Mo, be yourself.
That’s what Sione Pouha has told rookie defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson time and time again during the preseason and training camp.
Don’t try to be someone your not. You might one-day be as good as former Jets elite edge rusher Shaun Ellis, but right now you’re still a rookie learning the game.
Granted, it’s Wilkerson’s maturity and instincts that have caught Pouha’s eye thus far.
“He’s an instinctive player,” Pouha said Friday. “And in this system and in the NFL, the more instinctive you are and the more correct about your instincts that you are, the better you’re gonna be.”
On Friday, Rex Ryan praised Wilkerson, again making the comparison between the 21-year-old first round pick and Ellis, who recorded 72 sacks in 11 seasons with New York before signing with rival New England in the offseason.
“We knew that we were gonna be fortunate to get him if he fell to where we were picking,” Ryan said of the Temple product, who the team selected 30th overall. “He understands what we want from that position. He’s got great leadership from Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito. He works everyday, and he’s got God given ability. Let’s face it, he can touch both ends of the wall here (in the press conference room with his long wingspan). He reminds me a lot of Shaun.”
A huge compliment, which, of course, comes with huge expectations. Except Wilkerson, who will start on Sunday night in his first-ever NFL regular season game against Dallas, isn’t feeling the pressure.
“I don’t put pressure on myself,” said Wilkerson, who had seven tackles but no sacks in four preseason games. “I just go out there and do my job and try to make the best out of it. I try to make plays like the other 10 guys and the field are doing and just to come out with the win.”
Rookie return specialist Jeremy Kerley, the team’s fifth-round pick out of TCU, echoed those sentiments.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” said Kerley, who is being tasked this season with at least replacing some of the home run hitting ability the Jets lost when Pro Bowler Brad Smith signed with Buffalo in the offseason. “Special teams is what’s helping me out a little bit. It’s getting me up to the speed of the game.”
Kerley called the jump from college to the NFL “a big jump.”
“But I feel like I’m ready for it,” said Kerley, who caught six passes for 55 yards and ran three times for five yards while fumbling once during the four-week preseason. “I’m well-prepared. Now it’s time to go out here and be part of a winning program.”
The Jets have certainly done a lot of winning in recent years -- especially the last two, advancing to the AFC Championship game both times.
But it hasn’t beens since 2008 where two Jets rookies have been asked to make as significant an impact as Wilkerson and Kerley.
That season, first-round pick tight end Dustin Keller hauled in 48 passes for 535 yards and three touchdowns, while cornerback Dwight Lowery started 13 games and had 64 tackles and an interception.
“I’m relaxed and calm,” Wilkerson said Thursday when asked to describe how it felt to be this close to finally getting his career underway. “I’m ready to get after it on Sunday and just keep preparing like I’ve been preparing all week, just trying to get better like I’ve done all preseason and all of camp.”
By the way Jets fans, see where Wilkerson and Kerley line up in different formations. Wilkerson he may line up inside sometimes and Kerley, of course, might be running the wild cat.
“I hope so,” Kerley replied when asked if he thinks he’s going to run the wild cat on Sunday. “It’s just another opportunity for me to get on the field and create great mismatches for defenses, so I hope so.”
Kerley said he’s not getting as many wild cat reps as he did at the start of camp, “but it’s still a game-changer, so it can be thrown in at any time.”