When the Jets take the field at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, they'll do so without defensive mainstay LB Bryan Thomas. The longest-tenured member of Green & White, Thomas injured his Achilles tendon in the Week 4 loss to Baltimore. Third-year LB Jamaal Westerman took his place in the base defense and finished the game with seven tackles.
This week head coach Rex Ryan has not committed to keeping Westerman in that role, but has not definitively ruled him out, either.
"We have a lot of different scenarios out there," Ryan said today. "We can put a big lineman out there, we can put [Josh] Mauga there, we can put Westerman there and we can put Bart [Scott] there. We can do a lot of different things."
Rex anointed Westerman the "designated pass rusher" in August, inserting him into third-down packages to pressure the quarterback. So far this season, Westerman has recorded 10 tackles and has hit the quarterback three times with no sacks.
Today, Westerman spoke about improving on his performance against the Ravens.
"I think I can do better. I think I just have to play faster, go out there, fly around, and just make plays," he said. "I have to play the way I know I can play."
He's preparing the same way he would for any other week, but with added juice. He knows that if he is called upon to accept a larger role, there will be high expectations.
"I think I'm prepared for it," he said. "You want to play to the level of this defense and what we've been doing, what we've put on the field in the past. You don't want to get too caught up thinking and playing tentatively. That's what I'm working on this week."
Second-year ILB Josh Mauga has been mentored by Scott. Despite his lack of experience on the outside, he has no worries about the potential position move.
"It's kind of similar to our [inside] position," said Mauga. "We play outside on certain coverages, we play on the edge, force the run and blitz off the edge. It's pretty much the same. There will just be calls that are different."
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine weighed in on the situation, first sharing his feelings on losing Thomas for the season.
"On a personal standpoint, BT was one of my favorite players," Pettine said. "To see him on the sidelines in tears was tough for me. He plays like a Jet. He loves football, he's passionate, physical, productive, all those things you want out of a player."
As far as replacing Thomas and his production on the field, he offered up a number of possible scenarios.
"I don't think you replace him with one player," he said. "There are packages where we have two or three guys taking that spot. That's a big hole and he's already been missed."
Linebacker Garrett McIntyre could have been a potential replacement, but he suffered a concussion in Baltimore and has yet to practice this week. With LB Aaron Maybin becoming more comfortable in his strict pass-rush role, he is not likely to fill the position, either.
Pettine pointed out that it would be unfair to expect Westerman to play on first and second downs in place of Thomas and then stay on the field for his third-down pass-rush package.
Mauga has developed well during his time with the Jets, earning a more prominent role backing up Scott.
So who replaces the 10-year veteran Thomas? Pettine's answer: Everyone, and no one.
"I think we have to mix it with our groups," said Pettine. "I don't know how much base defense we'll end up in. I think that position has to be handled by committee."
Losing Thomas leaves shoes too big to be filled by just one man.