These days the Big Katt is, at times, a pussycat.
"I grew up. I grew up a lot," Shaun Ellis confided to newyorkjets.com about what's changed for him from the day a decade ago when he first arrived as a Jet to today, when he'll set a franchise longevity record against an appropriate opponent, the Jaguars. "When I first came in, it was football but it was also the off-the-field life. I lived that life.
"Then as I got older, I started realizing what was more important for me. I ended up getting married and I had to grow up a lot more. Now I have three kids. That really changed me for the better. I'm a family man."
But none of this should imply that Ellis has lost his claws or the skills that made him the 12th overall pick in the 2000 draft out of Tennessee. Sentimentality alone hasn't gotten him to his 148th NFL game today, which will break the record for Jets defensive linemen that he and Jets radio analyst Marty Lyons shared for the past two weeks.
Just ask Rex Ryan, the Jets head coach now and 10 years ago the Ravens defensive line coach.
"I was wanting to draft Shaun when I was in Baltimore," Ryan remembered Friday. "He might be more athletic than I thought he was. That nickname, 'The Big Katt,' really applies to him. Very rarely do you get a guy with that size and the kind of athleticism he has. He's really just one of our best players and one of the best linemen in this league."
Fellow D-lineman Mike DeVito concurs. "Shaun is a true professional," DeVito said. "As a young guy, you expect to be getting hazed for a while but he's helped me right from the beginning. I'm glad for him."
And Lyons likes another aspect of Ellis' game embodied in this record.
"It shows he's been able to be durable out there on the field," Marty said. "I'm happy to give up the record to him. I think it's a well-deserved honor. All I can say is congratulations."
Ellis accepts the accolades like the gentle man he is off the field. But he's still bringing it on the turf. He showed that on several pass rushes in his last game out against the Dolphins, ripping past second-year guard Donald Thomas for a pair of second-half sacks of quarterback Chad Henne, one by himself and one split with Howard Green.
That's another measure of the man. Ellis' 1.5 sacks vs. Miami give him 64.0 for his Jets career, and so he's poised to move up another ladder today — a half-sack of the Jaguars' David Garrard will tie him for third place on the franchise's all-time sack list with Super Bowl DE Gerry Philbin, a full sack will lift him past Philbin.
Ellis notes the "plight" of his existence, which is that the sack numbers haven't piled up quite as high as some would like to see from a first-round "pass rusher."
"I'm labeled a defensive end, but if you look at it, I haven't truly played defensive end since my Pro Bowl season ," he said. "People look at my stats and it's like 'Well, he's a defensive end,' so I'm competing against Mario Williams, Dwight Freeney, John Abraham and Jared Allen. But no, I play a defensive tackle position. I guess I kind of get overshadowed a little bit because I do move around so much, but I just try to insert my game wherever I can. I feel I'm a complete player so I can play any spot on the field."
Here are the Jets' top five sackers, including sacks not recognized as official by the NFL before 1982:
|1. Mark Gastineau||1979-88||107.5|
|2. Joe Klecko||1977-87||77.5|
|3. Gerry Philbin||1964-72||64.5|
|**4. Shaun Ellis**||**2000-09**||**64.0**|
|5. John Abraham||2000-05||53.5|
One game after allowing the Dolphins 104 yards — the fourth-lowest yardage total by an opponent in Jets history — Ellis and his defensive mates will be needed for another strong game to give the Green & White their best shot against the Jags. Job One is to stop RB Maurice Jones-Drew.
"It all starts with him. He's the key to the car," Ellis said on the "Jets Two Minute Drive" radio show this week. "He does a great job of seeing what hole to hit based on coverage — I haven't seen a running back do that. That's just unreal when you watch him on tape. He runs with a low center of gravity, he's got powerful legs, he spins off tackles. We have to be gap-disciplined, get off blocks and just push the offensive line back and make it a real physical 9-on-7 game when they run the ball."
Then run or pass, Ryan and coordinator Mike Pettine have been stressing another important element that has been missing from the Jets' defensive attack so far this season.
"When we get the opportunity, scoop and score," Ryan said of taking takeaways to the house. "We need to be aggressive with our mentality. We have to score when we get them. For years, we've done a good job of that. I think we've let it go a little bit. We have to understand that statistically I think we're doing OK on defense, but we can do better if we'll start getting those turnovers and scoring with them."
Do you think Rex and Mike showed video of the one defensive-return TD the Jets have had in their last 14 games? That would be Ellis motoring 11 yards with a strip-sack for the game-winning score against the Bills at the Meadowlands 11 months ago.
A lot more will have to go into this game than just another dominating defensive effort, of course. But Ellis maintains the confidence of a cool cat that a complete game is just around the corner for the Jets and their followers.
"It's time for us to put it together," he said. "The first eight games we were kind of a two-part team, with the third part kind of off, each game. We never really just put it together in all three phases. If that happens, watch out. It's going to be an exciting game.
"Our fans deserve a win and we've got to be able to give it to them."
And if that happens, the fans will also remember No. 92, who surely will have a large Katt's paw or two in making it happen.