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NFL New York Jets

Antwan Barnes Could Be New York Jets’ X-Factor at OLB in 2014

Antwan Barnes

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets’ offense was always going to be the focus this offseason, and the front office has made strides to improve what was an anemic passing attack in 2013. With all the attention the offense has received, however, it’s easy to forget some of the glaring holes on the defensive side of the ball. The front office failed to land a pass rusher in free agency (they should have been all over DeMarcus Ware), and were forced to settle, re-signing the former practice squad man Garret McIntyre this week. The Jets are also looking for a starter at cornerback opposite Dee Milliner and a long-term solution at safety. While the Jets will surely try to address these needs via the draft, it’s possible there is an answer already on the roster.

Antwan Barnes could be an X-Factor this season. Barnes is a talented speed rusher who has shown flashes of potential but has had trouble staying on the field due to injuries. The Jets signed Barnes in 2013 and had hoped he would be able to re-create some of the success he had in the 2011 season in which he posted 11 sacks and played in all 16 games. But he went down early in 2013 with a torn ACL and didn’t have an opportunity to contribute. If he can stay healthy (a big ‘if’), he’ll have his chance next year, as the Jets will absolutely be looking for increased production at OLB to complement an aging Calvin Pace and to take some pressure off a weak secondary.

There’s likely to be some new faces in the defensive secondary following the draft, and they’re going to need support. Consistent pressure from an outside rush is precisely what a young secondary needs and would be enormously beneficial to a unit that is going to struggle as it moves on from the Cromartie/Revis era.

You don’t know what you got, til it’s gone. Cromartie and Revis will be missed.

Steady production from a healthy Barnes could make all the difference in the world and help mask some of New York’s deficiencies in the secondary.

Also, perhaps no one would benefit more from a resurgent Barnes than Quinton Coples. If Barnes can prove he can be relied upon as an effective edge-rusher, it would allow the athletic 290-pound Coples to move back to his more natural role, rushing the passer from the interior defensive line after having been moved to the outside in 2013 to accommodate team need. With Rex Ryan‘s creative, hybrid defensive fronts and with all the attention Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson will be receiving from opposing pass-blocking schemes on the inside, Coples could be devastating. If I’m an opposing QB, this is not a defensive front I want to see on passing downs.

You can practically hear Tom Brady shaking in his Ugg boots.

Follow Luke Ewing on Twitter.