With a group of linebackers that includes veterans Bart Scott, David Harris, Bryan Thomas, Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor, it's easy for a guy like Jamaal Westerman to fly under the radar. The second-year man out of Rutgers was an undrafted free agent last season who has worked his way into a variety of roles for this Jets team, and that has earned praise from one of those vets.
"Jamaal is doing a great job," said Pace, the eighth-year man. "The thing I like about Jamaal is obviously he works hard but he listens. He asks us questions."
When talking with the inquisitive Westerman, it was clear that he is a humble young man who realizes he has plenty to learn from those around him. The 6'3", 255-pounder has been featured in a variety of different situations and has been a major factor in the defense as a whole. At this morning's training camp practice at SUNY Cortland, he was in on a tackle that caused running back Joe McKnight to fumble, then the very next play he stopped Larry Taylor 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage on an end-around.
"I think I'm a little bit more comfortable standing up playing outside linebacker, just learning the defense as a whole, not just from a position standpoint," Westerman said. "Our whole scheme and what we're trying to accomplish on each play and kind of what everybody else is doing allows me to play a little bit faster and know a little bit more what is going on."
Westerman was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., then finished his high school career in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. Upon graduating he returned to the tristate area to become a Scarlet Knight, where he was a two-time All-Big East second-team performer.
Last season with the Jets Westerman recorded 10 tackles and one sack on defense. But after another summer of learning from the best in the business, the collegiate defensive lineman has a better grasp on head coach Rex Ryan's and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's scheme.
"When he first got here I told him to watch me," Pace said. "Watch my mess-ups, see what I did wrong, and hopefully when you get out there you don't make that same mistake. Look at my mistakes and look at what I do right and when your time comes you try to minimize your mistakes and capitalize on what you can."
While for the time being Westerman has been looking on at the first team, he gets to mix it up regularly on special teams. As a contributor on kickoffs and punts and in a variety of other situations, he has the chance to play in space aggressively. With veteran standouts like Brad Smith, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo, some of the premier special teams players in the league on the same squad, Westerman has yet another chance to learn from those ahead of him — this time in the midst of the action from a variety of spots on the field.
"Special teams are huge in this league and especially on this team," Westerman said. "Wherever they put me, I just try to perform at my best and try to play and be productive, not to have a couple of good plays, then one bad play. I have to be a very consistent player and just learn from guys who have been playing forever."
The team-first mentality goes a long way in Mike Westhoff's special teams group, and Westerman has continued to impress. The work ethic is there, and he should develop into a complete linebacker. In the meantime he is working out some of the kinks and developing his knowledge of the defense. Ryan's philosophy is to bring in players like Westerman who "play like Jets" by flying to the ball and being aggressive.
"He works hard and is always giving 110 percent," Pace said. "Sometimes you're going to mess up. If you're going 110 miles an hour, you can make up for those mistakes."
Those mistakes might be difficult to swallow now, but Westerman knows that each of the linebackers starting ahead of him has gone through the same learning process.
"Those are big, productive linebackers, and not just recently — they've been productive for a long time," he said. "I just want to get a chance to pick their minds not only about playing but life in the NFL. I'm trying to follow in the path. When they put you out there, they don't want there to be a dropoff, and that's what I'm working towards."