. Revis' season-ending knee injury forced everybody to move up in the cornerback pecking order -- Kyle Wilson into a starting role, Lankster into the nickel. Lankster was beaten badly by Bess for 17- and 20-yard pass plays out of the slot. Rex Ryan immediately made a change, shifting Wilson into that position -- and he promptly was flagged for pass interference.

Lankster settled down in subsequent games, but he was replaced last Sunday in New England by the smallest Jet -- the 5-foot-8 Trufant, who covered Wes Welker in the slot. It was a game plan-specific decision, as the Jets wanted to use their small, quick guy against the Patriots' small, quick guy.

It was a clever idea by the coaching staff. It got the idea from the 2009 AFC divisional playoffs, when the Jets used diminutive CB Drew Coleman to cover Chargers scat back Darren Sproles. Trufant did well enough to make this a tough decision: Do they ride the hot hand?

"I think everything is based on matchups," Ryan said Friday. "Clearly, we thought he was our best matchup going against Welker. I thought he did a tremendous job. I really did. We have guys. Is it best to go with Trufant, Lankster or (Aaron) Berry, who is coming around? We'll see. Each week is a little different, but could I see Trufant playing more nickel? Yes, I could."

The guess here is that Wilson will slide inside to cover Bess when he's in the slot. Makes sense. You put your No. 2 on their No. 2, especially on third down. Despite his gritty performance last week, Trufant could have problems on Bess (5-foot-10) because of his size.

Who would play outside in the nickel along with Antonio Cromartie? Look for Lankster to get the first crack.

Bess is second on the Dolphins with 28 catches for 388 yards, a 13.3 average, and no TDs. With 288 career catches, he's the second-most prolific undrafted receiver in the NFL. Who's first?

Welker.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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