Jets DL Nathan Shepherd is ready to go for his fifth season in the NFL after re-signing with the Jets last month.
"I am extremely excited," Shepherd said of his return to the Green and White. "I don't want to be anywhere else."
Shepherd, a 2018 third-round pick out of Fort Hays State, had a career year last season when he played in all 17 games. He had 28 tackles and 8 QB hits in his 477 defensive snaps, as well as playing in 138 special-teams snaps. He credits his most productive campaign to the coaching staff assembled under HC Robert Saleh.
"First and foremost, I think we go a lot of great coaches here, a lot of great players. Really, we just all work together," Shepherd said. "One thing I appreciate is how well Coach [Aaron] Whitecotton and Coach [Jeff] Ulbrich work together. How they work together and how that brings the team together is great, but ultimately, it's them being professionals. They're able to be there for all the athletes, everyone there, and help us get everything done."
The Jets defensive line group will return DTs Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins as well as DE John Franklin-Myers plus veterans DT Solomon Thomas and DE Jacob Martin were added in free agency and edge rusher Carl Lawson is expected back for training camp. Folorunso Fatukasi, a long-time plugger in the middle, departed in free agency for Jacksonville.
"I always talk about Nate Shepherd being the king of strain in terms of the effort and the violence in which you play," head coach Robert Saleh said recently on The Official Jets Podcast. "And because of it, I love Nate Shepherd, I love him to death."
Saleh favors a rotational system up front and the Jets have addressed DL depth early in the offseason. In a career-high 14 starts with the Texans last season, Martin registered 23 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 3 pass defenses and 2 forced fumbles. Thomas, a former first-round pick of the 49ers, played in all 17 games for the Raiders last year while totaling 34 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 12 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles and a career-high 3.5 sacks. Shepherd was enthusiastic to hear of the pieces added to a talented group.
"We don't have a lot of egos in that group at all. We definitely understand we have great talent but everyone's ability to say look we're going to put whatever we have to do on the D-line's back to be the strongest unit for this team," Shepherd said. "Night and day, whatever you need, we're going to have that here for us to go ahead and dominate the scheme."
Despite the loss of Lawson due to a ruptured Achilles in August and Williams' battle with a shoulder injury late, the Jets were one of nine teams to have seven different linemen register 15-plus pressures. Williams and Rankins finished in the top 10 in league-wide stuff percentage (tackles made on run plays resulting in no gain or loss)
"There were times where we would bend, but we would not break," Shepherd said of the defense. "We did a great job of shutting out the outside noise, but a big focus for this year is whatever the outside noise is, I want us to be able to come in here and make our own noise."
With the acquisitions through free agency and four picks in the top 38 of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Jets are in a good position to continue their build. All the pieces are falling into place, and according to Shepherd, all that's left to do now is go.
"I definitely believe in everyone we have here, and I want them to believe it too, because the time is now."