Some might call it a Hail Mary, a last-ditch, desperation move to hold off an embarrassing defeat. Vernon Gholston calls it the right opportunity at the right time.
The New York Jets' former first-round pick is learning to play defensive end after two washout seasons at outside linebacker. No one in the organization can say with certainty if the position change will transform Gholston into the player he was supposed to be, but it seems to have made a positive impact on his attitude.
Always known for his laid-back demeanor, which some teammates perceived as disinterest, Gholston finally is showing some bravado. He's still not in the Rex Ryan category -- is anybody? -- but at least he's revealing a fiery side. OK, maybe not fiery, but there's something smoldering inside him.
"Personally, I'm going to take more ownership and play more reckless," Gholston said during a break at the Jets' offseason practices. "My first two years, at 'backer, I was worried about doing the right thing. This year, it's going to be about making plays. I'll play within the defense, but I want to be a playmaker.
"They brought me in here to be a playmaker ... and that's what I need to do."
To be a playmaker, Gholston has to start by making a play -- a single play. In 29 career games, he has yet to record a sack, a rather indicting statistic for someone who was drafted sixth overall to sack the quarterback. He received a big chance last season, starting the first four games when Calvin Pace was serving a four-game suspension, but he was eventually phased out of the defensive rotation after Pace's return.
Instead of cutting Gholston and paying off the remainder of his guaranteed money (his five-year contract includes $21 million in guarantees), ensuring his place among the franchise's biggest draft busts, Ryan decided to move him to defensive end. When the Jets signed free-agent outside linebacker Jason Taylor in April, it clinched the deal:
Gholston to end.
"It's almost like another start for me," said Gholston, who, to this point in his career, has replaced former Philadelphia Eagles bust Mike Mamula as the poster boy for overdrafted workout wonders. "Once I get solid at the position and know what I'm doing, I can play fast and reckless. I want to make things happen."
From all indications, Gholston is adapting well in the noncontact practices, working as Shaun Ellis' backup at right end. There will be a transition period because, even though Gholston played end at Ohio State, this is a different kind of defensive end.
In Ohio State's 4-3 scheme, Gholston played outside the tackle, a pass-rushing position that required speed. In the Jets' hybrid 3-4, he no longer will be an edge player; he'll be inside, slugging it out in the trenches against bigger offensive linemen. Even if he adds 10 pounds to his sculpted, 260-pound frame, his goal by training camp, Gholston will be undersized in a land filled with XXLs. Ryan believes Gholston will compensate with his speed and quickness. ("Right up my alley," Gholston said.)
Funny, but his top attribute, according to his teammates, is his strength, not speed and quickness.
"He's very strong," said left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who blocks Gholston in practice. "That's something you feel in the trenches, and now you're seeing him down after down. I think he'll be a good fit at end."
At outside linebacker, a complex position in Ryan's system, Gholston never mastered the various responsibilities. Now he'll get to bang heads with the big boys as part of the defensive-line rotation, but don't expect big numbers. In Ryan's system, the linemen set the table for the linebackers. In four years as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator and one as the Jets' head coach, he's had only one lineman reach double-digit sacks (Trevor Pryce, 13, 2006).
Unlike a year ago, when Ryan overhyped Gholston, the Jets aren't expecting big things. At this point, they'd settle for something. Anything.
"I'm not going to say anything because last year I kept saying, 'You guys just wait, he's going to prove it to you,'" Ryan said. "I'm not going to say anything to you about Vernon because I don't want to [jinx] him.
"But he's really doing well."