When the Arizona Cardinals visit the Meadowlands on Sunday, they will see a familiar face on the other side of the field. Calvin Pace was taken with the 18th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft by Arizona and played five seasons with the Cardinals before signing with the Jets as an unrestricted free agent this off-season.
Pace's response to questions this week about facing his former team have been fairly relaxed. He's looking forward to seeing old friends, but once the first ball is snapped — it's all business.
"My opportunities [in Arizona] were kind of limited. I got caught in the wrong situation," Pace said. "I'm not the only that's ever happened to. Many guys are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I did get an opportunity, and I said to myself, 'You've been asking for it, now you've got to go out there and make do.' So I just took it and ran with it, and I try not to look back on the past."
And run with it he has. Coming off a breakout season following a position change in Arizona, he's started off this season on the right foot with two early sacks. He's also made an impact with 16 tackles, third on the team behind ILBs Eric Barton and David Harris.
Jets head coach Eric Mangini attributes much of Pace's success to his consistent work ethic.
"Calvin's another guy that at practice there's only one tempo for him." Mangini said today. "It doesn't matter what day it is. He's working on getting off on the ball. He's working on his pass rush moves. He's working on those things, and that's what you want to see."
Never the most vocal guy on a team, Pace prefers to lead by example.
"Someone can talk about how badly they want to win and they can talk about all those things," said Mangini. "But are they reinforcing it with how they act? Are they reinforcing it with how they prepare? Calvin's one of those guys that's talked about it — you could feel it, it was tangible — and now you see it every single day with how he approaches things."
That steadfast approach has paid dividends.
"Calvin's stout at the point of attack, yet he has wiggle to make a guy miss," Mangini has said. "He's also got a very good ... I don't know how you phrase it, but it's the last burst to close out a play. It's a great quality to have. It's almost like he senses how close it is and another gear kicks in."
Pace brings size and aggressiveness to the OLB position. Standing 6'4" and weighing 270 pounds, he has the tools to be a force on a defense that is already rich with playmakers.
Arizona QB Kurt Warner recognizes that Pace's ability to drop back into coverage as well as rush the pass is unique.
"You look around the league and a lot of teams try to go to a 3-4 and they're trying to make a defensive end a linebacker," Warner said. "They're stiff and they can't move very well in pass coverage and you have to rush them more than anything. Then you have vice versa.
"Calvin's one of those guys that's a great hybrid player that can do both things and do both things well. That's why he creates so many different problems for an offense".
It will be especially important for Pace and the rest of the front seven to apply the pressure they showed in the first two games, because given enough time, Warner can wreak havoc with his wide receivers, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald — one of most productive tandems in the NFL.
Although he would savor a win over his former team, Pace is eager to help the Jets getting back on track with a win after Monday night's loss at San Diego, no matter who the opponent, before heading into their week 5 bye.
"I am looking forward to it a lot," he said. "We have to get that taste out of our mouth, move on. We have more games to play and put that past us, learn from our mistakes and get better."