You can forgive Jets DL Steve McLendon for thinking of the Arizona desert as an oasis. An undrafted free agent out of Troy in 2009, McLendon was cut five times by the Steelers as he bounced on and off the team's active roster and practice squad. Then on Oct. 23, 2011, he made his first NFL start in Arizona against the Cardinals, totaling five tackles in a 32-20 Steelers' win.
"I remember it just like it was yesterday. I remember when I walked onto the field with the defense and they showed my face on the JumboTron because I flew my family out to the game," he said this week on Inside the Jets. "When I saw that, my left leg went numb and I could not feel my left leg for the first half because I was so excited. I was so nervous because that really showed me how hard I had worked to get to the place where I wanted to be."
The Jets signed McLendon in March following six years with the Steelers. After appearing in 76 games with the Black & Gold and making 34 starts between 2011-15, McLendon went to the visiting locker room at Heinz Field for the first time last Sunday and tussled with the Steelers' O-line in game action. McLendon finished with three tackles as the Jets held the Steelers to just 2.5 yards per carry, but QB Ben Roethlisberger passed for 380 yards and 4 TDs as New York's AFC representative tasted defeat a for third consecutive week.
"I tip my hat to those guys, they were real prepared. They took what we gave them — five yards here, three yards there. They wouldn't try to hit the home run every time," McLendon said. "But if they see a one-on-one or anything with the receivers and DBs, even with the offensive line, they just try to take advantage of it. What we have to do is the same thing. When we have our one-on-ones, we have to take advantage of them."
During a 1-4 start, it's been a mixed bag for the Jets defensively. They are an elite unit against the run who has had success getting off the field on third down, but their struggles against the pass have been well-documented. After racking up seven sacks of Bengals QB Andy Dalton in Week 1, the Green & White have been limited to five sacks over the past four games.
"My thing is you have to continue to do the little things," McLendon said. "Coach Bowles said it best. When you step on the field, you need to be singularly focused and locked in. Once you start doing those things, you start communicating with each other, you start playing faster and encouraging one another. You do a little extra in the morning (and) the afternoon."
"Those things will help you prepare and do better for not only your team, but for yourself," he continued. "But you have to put your pride aside, you have to put selfishness aside. You have to do whatever it takes to help the team succeed. It's not about you — it's not about one person. It's about all of us."
In his first five games with the Jets, McLendon has totaled 15 tackles, 5 TFL and 2 sacks. He is the unheralded 30-year-old on a defensive front that features a trio of former first round selections in Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams. Head coach Todd Bowles said he is very happy with the play of his D-line, a group who will continue to face max protection at times and quarterbacks eager to get the ball out quickly.