Rex Ryan was subdued today, a day after his first loss as an NFL head coach. But Ryan, who led the Jets to an impressive 3-1 mark during the season's first quarter, didn't restrain his excitement when asked about Calvin Pace's return from a four-game suspension.
"I wasn't going to kiss him on the lips," the coach said, "but I thought about it."
Pace, who violated the NFL's Policy on Performance Enhancing Substances, will practice this week and then make his 2009 debut next Monday night in Miami.
"My thing is just go out and get some more pressure on the quarterback," Pace said. "You can't do that enough. And stop the run, especially this week coming up with two great running backs and a physical O-line. Go out and do the same thing I did last year — cause some turnovers, recover fumbles and just go out and be an impact player."
Last season Pace was a stat machine for the Green & White. He not only established a career high with seven sacks but his five forced fumbles were a personal best and tied for the team lead and his four fumble recoveries also paced the Jets and was a career high. Pace's 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage also topped the defense.
"I think Calvin is a tremendous player, there's no doubt," Ryan said. "That's not being disrespectful for the men that were filling in for him. I thought they played well in his absence. But this is a unit I feel can be tremendous. We've said that from day one."
The Jets were forced out of their defensive game plan against the Saints because New Orleans built an early lead. But Ryan was aggressive even without Pace, blitzing more than half the time in the franchise's fourth-ever 3-0 start.
"Rex had talked about bringing the house. I'm not going to say I didn't believe him but watching it on TV, he wasn't lying," said Pace. "Guys were coming 60 percent of the time and when they weren't coming, it looked like they were coming. I think that definitely bodes well for us."
The 6'4", 265-pounder will move immediately back into the lineup as Vernon Gholston figures to shift back into a reserve role. As far as outside linebackers are concerned, Pace is a wonderfully gifted athlete who can get to the quarterback and smoothly transition into coverage.
"I don't necessarily feel any pressure. I did go through training camp and I have a feel for everybody around me," he said. "I think it's easy to kind of step in and be myself. It would be different if this was the first day here and I was just coming off the street."
Having already proved its worth in early action, the Jets' defense is going to be that much better with the addition of Pace. And that's a scary thought for opposing offenses as the Jets currently own the NFL's fifth-ranked "D" and are yielding only 14.2 points per game, which places them third in the league.
Despite solid pressure, the Jets have totaled only four sacks entering Week 5. Pace could inflate than number in a hurry and he'll open up against a rookie Dolphins QB in Chad Henne, who was sacked six times against the Bills.
Ryan said of Pace: "He' s a rare guy, one of the premier players in this league. We definitely are excited to get Calvin back."
While serving the suspension, Pace got a week of mixed martial arts training at Randy Couture's gym in Las Vegas before returning to his home in Atlanta.
"When I went back to Atlanta, I just tried to push myself to the limit. Sometimes I was training three times a day. I'd wake up, get my field work in the morning, box right after that, and then I'd lift in the afternoon," he said. "I was physically trying to push myself to the limit."
Fresh off this humbling experience, Pace wants to make up for lost time.
"I kind of pride myself on not taking plays off and not coming off the field, but they're going to have to drag me off now," he said. "It's really back to going out there and having fun and appreciating the work."
The Jets are not going to ease Pace back. No. 97 is a difference maker and the Jets know he can't be that on the sideline.
"When he left we said, 'You've got to be ready to play every snap when you get back. You've got four games to make up,' " Ryan said. "He's not coming out."