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Sheldon Rankins' Spin on Jets' DL Rotation: 'You Can Really Cut It Loose'

Veteran Displays His Skills on the Pass Rush Alongside Quinnen Williams as Well as, Yes, in Coverage


E pluribus unum. It's on the backs of all U.S. coins and in the fronts of the minds of winning football players and coaches. Out of many, one.

That phrase applies to the Jets of coach Robert Saleh and especially to his defensive line. Saleh's made no bones about the value he places on his D-line, and that applies not just to individuals but to numbers. As a rookie NFL head coach last year, Saleh never had more than eight linemen available in any game, but this year he had nine active the first three games, then 10 for the Steelers.

"It just adds to the rotation," Saleh said of if he'd ever coached a 10-man unit before. "I think in Jacksonville we ended up with it. But if we could put 12 up, we'll put 12 up."

The concept, though, can take a little time for some players to embrace. Such as Sheldon Rankins.

"It takes some getting used to," Rankins told John Pullano of after Wednesday's practice. "If you're a guy who's used to playing [more] consecutive reps, it takes a little bit of adjustment. But once you get adjusted to it, you can understand why they do it and why it's so effective. You're never going to be out there for eight or nine plays at a time, so you can really cut it loose, you're going to get your blow to be able to — boom — go back out there and do the same thing continuously throughout the game."

Rankins was one of 10 Sunday but he's a big part of the rotation. He's third on the line with 35 defensive snaps a game. And as the line's production builds every week — from one to one to two to three sacks, from four to five to six to seven QB hits — the effectiveness of the rotation comes into focus.

See the top photos from Wednesday's indoor practice leading up to the Dolphins game.

It can also make for successful tag team play as well, as Rankins and his friend and often next-door linemate Quinnen Williams are starting to show.

"We played a good bit of ball together between last year and this year," Rankins said. "We talk about what we see, things we may want to try. He bounces ideas off me, I bounce ideas of him. We're students of the game, so he's a smart enough player to be able to play off me when I want to take a shot and it's the same where I'm able to play off him. And doing that allows both of us to play good football and cover the other one."

That showed up against the Bengals. Both 95 and 98 converged on QB Joe Burrow for Quinnen Williams' first full sack of the season. Then later in the game, Williams drew the double team and Rankins barged into Joe's burrow for his first sack.

Rankins also is being used to familiar effect in another of his specialties: pass coverage. Yes, pass coverage.

"Not to sound overconfident, but I think I'm a hell of an athlete," he said. "It's something we did a lot in New Orleans, and I got really good at it, knowing leverages, understanding route concepts and stuff like that."

Any number of seventh-year D-linemen have four-plus career pass defenses, but virtually all of those are on behind-the-line swatdowns. However, three of Rankins' four PDs have been in coverage. His first came on a 27-yard interception return against Buffalo in 2017. And his most recent helped the Jets draw first blood Sunday against the Steelers.

The Jets looked like they were bringing four rushers against Mitch Trubisky, but it was only three as Rankins dropped out and angled to his right — perfect positioning to get his big paw in the air, deflect Trubisky's spiral a half turn, throw off Diontae Johnson's timing and have the ball deflect to diving S Lamarcus Joyner for the Jets' first of four interceptions on the day. Seven plays later, they had a 3-0 lead.

"Going into the game, I knew there would be certain situations where I might have to drop," he said. "On that one, to that side of the field with two receivers, I knew they liked to run that slant concept with the inside guy. And coming across the field, I had a feeling Trubisky wouldn't see me initially so I was able to get in that window, tip it a little bit, throw it off a little bit, then get the bounce to LJ."

Sunday is a slightly different challenge for the Jets' DL since Tua Tagovailoa is sidelined and Teddy Bridgewater will start at QB for Miami. Rankins was Bridgewater's teammate with the Saints in 2018-19 and he knows the Jets can't afford to ease up because the Dolphins' backup is under center.

"There's really nothing Teddy can't do on the field," Rankins said. "He's seen every defense, understands how to attack every defense. He can make just about any throw on the field. He's still elusive and can make guys miss. He's capable of stepping right in there and allowing that high-powered offense to not miss a beat."

But friendship will take a backseat when Rankins is on the field as a part of the Jets' 12- or 10- or eight-man D-line rotation. The plan is, out of many, one big pain in the butt will make life miserable for Bridgewater and the Dolphins and help the Jets defensive line take its next step toward optimum effectiveness.

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