The 2013 NFL season will be one of new beginnings for the New York Jets. They’ve got a rookie GM in John Idzik, and he’s already begun overhauling a veteran defense that will be as young as ever under Rex Ryan.
Gone are last year’s veteran starters Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell, Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha. Cornerback Darrelle Revis may or may not return to the Jets in 2013, either.
That could potentially leave just three returning starters on Ryan’s defense: Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie, inside linebacker David Harris and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, their top pick in 2011.
Muhammad Wilkerson (#96, sacking the quarterback, above) has quietly emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber player, and as he enters his third NFL season, he’s ready to take on more of a leadership role here in 2013.
“A lot of veterans are gone,” Wilkerson told NewYorkJets.com recently. “But I am looking forward to the challenge of stepping up and being a leader on the defense. Not just the D-line but helping out the defense in general.”
Wilkerson has done an excellent job stepping into the role once held by longtime Jet Shaun Ellis. Now, the big defensive lineman is eager to take his game to new heights, and lead by example on Ryan’s revamped defense.
“I am definitely looking forward to stepping up to the challenge and becoming a leader of this defense,” he said.
The defensive line is set to be the youngest unit of the Jets defense in 2013, and the 23-year-old Wilkerson may not even be the youngest starter on that line. The Jets in total have four defensive linemen 25 or younger.
That includes 22-year-old Quinton Coples, the Jets’ top pick in 2012, who is a favorite to win a starting job alongside Wilkerson. The only veteran D-lineman on the team is offseason addition Antonio Garay, who is 33.
For all its weaknesses, the 2012 Jets defense was still ranked 8th out of 32, a testament to Ryan and his coaches doing more with less. Now, Ryan will be asked to form a top defense with less experienced players.
However, less experienced doesn’t necessarily mean less effective. With rising stars like Muhammad Wilkerson leading the way, a youth movement on defense could be key for the Jets to get back to their winning ways.