Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich has heard the critiquing about his -- and HC Robert Saleh's -- commitment to keeping defensive linemen fresh during physically demanding NFL games.
And now -- with the return from injury of DE Carl Lawson, the signings in free agency of Jacob Martin and Solomon Thomas, the re-signing of Vinny Curry, the drafting of Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons, and the presence of Quinnen Williams, Sheldon Rankins, John Franklin-Myers and Bryce Huff -- the Jets are ready to use the players' versatility and determination to alter the paradigm on the defensive line.
"We absolutely like it, we are a different defense and it's going to be a different year," Ulbrich told team reporter Eric Allen on the latest edition of "The Official Jets Podcast." "I take the heat because we rotate so much. But I really believe from coaching and playing -- and I played the game for 10 years -- to play the style we want, the strain and toughness and ability, and for 'All Gas, No Break' to come to life in every way, rotation is necessary. At times last season, we didn't have the depth. We have that now. It's going to be really exciting to see that come to life. We want the guys to play with absolutely their hair on fire. They need to know that they can play 4-5 plays, they can come out and there's not a big drop off."
Last season, Franklin-Myers led the defensive line by playing 716 snaps (plus 23 on special teams), a whopping 60.22% of all the snaps on defense. Yeoman's work, to be sure, but not something Ulbrich expects to see this season -- at least that's the plan.
"I think it's human nature that when you know you're in it for 60-70 plays of defense, regardless of your makeup, inevitably you hold back at times," Ulbrich said. "There's that internal conversation where it's third-and-6 and you know you need to go, so maybe at second-and-8 you hold back a bit. When you really study the game, even the best players you see hold back, especially on the D-line. It's so straining, so taxing that when these guys have a full understanding of what we want to do, they can go hard and get subbed and be a better version of themselves. That's when at critical moments, third down or the two-minute drill, they're ready to close the door."
And if there's one player who has set the tone, it was (in training camp last season) and is (as he works his way back from an Achilles tendon injury sustained last August) defensive end Carl Lawson. The veteran's approach on and off the field has had a huge impact on his teammates, but particularly for younger players, like Johnson and Clemons, Ulbrich said.
"Sometimes we have to tell him 'Whoa, take it easy.' He's a guy who will go all out all the time, I'm excited to get him back — not just for his talent," Ulbrich said. "He is a guy we will have to monitor because he's one of these guys who's so obsessed with the game and goes so hard. He only does things one way, and we have to be careful with his reps. We have to help him help himself. He's a guy who will work himself to death, he loves the game, he's a great teammate, and he wants to create this amazing legacy. We have to protect him from himself a little bit. He's so eager to get back out there. He loves to practice and constantly refine his skill, evolve and grow.
"He's why you coach this game."
And he's already -- with training camp to open next week -- setting an example for his young teammates.
"He creates such an amazing environment for younger players," Ulbrich said. "He provides the perfect model, doing things the way they are supposed to look. As a professional, the way he prepares, the way he takes care of his body, the way he eats and studies film. These younger guys didn't know because they don't know any better. So, we're fortunate to have a guy to show them what it takes at this level."
Aaron Whitecotton and His 'Celebrity' Coach
Lou Holtz was nearing the end of his more than 30-year collegiate coaching career when he led his South Carolina Gamecocks against the Tennessee Volunteers, with the current Jets defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton as the team's center for two seasons. Holtz took over in Columbia, S.C., in 1999, when the Gamecocks went 0-8. The next two seasons, South Carolina had identical 5-3 records, but still failed to solve the hoodoo inflicted by Tennessee over a long string of one-sided losses that began in 1993 and lasted nearly a decade.
Holtz, who coached the Jets in 1976, ever the showman was ready to pull something out of his bag of tricks before the game.
"I was a redshirt freshman and Tennessee had all these dudes," Whitecotton told team reporter Eric Allen in a recent edition of "The Official Jets Podcast."
"We hadn't beaten them in years and a lot of those scores were one-sided," he said. "Before the game, we're all sitting in the meeting room and we're all just sitting there and waiting because the coach is the celebrity. He could pretend he knew who I was, but I knew who he was. He's the celebrity. So, we heard the door click, it opens and he comes in and everyone is super silent.
"He walks in in a full Tennessee uniform. I mean he's not that big, but he's fully decked out. We were all shocked. There were some laughs, snickers. I mean he's wearing another team's colors. So, he says, 'It's been five years since we beat these guys. So, what's so scary about this? Can anyone tell me? This isn't scary.' Once he started his thing, everyone was dying laughing. It was a serious icebreaker."
But it didn't break the losing streak, which carried on for a total of 12-straight seasons until South Carolina beat the Vols in 2005.
See the Jets' 90-man roster leading up to training camp.
The Whitehead-Revis Connection
Safety Jason Whitehead and the Jets former cornerback Darrelle Revis (who will be inducted into the Jets' Ring of Honor this coming season) share family ties and a deep connection to western Pennsylvania. They each grew up in the Pittsburgh area and starred for their hometown Panthers.
"When I was young, I went to his high school basketball games and I was at his draft party," Whitehead said of his first cousin. "He would be around and I remember asking for his practice jersey at Pitt. No. 25. I used to wear that everywhere, it was like the greatest jersey ever. Watching him growing up, everyone said basketball was his best sport. Had a couple of offers, and I remember him always dunking and playing great defense.
"Being from western PA, it was tough-nosed football. It was cold out, snowing so you're running the ball and you're tackling — that's my mode today. If it was a run coming my way, it's full speed to the tackle. If I'm a running back, I'm going to try and run you over."
Whitehead said he excelled at football, baseball and soccer before he put those two sports aside and stuck to the gridiron.
"When I was 5 years old, I spent a year playing between soccer and football," he said. "In Week 1 of football, with no padding, I was at corner and I had a big guy come block me. I told my mom on the sideline, in tears, that I'm done. I went to soccer and scored three goals. Went back to football when I was 7 and we won a championship. I said, 'OK, I'm playing football now.' "