While the rookie combination of Zach Wilson and Elijah Moore are turning heads, the most impressive aspect of the Jets’s training camp so far may be the team’s defensive front. Despite the talent of an offensive line with Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Morgan Moses, the defense has still been able to apply pressure and stop plays in their tracks.
Edge Rusher Carl Lawson has been the most dominant force on the defensive line, consistently beating Becton for pressures and sacks throughout camp. “He ain’t been seen stopped yet,” said fellow defensive lineman, Sheldon Rankins. Rankins has known Lawson since their high school playing days and has come to expect this type of dominance from him.
Outside of Lawson and Rankins, the Jets have potential contributors in Folorunso Fatukasi, Nathan Shepard, Bryce Huff, and John Franklin-Myers. Vinny Curry and Quinnen Williams are also poised to return off the PUP list in a few weeks, adding to an already impressive unit.
With all the talent together on this unit, the potential for a dominant force exists. Knowing the capabilities of the unit, Franklin-Myers said, “We go as the D-Line goes… We know that in practice, we set the tempo. In games, we set the tempo and that’s how it’s gonna be.” Franklin-Myers also said the veterans like Rankins and Lawson have a work ethic that gives the younger players no other choice but to go their hardest and improve as players.
Rankins shared Franklin-Myers’s optimism on the potential of the defensive front, saying, “I expect it to be damn good.” While his previous defensive line in New Orleans had an All-Pro in Cam Jordan and talented players like Marcus Davenport, Rankins said, “The dudes I’m playing with now and in this scheme, I feel like the sky is the limit.” He expects the defensive line to dominate games regardless of the combination of players that are on the field.
In conjunction with the talent on the defensive front, the scheme instituted by Head Coach Robert Saleh has the players excited about its attacking nature. Franklin-Myers, who enjoyed the best season of his career in 2020, said the attack front is allowing him and the other defensive lineman to continue to flash during practices. “This is way more simple. I know that I can line up and just go play football. I can line up and go straight, I attack somebody, I get to go hit somebody every play,” said Franklin-Myers. Rankins shared his own enjoyment of the defensive scheme, saying it demands him to “cut it loose and be explosive.” Rankins also said its an adjustment period after coming from a gap-conscious scheme in New Orleans, but he finds himself improving in the scheme every day.
Excitement abounds from the players about the unit’s talent and this scheme. It’s fair to wonder if the 2021-2022 Jets defensive front has the potential to be the franchise’s best in years. While the group still has a long way to reach the heights of the Sack Exchange, Jets fans must hope that this is its successor.