By Jeff Moeller, The New York Extra/TheNewYorkExtra.com
If the Mayan calendar is correct and the end of the world occurs within the next two weeks, it will be ashamed for Jets’ fans who didn’t see a second season of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
For the, the best is yet to come. Forget the Mayans. Are you ready for some more Williams-defensive football?
Williams took over the reign last season and tuned up a relatively solid unit from former head coach and fellow defensive guru Todd Bowles. The 61-year-old’s hire raised some eyebrows, but the longtime controversial, colorful and animated coordinator and former head coach easily could be considered the team’s MVP last season, waving his magic wand through an injury—riddled season on his side of the ball.
The Jets played with a non-descript contingent that featured just lone and deserving Pro-Bowler Jamal Adams and transformed them into the leagues’ seventh overall defensive battalion. More important, they allowed just over 86 yards rushing per game that placed them first in the AFC and second overall—yes, first and second – and 17th against the pass.
The defense’s performance and his rise back into the spotlight diffused took away some of the glare from first-year head coach Adam Gase’s critics.
Remember, this was defensive secondary that saw their cornerback situation have as much traffic as a typical five o’clock on any major thoroughfare in the tri-state. Starter Trumaine Johnson was a bust, injured and benched, and fellow starter Darryl Roberts was inconsistent and hobbled all season. Rookie Bless Austin and former Saint Arthur Maulet eventually panned out as the most productive pair. Williams infused the likes of unknowns Kyron Brown and Maurice Canady along with veteran Nate Hariston to add to the effect. Brian Poole became a stellar nickel back.
Adams and Marcus Maye stayed the course at safety, and free-agent Matthias Farley made the most of this short time.
Up front, Williams elevated the stats of once-project Nathan Shepherd into a weekly, solid run-stopper. Underrated Steve McLendon and Henry Anderson played through injuries and developed the rotation. Top pick Quinnen Williams showed some flash, but depth reduced the pressures around him.
In Williams’ 3-4 alignment, the linebacking core was his strength. However, it will be his biggest puzzle to piece together in 2020.
James Burgess, Neville Hewitt, B. J. Bello and Blake Cashman all excelled. Burgess had 80 tackles and Hewitt had 75 stops with three sacks, while Bello and Cashman were both productive in their shorter stints.
Consensus stud C.J. Mosley was gone in the first game against Buffalo last year and fellow starter Avery Williamson was lost in the preseason. Sack leader Jordan Jenkins – eight of the team’s 35 – was brought back from free agency. In addition, the Jet added former Raven Patrick Onwuasor, who had 8.5 sacks over the last two years.
Williams also has third-round pick and highly touted safety Ashtyn Davis to roll the dice with in situations.
While he and Gase will need a sharp eye for roster spots, Williams surely still will have the luxury of some intricate scheming. When the focus is narrowed in early September, it will be interesting.
The key, once again, will be keeping his platoon healthy. If so, it likely won’t be “The Sack Exchange” of years past, but it will be an all-out front led by one of the game’s finest defensive minds who will have Jets’ fans checking the late-season calendars.