As the Jets left the field this morning after a routine walkthrough, third-round draft pick Kenrick Ellis discussed how his first NFL training camp has been progressing. The 6' 4", 346-pound defensive tackle has handled the transition from Hampton University to the NFL quite well, but is striving to get better each day.
"It's a learning experience," said Ellis. "I'm just out here trying to make the club, learning from the vets, and just trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can right now."
The intricacies of the defensive playbook sometimes confuse Ellis, causing him to occasionally miss an assignment. He credits defensive tackle Mike DeVito with keeping him focused on the next play, forcing him to have a short memory and not dwell on mistakes already made. But DeVito isn't the only voice on the defensive line offering the young Ellis advice.
"Sione Pouha has been my best influence here," said Ellis. "He kind of took me under his wing. If I have any questions, I can always ask him. He says no question is a dumb question, and he's been helping me out getting lined up and how to play different techniques."
The strides that Ellis has made already in training camp have caught Rex Ryan's eye. The Jets head coach noticed an alignment error Ellis had been making during practice but was pleased to see the lineman wearing a wristband adorned with defensive information today.
"He's a big guy that moves well, and he practices hard," said Ryan. "I've been impressed with him. I like the way he's approached his job, and I think he's going to have a big presence in there."
The feelings are mutual between Ryan and his new DT. After being selected in the third round, Ellis knew he would enter a new dimension when he joined the Jets and began to learn Ryan's system.
"He's the best coach I've ever played for," said Ellis. "His defense is different, it's real different. He always says, 'Play like a Jet.' I just want to play like a Jet and make the club."
When drafted, Ellis was reunited with former Hampton teammate and DT Marcus Dixon. Ellis said having Dixon around has made him more comfortable and calls him "my biggest ally." Dixon can help ease the transition Ellis is making from Division I FMCS to the NFL, having made the same jump last season.
"The basic difference is just the speed of the game," said Ellis. "It's a lot faster, and a little bit more physical. It's kind of difficult, but at the end of the day it's still football."
The Jets had a clear motive at the top of the draft, targeting lineman suitable for their 3-4 defense, adept at stuffing the run and capable of applying pressure on passing downs. The 2010 Jets recorded 40 sacks, but only 13.5 came from the line. The linemen currently under contract with the Jets bring with them a total of three sacks from last season.
Strength on the line was a glaring need, and after selecting Muhammad Wilkerson out of Temple in the first round and Ellis two rounds later, Ryan feels more comfortable.
"This guy can add to what we already have," said Ryan of Ellis. "He won't be rushed in there, but don't be surprised if he's playing early for us in a big role."