FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Ropati Pitoitua [Roe-POT-ti Pito-IT-tuah] – pronoun/0f Samoan decent; 1. referring to the third-year 6-foot-8, 315 pound defensive end out Washington State University. 2. a monstrous defensive lineman whose physical attributes leaves Rex Ryan and Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine salivating at the thought of utilizing his skill set in their aggressive 3-4 defensive schemes. 3. potentially game-changing defensive player looking to bounce back from a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury in 2010.
Pitoitua made a name for himself on HBO’s Hard Knocks, albeit a tough one to pronounce, during last year’s training camp. His physical presence aside, Ryan was impressed with his agility and ability to get to the quarterback. But before Ryan and Pettine could unleash the beast that is Pitoitua, he went down with a torn Achilles’ tendon — losing out on the entire season.
But 2011 is a new year and Pitoitua is 100% healthy and ready to make an XL-size entrance.”I feel great,” he said. “I feel like I’m close to where I need to be. Everything’s on schedule, as it was. I feel like I’m where I need to be.”
A healthy Pitoitua is necessary for a Jets defensive line that is thing at experience but thick with youth and potential. The public breakup with 11-year veteran Shaun Ellis and the infusion of first-round pick Muhammed Wilkerson leaves a question mark in the present about how the Jets will do at rushing the passer.
“He’s a guy who gives us a little insurance,” Pettine said of the former Wazzu. “I think it’s a lot to ask of Muhammed to come in and play every snap as a rookie. I think Ropati is going to be one of those guys who isn’t a big name for us but is going to step up and be a big part of what we do.”
Pitoitua, Wilkerson, and second-year defensive end Marcus Dixon are just a few of the youthful names that will be making plays on this defensive line this season. Ryan has a lot of faith in this group and expects to use all his linemen in a five or six-man rotation.
“[A rotation] is the ideal thing. Last year, there were three [defensive linemen]. Three guys really slugging it out on early downs. Now, I feel really good. When you look at [this] group out here now, there’s seven, eight guys that you feel really good about,” Ryan said.
If Pitoitua can stay healthy, it might be hard for Ryan to sub him out of the rotation. Bart Scott put it best when he said that, with his weight, Pitoitua is nearly unblockable due to the leverage he can create.”I’m really excited about Ropati,” Scott would go on to say. “We were excited about him last year, but unfortunately, he was injured. To be 6-foot-8 and be able to move that well at 315 pounds and be to to run and be long…he just has to keep his pads down. I don’t think anybody will be able to block him.”
With the first game of the pre-season under way, Ryan and Pettine still don’t have a proper definition for the freakish Pitoitua. But whatever role he is given, he’s ready to characterize himself a playmaker in the NFL. “The only thing I can do right now is to get ready and do the best I can to help out.”
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