For over an hour Tuesday morning, Todd Bowles met with the media at the NFL Owners Meetings in Boca Raton, FL. While he was asked plenty about free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bowles also addressed the club's new acquisitions, his lessons from Year 1 on the job and a young outside linebacker in Lorenzo Mauldin who he believes is ready to take the next step.
"He got better as the year went on. As he got comfortable, he started to show his personality and (was) letting his game speak a little bit more," Bowles said. "In Year 2, we expect him to make a big jump as far as being a full-time player at outside 'backer. If he comes in shape that way, we'll sit down and have that talk. But I expect Mauldin to be a major player this year."
Primarily used in sub packages as a rookie, Mauldin saw his playing time increase down the stretch and the Louisville product totaled four sacks.
"Well he's got to make a jump from a pass rusher too," Bowles said. "He has certain moves, but he has to develop some more and he has to develop the all-around game. But I think he can do that."
In his rookie season as head coach, Bowles guided the Green & White to 10 victories.
"In your first year as a head coach, I don't think you start head coaching until about the fifth week. The spring and the summer and everything is fine, even the first couple of games, but you kind of have to adjust on the fly and make adjustments on the run and I think that's everybody who becomes a head a coach for the first time," Bowles said. "And you settle down as it goes and you kind of get a feel for your team going forward and you make the necessary adjustments. But Year 2, I think we've learned a lot from Year 1 as to what to and what not to do in certain situations, so I thought we came a long way from that standpoint."
A successful assistant for 15 years, Bowles started his NFL coaching career as the Jets DB coach in 2000. After stops with the Browns (2001-04), the Cowboys (2005-07), the Dolphins (2008-11), the Eagles (2012) and finally the Cardinals (2013-14), Bowles elaborated on his new roles and responsibilities.
"Really it was just thinking on the run most games and starting out certain games," he said. "Sometimes you want to start out a little bit differently defensively, maybe more blitz than not blitz or offensively maybe more run than pass or vice versa. Whether it's starting out with a different front or different coverage or just certain things like that, you kind of get a feel for how people are trying to play you as you go along. And you kind of file that away as a head coach and you remember things especially the second time around or you're playing teams with similar situations. Things come a little quicker than they would if you normally hadn't done it."
During the season, Bowles expressed the need to get some speed off the edge. The Jets, a club who finished T12 in sacks with 39, have annually been one of the NFL's stingiest teams against the run. Long before Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware were wreaking havoc in the Super Bowl, Bowles had talked about adding more explosion on the outside.
"The edge rushers showed out this year. You want to find those guys, but you have to be patient in trying to find them," he cautioned today. "You don't want to reach to the point that you are foregoing everything else on the team to find an edge rusher."
Damon "Snacks" Harrison departed across town in free agency, but the Jets brought in another run stuffer who has excelled in the middle in former Steeler Steve McLendon.
"Ultimate nose tackle, but he has some position flex. He can play defensive end as well and I think you're going to be pleased with him because he's a good all-around player," Bowles said. "We lost a good one, but I think we got a good one too."
And after designating Muhammad Wilkerson as the team's franchise player, the Jets added depth to the line with the signing of Jarvis Jenkins.
"Jarvis is a three-down player," Bowles said. "He can move across the line of scrimmage, good interior pass rusher, has power, has some speed and we thought we upgraded there a little bit from a backup standpoint that can come in and play."
Buster Skrine, one of the Jets' most significant additions in last year's free agency class, could be in the running to take over the starting cornerback role across Darrelle Revis. Skrine, who also excels in the slot, is expected to compete for the vacancy created by the release of Antonio Cromartie.
"All of them will be competing for it. Obviously Buster played the most, so he'll probably start out there," Bowles said. "But we'll see as training camp comes what the competition brings and who wins it."
Working with less financial flexibility than last spring, the Jets reshuffled their offensive backfield. While the Jets liked Chris Ivory, they were delighted to add the pair of Khiry Robinson, who Bowles described as "tough" and added that he could "surprise" some folks, and Matt Forte.
"I don't think 30 years old when I see running back. I still think running back that can play," Bowles said of Forté. "We have this mythical number in our head that 30 is over the hill as a football player and that's not necessarily true. It all depends on how you carry yourself and keep yourself in shape. And there are a lot of guys who can do that and play well beyond the so-called age of 30, and it's up to us as coaches to distinguish that and he's one of those guys."
A high character player, Forté could become a huge force in the Jets passing game as well as its ground attack.
"Outstanding hands, great route runner. He's had a bunch of catches, he catches a bunch of balls every year," Bowles said. "He's a three-down back and he's an all-around back and he can do it all, but he has great hands."
Up front, all of the Jets linemen who started in Week 17 against the Bills are under contract. Bowles today was asked about three-time Pro Bowler D'Brickashaw Ferguson. A Long Island native, Ferguson was selected No. 4 overall by the Jets in the 2006 NFL Draft and has only missed a couple of plays while starting all 160 regular-season career games.
"He had some good games. Like everybody else, he had some games that weren't that good," Bowles said. "But overall we ran the ball pretty effectively. We want to run it better. His pass blocking was there. He did some good things and some not so good things."