Opportunity on the Line
The remodeled Jets defensive line may be overshadowed by other roster alterations at the moment, but this new-look unit will be no less significant. Two players who figure to play prominent roles for the restructured line are defensive tackle Sione Pouha and defensive end Bryan Thomas.
Pouha, a third round selection by the Jets in '05, totaled only 10 tackles last season while playing in 14 games. The Utah product played at 330 pounds his rookie campaign and was admittedly "sluggish" at times. When Coach Mangini introduced himself to the team in the spring, Pouha took his words to heart.
"He made it clear where he wanted us to be at and I got the message, so I went back to the weight room and I went back to my locker," said Pouha. "I just wrote a few things done and said, 'This is where I have to be at to be on the team and to help the team and this is where I have to go.' I have always kept that in mind during the off-season. When I went home, I didn't relax. I kind of kept an open mind and went at it."
Instead of relaxing, Pouha changed his ways. He was determined to lose weight, so he changed his diet and improved his workout regimen. The result is Sione Pouha now weighs 300 pounds after dropping 30 pounds of excess baggage.
"I had to eat better - stop the McDonalds and stop the Wendy's," said Pouha. "I pretty much put myself on a strict diet and began eating healthier, eating smarter, and I got my body able to play."
But Pouha's new routine didn't end with his diet. The Salt Lake, Utah native went back home and trained diligently in higher altitudes where oxygen is at a premium.
"Utah is a higher elevation," Pouha said. "Your body is kind of more under stress when you are running and things like that. I just kept my regimen – nothing really special. I paid more attention to my body."
Pouha's body transformation was noted by Mangini this weekend.
"Sione came back in outstanding shape. He has really worked hard to reshape his body," said the first-year head coach. "He spent a lot of time with guys like Kimo and he is working at his craft, and I have been pleased with his progress."
The off-season free agent addition of Kimo von Oelhoffen was welcomed by Pouha. Von Oelhoffen, entering his 13th professional season, is coming off a Super Bowl victory with the Steelers last February.
"Kimo has had the chance to work with me a lot. I have been following him and he's emphasized technique," said Pouha. "We have done a lot of work with the hands. Anything like that to help the team out is what it's all about."
For years, the Jets were aided along the line by pass rushing defensive end John Abraham. But Abraham was dealt in the off-season to Atlanta after producing 53.5 sacks in six seasons. Thomas, a first round pick of the Jets in 2002, sees it as a chance to step up and play a larger role.
"It is an opportunity for me," Thomas said. "I just have to go out there and continue to work hard, improve everyday and everything will fall into place."
In four seasons with the Jets, BT has registered 150 tackles and 6.5 sacks. He has started 19 career games, but he played mostly a reserve role in the past and received the majority of his starts when Abraham was not in the lineup. Thomas says his attitude remains the same even though he now lines up with the first team.
"I am going to continue to work hard. Don't get me wrong. It's not like I was slacking off because he was here (Abraham) and he was going to start," he said. "I wasn't going to let something like that stop me from me working hard."
Thomas has already displayed some of his skills during the team's first five practices.
"Bryan made a couple of really impressive plays yesterday," said Mangini of Thomas on Saturday. "He put one of the fullbacks on his back. You saw his speed running to the flat. There have been some really positive plays here in the early practice and that is encouraging. He needs to keep stringing those together."
The Jets will run a new defense this fall, a look which will include 3-4 fronts. Thomas says learning the new defensive system is of utmost importance.
"I am progressing. I am learning schemes a lot better now" said Thomas. "Everything is opening up, and I feel like I can see the field a lot more. As far as that's going, everything is good."
The more information processed means more reacting and less thinking. Thomas, 6'4, 266 pounds, is a terrific athlete who possesses good speed but is also stout against the run.
"If I can't learn the scheme, then running around is not going to help me out," he said. "The main thing is learning that scheme and that's the only way you can play fast. If I'm out here and don't know what to do, then I'll be watching."
A must-see for camp onlookers this summer is the frequent match-up which pits Thomas one-one-one against left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the fourth overall selection in April's draft. Thomas has often given the youngster a difficult time in their early tussles.
"Anybody who is out there, I want them to challenge me to help me get better," says Thomas. "If you have somebody out there – guard, tackle, whoever – and their not working hard, then it's not helping me. If I'm not working hard, then I'm not helping them. We work together. Both sides – offense and defense – have to work hard so we can improve."
In today's ever-changing NFL landscape, Thomas has become one of the club's elder statesmen.
"This is going to be my fifth season. I have to be a leader, so I'm out there and I'm willing to do that," he said.
Both Bryan Thomas and Sione Pouha seem more than willing to step up this season and they could become critical cogs for this new Jets front.