NFL New York Jets

Re-Setting the New York Jets’ Depth Chart: Defense and Special Teams

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Re-Setting the New York Jets' Depth Chart: Defense and Special Teams

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The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets head into the 2013 season with at least five new starters on defense (injuries could increase that number). For most teams, that kind of turnover would be the biggest storyline of the offseason. In New York, however, the defense is considered the stable part of the team.

As many as five new starters seems like a big number, but two of those players are young talents who have been groomed to take over a starting role and two are this year’s 1st round draft picks (the last is veteran safety Dawan Landry).

The Jets are counting on quick development from their young players, and they believe that this unit has the potential to be a top 5 defense. While many laugh at such high confidence from the Jets, in this case they are 100 percent correct.

Led by David Harris, Antonio Cromartie and Muhammad Wilkerson, this defense has an elite player in each of the three position groups. The stars are surrounded by a nice mix of solid veterans and exciting prospects, and despite all the criticism he takes, Rex Ryan is an excellent defensive coach.

On special teams, the Jets return almost the exact same returners and specialists as a year ago, the only difference being the release of kick returner Joe McKnight. Special teams was an issue at times for the Jets in 2012, and they will have to improve this year.

Everyone knows the issues surrounding the Jets’ offense, so it is imperative that the defense and special teams play up to their ability. The defense in particular is going to have to carry this team, but they certainly have enough talent to rise to that challenge.

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Defensive Line

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The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Starters: DE Muhammad Wilkerson, NT Kenrick Ellis, DE Sheldon Richardson

Reserves: DE Leger Douzable, NT Damon Harrison

Wilkerson has rapidly developed into one of the best 3-4 ends in the NFL, and the team expects him to play a Pro Bowl level this season. He will be flanked by the No. 14 pick in this year’s draft, Richardson, and the enormous Ellis. Both players have a ton of potential but not much experience, and their development will be a story throughout the season.

The Jets are only keeping two reserve defensive linemen, which could lead to some depth issues. However, linebacker Quinton Coples will spend a fair amount of time with his hand in the ground, which is why the Jets are comfortable with only five full-time linemen.

However, both Coples and Ellis are hurt at the moment, and Coples will almost certainly miss at least the first two games. The Jets have to be concerned about this, and they could make a move for more depth. That being said, they are counting on their young line to anchor the defense, and if they all continue to develop this could become an elite unit.

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Linebackers

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The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Starters: ILB David Harris, ILB Demario Davis, OLB Quinton Coples (injured), OLB Calvin Pace

Reserves: ILB Nick Bellore, OLB Antwan Barnes, OLB Garrett McIntyre, OLB Ricky Sapp, OLB Scott Solomon

The big storyline here is Coples’ switch from defensive end to outside linebacker. He will be expected to be the team’s leading pass rusher upon his return from injury, but he has very few reps at the position. Pace and Barnes will split the majority of the work on the other side, and the Jets hope Barnes can be a third down pass rush specialist.

Inside, a bounce back year from Harris is essential to the Jets’ success. Last year marked a major slip from his normally near-flawless play, and he has to return to his previous level for the Jets to be successful. Next to him, Davis brings game changing speed and athleticism, and he could be a huge upgrade from last year’s veteran group.

The Jets have only Bellore backing up inside, which obviously places a premium on Harris and Davis’ health. Outside, Sapp is a player to watch, and he could emerge as a pass rushing threat for the Jets. Getting a better pass rush is a huge priority for this unit, but they believe they have the pieces in place to accomplish that.

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Secondary

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Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Starters: CB Antonio Cromartie, CB Dee Milliner, FS Antonio Allen, SS Dawan Landry

Reserves: CB Kyle Wilson, CB Darrin Walls, CB Ellis Lankster, CB Isaiah Trufant, FS Josh Bush, SS Jaiquawn Jarrett

Look at the group and there is no escaping the obvious fact: Darrelle Revis is gone. However, the secondary fared just fine without him last season, and Cromartie developed into one of the elite corners in football. 1st round pick Milliner won’t be expected to replace Revis’ production, but he does need to become a legitimate shutdown corner quickly.

At safety, Landry replaces his brother, LaRon Landry, and becomes the only safety with any significant experience. Allen and Jarrett were in a tight battle for the other spot all preseason, and that will continue throughout the early part of the season.

Wilson is the key reserve here, as he will see a huge amount of snaps as the nickel corner, as well as getting some time at free safety. The former 1st round pick may not start, but he is probably the single most important reserve on the team.

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Specialists

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Starters: K Nick Folk, P Robert Malone, LS Tanner Purdum

This is the exact same unit as last season, and obviously the Jets do not carry reserves at these positions. Purdum was the only one of the three who did not face a challenge in camp, as he has been a very reliable long snapper for the last three years.

Malone faced a strong challenge from Ryan Quigley, but he was able to retain his roster spot. Malone was essentially the league average punter last season, but the Jets could do a lot worse. They figure to punt a lot this year, so Malone will be important.

Folk’s presence on the team is somewhat surprising. Based on track record, the Jets would have been much better off taking Dan Carpenter. However, the coaches know and trust Folk, and they are willing to roll with him. However, he is going to be on a short leash, and don’t be surprised to see a mid-season kicking change.

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Returners

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The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Starters: KR Clyde Gates, PR Jeremy Kerley

Reserves: KR Antonio Cromartie, PR Kyle Wilson, KR/PR Mike Goodson (suspended)

The big story here is the release of McKnight, who was one of the top return men in the NFL last season. However, the Jets decided he was not worth the trouble, and they will turn the job over to Gates, who can absolutely fly.

Kerley is a very good punt returner, but the Jets may stop risking their best receiver in the return game upon Goodson’s return from suspension. This is same reason why Cromartie doesn’t return many kicks, despite the fact he one of the best return men in the NFL.

The return game will be huge this season, as the offense needs all the help it can get. Goodson could eventually take over one or both roles, but all of five of the above players are good returners and should be very effective whenever they are used.

Greg Sulik is a New York Jets writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GregSulik or add him to your network on Google