On the Roster in 2019
Injured Reserve: Avery Williamson, Cashman, McClellan, Mosley
Practice Squad: Wyatt Ray
Reserve/Future Signing: Ahmad Gooden, Ray
Potential Free Agents in 2020
Unrestricted: Copeland, Hewitt, Jenkins, McClellan, Worrilow
Exclusive Rights: Luvu, Bello
The injury bug struck the middle linebackers as hard as they hit ballcarriers. Four ILBs on the Jets had their season cut short because of injury including C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson, their projected opening-day starters. Williamson hurt his knee in the second week of the preseason against Atlanta and Mosley played in two games (Weeks 1 and 7) before shutting it down with a groin injury. Rookie Blake Cashman started five games for the Jets before he was placed on injured reserve and finished with 40 tackles, which ranked fourth on the team at the time. Albert McClellan suffered a concussion in Week 6 and also went on IR.
Neville Hewitt and James Burgess, the two ILBs who finished the season for the Jets, were bright spots in 2019. Hewitt started 12 games for the Jets. He started training camp as the team's backup Will LB and shifted to starting at the Mike by Week 2. He finished the season third on the team with 78 tackles in addition to 3 sacks, 7 QB hits, 6 PDs and led the team with 2 INT. Burgess, who began the year on the practice squad, started 10 games and finished second on the club with 90 tackles, 1 behind Pro Bowl S Jamal Adams. Burgess also had 10 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 6 PDs and 1 INT.
"A long time ago I wanted to have a chance to coach [Hewitt] when he went undrafted," defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said. "We love coaching guys that you have to pull back, not push forward. If Nev makes a mistake, it's full speed, full contact. That's what you want. At this level you can't pace yourself, you can't go seven-eighths speed. You have to be full-go all the time. He has done a very good job in the versatility of playing three different positions. The middle linebacker stuff is not easy, just from verbiage and checks and stuff. He and Burge have done very well, I've been pleased with them."
The outside linebackers remained relatively healthy compared to the inside guys. Jordan Jenkins led the team with a career-high 8 sacks. Tarell Basham recorded the first two sacks in his career and registered his first career INT against the Steelers in Week 16.
"This year was a stress-free mindset for me," Jenkins said. "I really changed the way I went about approaching this season and playing this season. I really kept a level head and controlled what I could control. I didn't get on Twitter or anything like that. I really focused on football and being with the guys."
A handful of the Jets' LBs were also core special teamers, as five of the team's top-seven tacklers were linebackers — Frankie Luvu (14), Harvey Langi (12), B.J. Bello (9), Brandon Copeland (8) and Basham (7).
See the Best Photos of the Linebacker Unite During the 2019 Season
The Jets projected 2019 starting linebackers — Mosley and Williamson — are both under contract for 2020 along with Cashman. Hewitt and Burgess, who started the last 10 games together this season, have expiring contracts. Hewitt can become an unrestricted free agent and Burgess a restricted free agent.
"My goal was just to show that I belong," Burgess said. "I've been cut so many times and that's basically saying I don't belong in this league. I just want to prove everybody wrong. It's about respect and I believe I belong in this league for a long time.
"Hopefully I get signed back and get this thing rolling. We finished the season 6-2. That's a great way to end the season."
On the outside, Jenkins and Copeland can become UFAs and Luvu is an ERFA. Ahmad Gooden is the only LB to sign a reserve/future deal.
"The goals for myself are to be as zoned in as I can be and finally score," Jenkins said. "In about 10 years of playing football, I've never scored at any level, so score for once and really be more impactful, more disastrous in the pass game and the run game. Just be a complete 'backer or a complete defensive end."