Chalk up Sheldon Rankins as another Jets graybeard who loves what he's seeing from his own corner of the Green & White.
This is Rankins' seventh NFL season and thus the seventh training camp defensive line he's been a part of. And the Jets' current DL ranks pretty high up in his personal coloring book.
"The amount of talent we have in that room is pretty crazy," Rankins said during his TV-analyst-polished responses to Jets reporters' questions after Wednesday's seventh practice of camp. "I think even last year, we were pretty talented. Coming from New Orleans, I played on some pretty talented groups. Top to bottom, man for man, I'd have to say this is as talented a room as I've been in."
And how does Rankins come to that rankin'?
"Everybody's ability to win on three downs is something special," he said. "We've got a lot of guys who can change games, wreck games. You see it every day, a different guy every day. I like what I'm seeing from everybody in the room, for sure."
The talent level is impressive, from Quinnen Williams and John Franklin-Myers being in top shape to Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry returning from last year's season-ending health issues to the signing of veterans Solomon Thomas and Jacob Martin to the additions of edge rookies Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons.
Just to tamp down expectations a little, though, almost every veteran on this year's roster has an enthusiastic take for the season ahead on the unit he's a part of, or the unit he and his unit go up against every practice. They can't all be that good, can they?
Or put differently, last year's D-line had many of the same players on it and many similar preseason expectations, and that unit suffered from big plays, chunk plays — in head coach Robert Saleh's lexicon, "explosives." Despite a decent first seven games, capped by giving up 41 rushing yards at 2.6 yards/carry in the win over the Bengals, the Jets finished 29th in the NFL in rushing yards/game allowed (138.3), 24th in yards/carry (4.48), 30th in 10-yards-plus runs allowed (64) and 31st in 20+ runs allowed (16).
To reverse those trends, Rankins said, "A big thing is going to be everybody just doing their job. I know that sounds simple, but there were a lot of times we'd be down early in games and guys were pressing to make plays, trying to do too much, trying to make plays that weren't there, trying to anticipate plays being there. You get out of your gap and all of a sudden it's an 18- or a 30-yard run.
"You have to minimize the thought of what's going to happen before and after and focus on what's right in front of you. It's just as simple as guys doing what they need to do. The addition of talent always helps, but it's just guys focusing on what they need to do and not focusing on what the guy next to them is doing."
If the Jets' DL can do that, and if the Jets' O-line is as good as Rankins says it is ("It's probably as good a group as we're going to see all year," he said), then all that plus the talent infusion can help the Jets' defense as a whole turn the tide and realize the high goals that Rankins said the players have set.
"I think the expectations, to a man, have to be that we're the best defense in the league. If we put any other goal out there, we're selling each other short," he said. "What's the point of showing up to the race and saying, 'Uhhh, third is cool'? We want that target on our backs, we want that challenge.
"We expect to be the No. 1 defense. Let the chips fall where they may, but that's what we expect of ourselves."