Florham Park, NJ – It’s after the third and final day of minicamp and the New York Jets’ locker room feels like a high school hallway on the last day of class. Most players shower and hit the road, no doubt ready to start their pre-training camp break. Most, that is, except for defensive end Quinton Coples and rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson who keep the energy high, bouncing around and joking with teammates.
“You guys were great,” Coples quips to a group of reporters. “Great questions.” With a year under his belt, Coples has officially come out of his shell. His confidence, or what some might call cockiness, on the practice field is evident, even drawing a playful kick in the behind from All-Pro center Nick Mangold.
Richardson, who the Jets drafted with the 13th overall pick this year, has been loud from the get-go. He is one of the last to leave, his voice bellowing across the locker room and interrupting a media session with potential signee Kellen Winslow.
Coples and Richardson, along with the much more reserved Muhammad Wilkerson, represent the foundation of a young, talented, and confident Jets defensive line. And it shows.
“We’re just going to be a wrecking ball, man,” says Richardson. “I feel confident about our defense right now. We’re going to sack some people.”
Granted, it’s only minicamp. There are still 86 days, including a long, hot month of training camp in Cortland and four pre-season games until they take the field on Sept. 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but this trio of young d-linemen may be the best shot the Jets have at normalcy.
It’s no secret that the Jets have been a mess, particularly in the media, for two seasons now. Starting with Santonio Holmes’ meltdown in week 16 of 2011 and ending with the cutting of one, Timothy Richard Tebow, a few weeks ago. Even still, many things in Jets-land remain in flux. Training camp will flesh out the highly publicized quarterback battle between Mark Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith. General manager John Idzik will almost certainly be on the phone searching for a veteran receiver or two. Mike Goodson’s legal troubles still need to play out. The offense has a new coordinator in Marty Mornhinweg and therefore a completely new playbook to learn. Oh, and their former best player and perennial All-Pro cornerback, whom they traded this offseason, will suit up against them in week one.
With Darrelle Revis gone and the offense, well, uncertain, Wilkerson, Coples and Richardson remain three of the best cards head coach Rex Ryan has left to play. And you know how much Rex loves his defense.
Wilkerson came on strong during the second half of last season, recording four of his five sacks in the final seven games, and his quiet leadership could fill the void left by Revis. As a rookie Coples, led the team with 5.5 sacks and Richardson led the entire SEC in tackles with 75, along with 4.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss.
After the beginning of an unmistakable rebuilding effort by Idzik, the talented defensive trio of Wilkerson, Coples and Richardson represent the future of the Jets organization. It’s common among football talking heads to say that, “you build a football team from the inside out” and that appears to be what Idzik is doing. After drafting cornerback Dee Milliner ninth overall, essentially replacing Revis, Idzik took Richardson and Smith and then loaded up on offensive line depth in rounds three, five and six. This also means, that the Jets will need their defensive line to be that “wrecking ball” which Richardson described.
“One thing Rex made clear was that you don’t work for me you work for each other … I’m with that to the fullest. He’s got a soldier in me,” says Richardson. “I don’t predict the future, man. All I know is we’re working hard. We’re going to work hard in the games on every play.”
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