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Solid Start for Jets Draft Class

Monday night's Jets preseason tilt in Houston culminated the first preseason game week of welcoming fans and players "Back to Football."  While fans were treated to their first live action, Jets players returned to work after a summer of anxiety.  Rookies especially were given a healthy dose of playing time during the club's 20-16 loss, taking their first step to hopefully long and productive careers.

The 2011 draft class was thrown into the fire early, and proved impressive throughout the game.  Most visible was seventh round selection QB Greg McElroy, who played through the duration of the final three quarters.

McElroy's debut was met with a rocky first series as his only pass attempt fell incomplete, and was followed up by a bruising sack by Texans LB Jesse Nading.  McElroy never saw Nading coming and lost the ball in the process.  Defensive end Tim Jamison recovered for the Texans at the Jets' 14 and the Texans soon cashed in with the first touchdown of the night. 

The following McElroy series was an extension of the first, with a pair of poorly thrown balls.  After McElroy rid himself of those jitters, he settled down to finish 23-39 with 208 yards and a touchdown.

"I liked McElroy," said head coach Rex Ryan.  "It looked for a minute, for me, that we were trying to figure out how tough that kid was, and I think we found out.  That's a tough guy.  He got sacked five times, got hit every time he threw it seemed like."

On the other side of the ball, the new tandem of DE Muhammad Wilkerson and DT Kenrick Ellis proved to be up to the task of frustrating an NFL offense. 

Wilkerson was the Jets' first round pick out of Temple, and the former Owl broke into the starting rotation in his first professional game.  Lined up alongside fifth-year veteran DT Mike DeVito and seventh-year Jets NT Sione Pouha, the rookie drew added attention from the Texans' offensive line.

Third round pick Ellis was also in the middle of the action, deflecting a pass that led to the only Jets takeaway of the night, and adding two tackles.  The Ellis tip went into the hands of LB Josh Mauga and led to a quick 4-play scoring drive that knotted things up at 13 midway through the third quarter.

"I was just fighting a one-on-one block," said Ellis of his PD.  "I was trying to get a little bit of a pass rush, but I was stalemated.  I saw the quarterback wind up and I was able to stick my hand up."

The 346-pounder from Hampton University proved to be a difficult matchup for Texans reserves, clogging the middle and showing his athleticism and awareness.  Ellis and Wilkerson showed glimpses of just how dominant the Jets' defensive line can be this year, and in years to come.  The prospect of lining up together is one that excited Wilkerson.

"We don't talk about it, but hopefully in the future, me and Kenrick can be leaders on this defense," said Wilkerson.

Shifting back to offense, and rounding out the Jets' draft picks, WR Jeremy Kerley and RB Bilal Powell exhibited raw ability and superior athleticism.  When combined with continued NFL experience and coaching, the two players should develop into offensive weapons.

Kerley in particular showed his versatility, catching three passes for 20 yards, returning two punts for 22 yards, returning two kicks for 65 yards, and adding a rush attempt that was snuffed out for a loss of eight.

"He's been a fun guy to be around," WR Santonio Holmes told ESPN after the game.  "I think a lot of that shows once he gets on the field.  We see the kind of potential that he has, the way he catches the ball and the way he practices.  He's been one of my guys that's flying under my wings right now."

Kerley can catch, run, return, and he can even throw.  Despite not having a pass attempt last night, Kerley was a highly regarded high school quarterback in his hometown of Hutto, TX and took snaps in college while running TCU's version of the "Wildcat" offense.

In terms of his football development, Powell is still an adolescent.  He did not earn a starting role in college until his senior season at Louisville, but took full advantage of the opportunity.  He rushed for 1,405 yards and 11 touchdowns, seeing his draft status soar.

On Monday night, Powell led the Jets in rushing attempts with nine.  He added three receptions for 27 yards including a 19-yard catch and run and his 12 total touches led the club.

The Jets and their fans were able to get a long look at Powell, his speed, and strength as he battles second year RB Joe McKnight for playing time.

The Jets' other seventh round selection, WR Scotty McKnight, did not record any offensive stats during the contest, but can be sure to find the field during the team's remaining three preseason matchups.

While veteran players returned to the field for the first time since last season's AFC Championship game, the Jets' rookie class of 2011 embarked on their professional football careers.  When all was said and done, the score indicated a Jets' loss, but for these young players, there was nothing but positivity to gain.

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