New York Jets: Kenrick Ellis

Each year, the stats-based website ProFootballFocus.com does some number crunching and identifies a "Secret Superstar" for every team -- a fancy title for an unsung hero. On Tuesday, PFF announced the New York Jets' S.S. -- backup nose tackle Kenrick Ellis, whom it lauds for his outstanding play against the run despite limited action (only 210 defensive snaps).

Ellis is a solid choice. I suppose nose tackle Damon Harrison no longer qualifies as a secret; otherwise, he would've been S.S.-worthy. In my opinion, wide receiver David Nelson and right tackle Austin Howard (now with the Oakland Raiders) also deserve to be mentioned.

As for Ellis, the former third-round pick has endured a tumultuous first three seasons (various injuries and a short jail sentence, stemming from an assault charge while in college), but he developed into a consistent rotational player last season. He was supposed to be the starting nose tackle, but he was Wally Pipp-ed in training camp by Harrison. In a backup role, he became a force against the run. With the 6-foot-4, 340-pound Ellis in the game, the Jets allowed only 2.59 yards per rush, according to NFL stats. Without him, they yielded 3.40 -- a team-high 0.81 differential.

This is what PFF has to say about Ellis:
Despite never playing more than 16 snaps against the run in a game all season, he definitely made the most of his opportunity. In his first game despite playing just 18 snaps, he had three highly-graded plays thanks to beating his block to make run stops. There was not a single game where he had a negative rating in run defense all season.

He ended up making 17 run stops on 114 run snaps on the season, which gave him a Run Stop Percentage of 14.9 percent. Over the last six years, John Henderson in 2010 was the only defensive or nose tackle with at least 100 snaps against the run and a better Run Stop Percentage. He was also 1.7 percent, better than the second-best defensive tackle in Run Stop Percentage, teammate Damon Harrison. While his strength was in stopping the run, he also had seven hurries on 85 pass rushes.

Though stopping the run is his strength, he did record seven pressures on 90 pass rushes which is decent for a nose tackle. They even tested him out at fullback late in their Week 17 game on a play that consisted of three defensive linemen in the backfield.

Based on his draft position, Ellis has been a mild disappointment, but he continues to improve and will be in line for a free-agent score after the season if he can stay healthy. He's entering the final year of his contract and it'll be hard for the Jets to retain him, considering all the money earmarked for the defensive line in the coming years (see Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson).

Then again, the plan could change if Ellis finally puts it all together.

Jets draft preview: Defensive line

May, 5, 2014
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This is the seventh installment in a position-by-position analysis of the New York Jets as they prepare for the draft:

Position: Defensive line

Current personnel: Muhammad Wilkerson (signed through 2015), Sheldon Richardson (2016), Damon Harrison (2014), Kenrick Ellis (2014), Leger Douzable (2014), Tevita Finau (2016), T.J. Barnes (2016).

Projected starters: Wilkerson, Richardson, Harrison.

Newcomers: None.

Departures: None.

Top salary-cap charge: Richardson, $2.3 million.

Scouting report: The gang is together again, which is a good thing. No doubt, the defensive line is the strength of the team, which is what happens when you pick a first-round lineman in each of the last three drafts -- Wilkerson, Quinton Coples (now a linebacker) and Richardson. This group has a chance to be special for many years, as long as injuries, money and ego don't get in the way. It's already a top run-stopping line, as the Jets allowed a league-best 3.35 yards per attempt. Because it's a base 3-4, the Jets don't rely on the linemen to spearhead the pass rush, but there's still room for improvement, especially from Richardson (3.5 sacks), who has the skill set and tenacity to be a double-digit sacker. Wilkerson's production faded toward the end of the season, probably because he was gassed. He played 94 percent of the defensive snaps (988 of 1,048). The coaches must do a better job of rotating and using the depth.

Last DL drafted: Richardson was chosen 13th overall last season, with a pick acquired in the Darrelle Revis trade.

Potential targets: Rex Ryan joked that he and John Idzik will get run out of town if they pick another defensive lineman in the first round. Rest assured, that won't happen, but they could be looking that way late in the draft. Backups Ellis and Douzable will be unrestricted free agents, Harrison a restricted free agent, meaning long-term depth is an issue. They haven't brought any big-name linemen into town for visits, which is telling. They have expressed interest in undersized defensive end Michael Sam (Missouri), who projects as an outside linebacker or situational pass-rusher in the Jets' scheme. Sam, who could be the first openly gay player on an NFL team, will be a huge story wherever he lands -- especially in New York. A late-round possibility is Beau Allen (Wisconsin), in whom the Jets have showed interest.

Need rating (scale of 1 to 10): 2.

Practice report: Still no Holmes

October, 9, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes (hamstring) didn't practice Wednesday. He was wearing a sweatshirt and shorts during the portion of practice open to the media.

Holmes suffered a strained hamstring Sept. 29 during the Jets' loss to Tennessee. Holmes did not practice last week and it appears he will not suit up Sunday against his former team, Pittsburgh.

Cornerback Dee Milliner (hamstring) did individual work off to the side during practice. He suffered a hamstring injury Sept. 25 during practice and has not practiced or played since. It's too early in the week to know whether Milliner will have a chance to suit up Sunday.

Safety Jaiquawn Jarrett was not working during the portion open to the media. He was riding a stationary bike. Jarrett was not listed on last week's injury report, but Jets head coach Rex Ryan will provide an update on the safety when he meets with the media later.

The Jets were also without tight end Kellen Winslow (knee), defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis (back) and wide receiver Clyde Gates (knee). Ellis missed for a personal reason, while Gates was present during the open portion but did not work. Winslow was not on the field.

The Jets also made roster moves, signing defensive tackle Terence Barnes to the practice squad and releasing defensive tackle Junior Aumavae.

Jets' Holmes, Ellis active for opener

September, 8, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As expected, wide receiver Santonio Holmes (foot) is active for the season opener Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It became apparent around mid-week that Holmes, who missed the entire preseason, would be ready for the first game. Early in training camp, there were doomsday reports about Holmes, with some speculation he could miss a month or two. The question is, how much will he play? Holmes, restricted to limited practice time, probably will be spotted throughout the game. Look for him in third-down situations.

In a mild surprise, DT Kenrick Ellis (back) is active. Ellis missed the last three preseason games and, even though he practiced on a limited basis, there was some question about his availability.

The Jets' inactives are QB Mark Sanchez, OT Ben Ijalana, G Will Campbell, OT Oday Aboushi, LB Quinton Coples, LB Danny Lansanah and LB Scott Solomon.

By deactivating Ijalana, Campbell and Aboushi, the Jets are dressing only seven offensive linemen. The backups are rookie G Brian Winters and C Caleb Schlauderaff. If they need a replacement at tackle, starting LG Vladimir Ducasse could move out to tackle.

The Bucs' inactives are QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Rashaan Melvin, FE Erik Lorig, G Carl Nicks, TE Tom Crabtree, DE William Gholston and DT Chris Jones.

Jets' Milliner ready for debut; Coples out

September, 2, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rookie cornerback Dee Milliner, whom the Jets drafted to ostensibly replace Darrelle Revis, proclaimed himself ready to face Revis' new team -- the Bucs -- Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

"I feel great," Milliner said Monday after practice. "I'm back on the field. I'm back doing everything 100 percent, so I feel good."

Milliner, selected ninth overall, missed the last two preseason games with a calf injury. He was seen leaving MetLife Stadium last Thursday night in a walking boot, fueling speculation that he could he hurt worse than initially thought. No doubt, he will be targeted by the Bucs. Milliner fell behind in training camp after missing the first few days because of a contract dispute, and he missed two weeks of practice with the calf.

The Jets will be down one, possibly two starters on defense. Rex Ryan acknowledged the obvious, that outside linebacker Quinton Coples (fractured ankle) won't play. Sources say he could miss the first month. Nose tackle Kenrick Ellis (back), sidelined for three preseason games, was a non-participant in practice during the 30-minute window for the media.

Practice report: Quinn arrives, Sanchez sits

September, 2, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Jets' always-fascinating quarterback carousel was spinning at full speed Monday.

Newly signed Brady Quinn, who worked out for the team in the morning, participated in practice, wearing No. 9. As Quinn went through the paces with his new team, embattled incumbent Mark Sanchez was off in the distance, riding a stationary bike. Sanchez is out with a bruised joint in his throwing shoulder and is not expected to be ready for the season opener.

Coach Rex Ryan is scheduled to address the media after practice. It's unknown whether he will announce the starting quarterback, although it's clear that rookie Geno Smith will be the choice.

In other practice news, cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie (hip) and Dee Milliner (calf) worked with the trainers during the 30-minute window open to the media. The early sense is that both will be ready for the Bucs, although there's still some question about Milliner.

Nose tackle Kenrick Ellis (back), who missed the last three preseason games, also didn't participate in the early portion of practice. His status for the opener is up in the air. It looks as if Damon Harrison could get the start.

Practice report: Sanchez out again

August, 27, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It was status quo for the Jets on Tuesday as quarterback Mark Sanchez was not practicing during the portion open to the media.

Sanchez, who suffered a right shoulder injury against the Giants on Saturday, showed up later than most of his teammates, and rode the stationary bike.

The quarterback is listed as day-to-day and he will not play in the team's final preseason game on Thursday against the Eagles. His availability for the season opener is also in doubt, a source told ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini.

The Jets were also without cornerback Antonio Cromartie (hip), cornerback Dee Milliner (calf), defensive lineman Kenrick Ellis (back) and center Dalton Freeman (ankle). Cromartie and Milliner were seen riding the stationary bikes.

Running back Mike Goodson, who has been suspended for four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, was at practice for the first time after missing all of training camp. He did some light running on the side, and is currently on the active non-football injury/illness list. During his suspension, Goodson will not be able to practice but can attend team meetings.

Wide receiver Santonio Holmes also practiced for the second straight day. He was taken off the PUP list on Friday, and went through his first practice on Monday.

Holmes has been working his way back from a Lisfranc fracture he suffered against the 49ers on Sept. 30, 2012, and the corresponding surgery. It's still unknown whether he'll be ready for the opener against Tampa Bay on Sept. 8.

Newly signed kicker Dan Carpenter also practiced.

Monday recap: What we learned

August, 26, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Observations from the sideline:

1. Mark Sanchez wins the QB competition: Rex Ryan didn't make the announcement, but he didn't have to. It became obvious Saturday night, when Geno Smith proved he isn't ready, and it was affirmed Monday with Ryan's non-answer on his quarterback plan. If Smith had won the job, it would've been easy to anoint him. But Ryan withheld his decision, pretending the competition still is ongoing. That's because his chosen starter -- Sanchez -- is banged up and may not be available for Week 1. Round and round we go.

2. Vladimir Ducasse is a starter -- finally: It took three years, but the former second-round pick has cracked the lineup at left guard. Ducasse, who appeared to be on his way to bust-dom, beat out veteran Stephen Peterman for the job. On Monday, the Jets released Peterman, all but confirming Ducasse's promotion. He's also listed with the starters on the team's latest depth chart. This isn't a season-long appointment; he will be pushed by third-round pick Brian Winters. Somewhere, former GM Mike Tannenbaum, Ducasse's most ardent supporter, is smiling.

3. Kenrick Ellis could get Pipp-ed before he starts a game: With Ellis nursing a bad back, second-year nose tackle Damon Harrison has stepped in nicely, earning lavish praise from Ryan. On Monday, Ryan opened his news conference with a video of Harrison and rookie receiver Ryan Spadola, highlighting their top plays from Saturday night. Harrison, who made the team last year as an undrafted rookie, made seven solo tackles, showing nice instincts, ball awareness and hustle. Ellis began camp as the presumptive starter on the nose, but he has missed two games and is in danger of losing the job to a man with the best nickname on the team -- Snacks.

Defense not up to Green standards

August, 18, 2013
8/18/13
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Jets defense did not meet Rex Ryan’s standards in the second preseason game of the year, a 37-13 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium.

 New York Jets
AP Photo/John MinchilloThe Jets' first-team defense struggled in the first half against the Jaguars.
"Our defensive intensity in the first half I thought [was] not to Jets standards, to New York Jets standards certainly," Ryan said. "The poor tackling -- you can tell when the intensity is there, you’re going to tackle, you’re going to run to the ball, you’re going to do all those things that epitomize the New York Jets defense -- and, quite honestly, we struggled with that."

The Jaguars had 12 first downs in the first half and were able to go 80 yards on seven plays to score a touchdown on the first drive of the game. The offense, with Blaine Gabbert under center, played an up-tempo game that caught the Jets defense off balance.

"They kept drives alive on us," safety Dawan Landry said.

"If that was a real game, that’ll get you beat," LB Calvin Pace said. "Again, this is a learning experience. I’m pretty sure there are going to be some F-bombs thrown around on Monday."

Ryan was angry when he came off the field at the end of the first half and challenged his squad to do better. DE Kenrick Ellis was not active with a back issue, and OLB Quinton Coples left in the second quarter with a hairline fracture of his ankle.

There has been a lot of turnover on defense, and rookie CB Dee Milliner -- tapped to start the opener -- has not been as aggressive as Ryan would like. LB David Harris struggled in coverage as well.

"I didn’t like the way we competed and challenged on the outside -- not so much [Antonio] Cromartie, but from Dee [Milliner]," Ryan said. "When we call on him, I want him to get up there. Let’s go. Let’s play."

Rex Report: Cold day, frigid offense

August, 14, 2013
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- In his final news conference in Cortland, Rex Ryan opened with a joke.

"That was a beautiful December day," he said, calling it the coldest training-camp day he's ever experienced.

Ryan used that as a jumping-off point to rip his offense. The weather, he said, was "almost as chilly as the offensive performance."

He's right, it was a rough day. Geno Smith threw three interceptions in team drills, plus a near-interception. Mark Sanchez almost had a shovel pass intercepted. (Bubby Brister, anyone?) There were a couple of costly dropped passes as well.

"Not a good day at all for the offense, so obviously we have to straighten at lot of things out before we play the game against Jacksonville," Ryan said. "So (I’m) disappointed. I thought we had been doing some good things out there. It was a good day for the defense, bad day for the offense. I don’t know what else to say about it."

BAD BACK: Ryan didn't seem overly concerned by Kenrick Ellis' back injury, but he learned last season to be wary of nose tackles with back issues. Sione Po'uha was a diminished player because of a serious back injury.

"I know it’s a day-to-day thing, so I’m certainly hopeful it’s not as bad as Sione," Ryan said. "That kept Sione out of a lot of training camp, so hopefully it’s not like that. To me it’s just a day-to-day type injury."

Ellis, hurt in the weight room, has missed two straight days. He rode a stationary bike during practice.

DAVID THE GOLIATH: Ryan likes what he sees so far from a slimmed-down David Harris. With Bart Scott gone, Harris may have to take on a bigger leadership role.

"He’s been fantastic," Ryan said. "I mean, he really has taken over that leadership. He’s more vocal and everyone on this team respects him. Everybody respects David Harris. And not just because he’s a good player, but he’s a true professional, and I think everybody recognizes that. DeMario [Davis] has some leadership ability of his own, but I see that he does lean on David as well."

Rapid Reaction: Lions 26, Jets 17

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
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DETROIT -- The New York Jets opened the preseason Friday night with a 26-17 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Despite a killer interception, Mark Sanchez won the night over Geno Smith in the ballyhooed quarterback competition. Smith left in the third quarter after rolling his ankle. It doesn't appear serious, but he can't afford to miss any practice time.

What it means: As it stands now, Sanchez will be the opening-day starter. He gave as many points to the Lions as he produced for the Jets -- seven -- but he showed greater command than Smith, who delivered a nondescript performance in his NFL debut. Smith is doomed if he misses any practice time; it's almost impossible for a rookie to play catch-up in training camp.

Sanchez's night: It was the worst possible start for Sanchez, who threw a pick-six on the Jets' first series. Under pressure on a screen pass, he didn't put enough air under the pass and it was intercepted by rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. Sanchez has a maddening tendency to turn a safe pass into a calamity. In fact, he almost had another screen intercepted.

To Sanchez's credit, he responded to the disastrous start to finish 10-for-13 for 125 yards with a 26-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jeff Cumberland. It culminated a seven-play, 80-yard drive, much of which came in the hurry-up offense. It was typical Sanchez -- some good, some ugly. Some things don't change.

Geno's night: Unlike Sanchez, Smith didn't make any horrible mistakes, but he also didn't bring any spark to the offense. The former West Virginia star, who got two series behind the starting offensive line, generated only one first down on his first three drives -- a 15-yard pass to Clyde Gates on his first play. Simply put, Smith didn't look ready to take over the team. He finished 6-for-7 for 47 yards. Smith came out on the first series of the third quarter, when he turned his right ankle on an open-field scramble.

Greg McElroy came in and did a nice job against the Lions' third-stringers, going 11-for-19 for 145 yards and an 11-yard TD pass to Zach Rogers.

Big-play tight ends: Dustin Keller is gone, but Cumberland and Kellen Winslow displayed playmaking ability. Winslow made a nice catch and run for 24 yards. Cumberland scored his touchdown on a deep seam, showing his ability to get vertical. It's too soon to say the Jets have two weapons at tight end, but it was a good start.

Another injured running back: John Griffin was carted off with a lower-leg injury. It didn't look good. Already down Chris Ivory, Mike Goodson and Joe McKnight, the Jets can't afford another injury in the backfield. Ivory (hamstring) is expected to return Sunday.

New-look defense: The Jets opened with seven new starters in the post-Darrelle Revis era. All things considered, the defense held up fairly well. Most of the starters played most of the first half, an unusually long stint for the first game, and allowed 10 points. Cornerback Darrin Walls, an early substitution for starter Antonio Cromartie, got beat on a 15-yard scoring pass. One player who jumped out was nose tackle Kenrick Ellis, who deflected a pass and held the point of attack. Safety Dawan Landry got beat once in coverage. Keep in mind that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford played only two series.

The rookies: It was a so-so debut for top pick Dee Milliner, who started at corner in the base defense. He didn't have to cover all-world receiver Calvin Johnson -- Cromartie drew that assignment -- so that made life easier for Milliner. He had a nice pass breakup in the end zone, but he missed an open-field tackle and allowed a 27-yard reception. Milliner gets some slack, though, because he missed a lot of time and is rusty. It was a relatively quiet night for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

The Q report: Former first-round pick Quinton Coples, making the transition to outside linebacker, flashed good and bad on his first two plays. He deflected a pass on an outside rush, but he failed to set the edge on an outside run by Reggie Bush. Coples didn't move well in space. This will be an interesting position change.

What's ahead: The Jets return to Cortland, for four days of practice. They break camp Thursday and return to Florham Park, N.Y., where they will prepare for next Saturday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Snap: Training camp, Day 8

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- This should be interesting.

The Jets are expected to turn up the intensity in practice, with the first goal-line drill of training camp. It's real football, with live tackling. There's always a lot of pride on the line, offense versus defense. It could take place on a messy track, as the forecast calls for rain throughout most of the day. A memorable goal-line drill occurred in 2010, when HBO's "Hard Knocks" was in Cortland to document the Jets' training camp.

Other storylines:

1. Road graders: We haven't focused too much on the offensive line in camp, but this is a unit in a semi-state of flux -- two new starters at guard. The "Ground & Pound" days might be gone, but running the ball remains important. We should learn something in the goal-line drill.

2. QB on the rebound: After a poor practice Wednesday, Mark Sanchez needs a bounce-back performance. He's slated to work with the starters, per the quarterback rotation, but he might not get too many chances if it's a run-heavy practice.

3. Special K: This could be a day for NT Kenrick Ellis to shine. He was unblockable in a recent practice, according to Rex Ryan. There's a lot of pressure on Ellis to replace well-respected vet Sione Po'uha, and he'll have to earn his pelts by stuffing the run.

Rex Report: Allen leads safety competition

July, 29, 2013
7/29/13
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CORTLAND, N.Y. – Antonio Allen is in the lead for the starting safety spot opposite Dawan Landry, Jets coach Rex Ryan said Monday.

“It’s good competition, because Jaiquawn Jarrett is behind him. That’s going to be real fun to watch because both guys [are] physical players. I love Allen’s length and he’s been impressive at times. He’s not there yet, but some of the things he’s done, he made a couple real nice plays the other day.

“Both of them can blitz, both of them are aggressive in the run game and we’ll just let that play out.”

Allen, going into his third NFL season, has been getting a lot of the first-team reps alongside Landry. As for safety Josh Bush, who many thought would compete for the starting role, Ryan said he is studying to back up Landry.

Allen intercepted a Mark Sanchez pass in 7-on-7 drills on Saturday, coming down with a ball intended for Stephen Hill. In that play, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Allen had an advantage. Jarrett is about the same height, while Bush is 5-11.

Last season the Jets had LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, a solid combo, but both free agents signed with other teams after the season.

[+] EnlargeEllis-Coples
AP Photo/Bill KostrounKenrick Ellis and Quinton Coples lead a talented defensive line.
BEST IN LEAGUE?: There is reason to be optimistic when it comes to the Jets' defensive line. Quinton Coples, Kenrick Ellis and Muhammad Wilkerson are developing into formidable players. Ryan was asked if he thought the Jets could have one of the best defensive lines in the league, as Coples had said earlier.

“I think we got a long road before we can say that,” Ryan said. “How about we play a couple of games? But they certainly are a talented group.”

NOT ABOUT THE BIKE: Ryan is frustrated with the numbers of players who worked on the bikes Monday. WRs Jordan White, Joe Collins and Marcus Davis worked with trainers instead of doing team drills.

“How many more wideouts are over there?” Ryan said. “Like really, That kid again? Eventually you get tired of seeing it. We want football players, guys who play football and availability is an important thing in this league.”

LINE PLAY: Ryan praised offensive linemen Willie Colon and Austin Howard for their solid wall. “I might have been able to run behind that,” Ryan said. He compared them to Brandon Moore and Damien Woody.

QUICK HITS: Ryan said DT Kenrick Ellis dominated Sunday in pads, but was shut down Monday ... Asked about how well second-year receiver Stephen Hill has played at camp, Ryan said, “I’m not going to comment of Stephen, because he’s doing so well I’m not going to comment on him.” ... Ryan said the next live practice is likely to be the goal line and short-yardage drills planned for Thursday ... Last up, Ryan was asked about the Dee Milliner signing and joked, “I made that call.” Then he started laughing, “Oh my goodness.”

Coples: We want to be the best

July, 29, 2013
7/29/13
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The Jets have invested a lot of resources in their defensive line -- three No. 1 picks -- and now they're expecting a big payoff. The goal, according to Quinton Coples, is to be the scourge of the NFL.

[+] EnlargeQuinton Coples
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsQuinton Coples has high aspirations for the Jets' defensive line.
"No disrespect or discredit to any defensive front out there, but we want to be the best and make our own name," Coples said Monday.

Confident man, Coples.

"Why wouldn't I be?" he asked. "I see what we have, I see the talent we have. ... The sky is the limit."

The line has tremendous potential, but it's important to keep it in perspective. The only proven player among the projected starters is Muhammad Wilkerson, who felt he should've made the Pro Bowl last season. After two years, he's already considered one of the top 3-4 defensive ends in the league.

Coples posted a team-high 5.5 sacks as a rookie, but he's still learning. (Technically he's no longer listed as a defensive lineman, but he still lines up on the line in the nickel package.) Rookie Sheldon Richardson, selected 13th overall, has impressed in the early practices, but he played only two years at the major-college level.

Rex Ryan, a former defensive-line coach, loves the unit's potential. But he was careful not to gush too much.

"We have a long road before we say (it's the best)," he said. "How 'bout we play a couple of games? But they certainly are a talented group. They're a talented group, no question. You want your guys to have that kind of confidence, but to be the best, you have to show up every day."

Ryan added: "It'll be interesting to see this group grow together. Could it be one of the best? If they keep working, I certainly hope so."

The projected starters are Wilkerson, Richardson and NT Kenrick Ellis, a first-year starter. The elder statesman, Antonio Garay, said Ellis "hasn't even scratched the surface yet of how good he can be." Garay, who played with the Bears in 2006 and 2007, said Richardson reminds him of former Chicago DT Tommie Harris. Nice compliment. Garay, the wise vet, believes in the unit. But he's not ready to anoint it as the next Steel Curtain.

"Coaches and media tell us how good we can be, but it's not as good as we can be," he said. "Right now, we have all the potential in the world, but that doesn't mean anything without hard work."

Camp preview: Defensive line

July, 22, 2013
7/22/13
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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.

[+] EnlargeKenrick Ellis
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesKenrick 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.

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