Shaun Ellis has a good feel about this Jets defense.
"There's an attitude," he said today. "Guys want it."
If you want a good read on things, Ellis is a valuable source of information. The 31-year-old defensive end, in his ninth pro season from Tennessee, is the longest-tenured Jets player.
"It's a good thing that the team thinks highly enough to keep me around," he said. "I'm going out and proving myself every day, just staying competitive and just doing what the team asks you to do."
Ellis was one of four Jets first-round picks back in 2000, but he's the only one remaining after the release of Chad Pennington on Aug. 7. He will probably make his 109th start for the Green & White on Sunday in Miami against Pennington and the Dolphins after missing most of training camp with a hand injury.
"I'm just ready to go. It all counts first game and I'm going to be out there, giving it all that I have," he said. "The injury is pretty much behind me."
In front of Ellis and his defensive teammates is their first four-quarter challenge of the season. The new-look defense got a few series over the club's first three preseason games, but the players will get a better gauge of where they're at this weekend.
"I think there is still a lot of room for progress. It's a night-and-day difference compared to where we were last year, but we just have to have everyone on the same page mentally," Ellis said. "I think the physical nature will take care of itself because a lot of guys want to hit and run to the ball. We just have to be smart and not out-think ourselves and just go out, play relaxed and dominate."
With the free agent/trade additions of a true NT in Kris Jenkins and a talented edge pass rusher in Calvin Pace, the Jets dramatically transformed their front seven. Vernon Gholston, selected sixth overall out of Ohio State in the April draft, will initially be used in sub packages.
"This year you look at us and say, 'Yeah, they've gotten bigger up front real quick,'" he said.
Voted a defensive captain this week, Ellis is a respected presence inside the locker room. Taking his cue from Curtis Martin, Ellis talks when necessary but he also says it's important to lend an open ear.
"I think one of the things about being a great leader is being able to listen and to know your players and feel what their needs are so you can help them instead of just coming to them and saying, 'You need to do this. You need to do that,' " he said. "It's important to have an understanding of what they think. Then you can get your conversations together with him on the level he's thinking at."
Even though his name escapes the headlines, Ellis plays a vital role on this defense. He's racked up five sacks in each of the past two seasons, primarily from left end despite playing in a 3-4. His 53.5 career sacks tie him for fourth on the Jets' all-time list and his next will move him past John Abraham, who was selected one pick behind Ellis back in 2000.
And you cannot overlook how solid Ellis has been at the point of attack in the trenches.
"He's been such a consistent guy throughout his career that I think people really expect he's going to be there, he's going to be a sturdy guy and he's going to do his job," said S Kerry Rhodes. "He's been a guy who's going well for a while — he may have the most experience."
Not in years but in tenure. While many pundits have targeted the Dolphins as a team likely to struggle, Ellis says, 'They made major moves also, so it's going to be a good game."
And he's sincere as ever, naming half the guys on their roster including a rejuvenated Ricky Williams.
"He just knows how to run the football. A lot of guys in the league are fast and can make cuts but to actually know how to run the ball — he knows how to do that," Ellis said of the Dolphins RB. "He knows when to cut back, when to stay in, and he's got good vision on the holes. Once he makes up his mind to go downhill, he's gone. There's no wasted motion."
Never one to waste his breath, the Jets' elder statesman is clearly prepared for battle.