With his replacements for the first four weeks of the regular season looking on at today's first practice of training camp, Calvin Pace proved how big his shoes will be to fill.
Playing on the first team as expected, Pace came in and made a few big plays on the wet field. Coming off the left side, he read the quarterback's eyes perfectly on one play and sprawled out to tip the pass toward the middle. On a dry day he picks it off and possibly returns it for a touchdown.
On another play, he came across the backside and nearly sacked an unaware Clemens, who got the ball out of his hands quickly for a 10-yard pass to Dustin Keller.
Pace will be practicing with the first team and for the majority of the preseason, and plans on helping along the development of Vernon Gholston and Marques Murrell.
"I'm going to try and push the guys so that they practice and perform like starters," he said Thursday after the Jets arrived. "I think with the new regime and how they preach it — practicing hard and carrying that over to the games — they'll be fine."
Head coach Rex Ryan said Gholston was "in the starting rotation" at outside linebacker when it was announced that Pace would be suspended the first four games of the season for a violation of the NFL Policy on Performance Enhancing Substances. And at today's news conference, Ryan said he's been happy with Gholston.
"I think he looks good," Ryan said, "but I think he needs to step up and be a big player for us. Now with Calvin's suspension, he has to step up. He'd better be ready to roll, and I expect him to be."
Like his coach, Gholston feels he'll be ready to fill that starter's role.
"I was always preparing to be starter," he said after this morning's practice. "As far as my personal pressure, I know that I'm the next guy in and I know I'm going to have to take over for the first four games."
He also knows that with Ryan's system, which involves rotating in players who bring different skills to the field, even those further down the depth chart will need to be ready.
"It goes to the other guys as well that will have to come off the bench and will be playing more situational stuff," Gholston said. "We run a base defense, and it's more about putting the guys where they need to be. Not in terms of this guy is always going to do this, but whatever guy is up next, he should plan to step in."
This is Gholston's second NFL training camp, and he understands that preparation is the key to being successful.
Gholston, back with his college number 50 after wearing 56 as a rookie, spent most of his time this morning with the second team lined up on the outside in the 4-3 defense, and also was a down outside rusher in nickel fronts. He took a number of snaps with his hand "in the dirt," same as his Ohio State days at defensive end.
He's not afraid to get up in the offensive lineman's face and take the punishing block that the Jets' monster offensive line is capable of giving. He plans on putting in the extra work that it will take to fill the role as the starter, even if it's for a limited time.
"It's on us to play more reps," he said. "If you get a little ding, you try and stay in longer because we are a little thin at that position."
"This is a new defense. A lot of guys haven't been in this system," Gholston added. "That's the biggest thing, to get those things squared away in terms of knowing where we need to be. Play comfortable, play fast — I think that's the biggest thing. When we're able to do that, the sky is the limit."