Perhaps Jets Nation can help me out with a riddle I just can't solve.
Last season the Green & White had a veteran defensive end who led the team in both sacks (8.0) and QB hurries (12), and his 66 total tackles led all Jets D-linemen. This impressive stat line was compiled while lining up in a 3-4 front and despite playing through knee pain in the season's second half. And yet you rarely hear his name mentioned when the Jets defense is discussed.
Why is it so many people take Shaun Ellis for granted?
"In some people's eyes, I had a down year," Shaun told me before the Jets left for Cortland. "I just try to go out there and do my best. I feel good right now. I'm trying to get my knee back healthy. My plan is to come into camp in shape and ready to roll."
Ellis, who turned 32 in June, is the longest-tenured Jet with nine years of service. The 12th overall selection in the 2000 draft — and the first of the team's historic quartet of first rounders — has been a fixture in the lineup since leaving the University of Tennessee. Out of a possible 144 regular-season games, Ellis has appeared in 140 for New York's AFC representative. With just eight more appearances, "the Big Katt" will pass Marty Lyons for most games played by a Jets defensive linemen.
His production has equaled his consistency. Ellis has always been a good run stuffer and his 61.5 career sacks rank fourth on the club's all-time list. He should pass Gerry Philbin (64.5) this season, and Joe Klecko at No. 2 (77.5) is not out of reach before Ellis hangs up the cleats.
"I just take one year at a time, take it season by season. I have been around here long enough and have been around a few coaching changes," he said. "I learned early that you can't look to the future and you can't dwell on the past. You just have to take it one year at a time and make that season the most important and deal with it that way."
Just like many of his defensive teammates, Ellis is excited about the Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine approach on defense. After only two days of camp, the first-team D has been successful stopping the run and has also showcased those famed pressure packages.
"We are a lot more aggressive. The goal is to stop the run first, get them in long-yardage situations and then tee off on the quarterback," he said. "It also can look like pressure and it's not pressure. Then when we're coming, you don't even know what side we're coming from because we are going to give you different looks. We also have coverage behind it that's tough to beat, so it's going to make the opposing offense think."
Ellis has always been tough to beat for opposing coordinators as his versatility has allowed him to play in multiple systems and multiple positions. He's succeeded in both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts and his athleticism has allowed the Jets to use him sometimes dropping in coverage.
In preparation for this season, Ellis watched film of the Ravens and was impressed.
"I feel like I can play any system, but I did watch a lot of their tapes just to see the excitement they had on defense," he said. "It was great the way they attacked and it seemed like they were always getting off the field after three-and-outs, making big plays. I was like 'Is it the players? Is it the scheme? What is it?'
"Now that I'm in the scheme, it's a combination of both. We have a lot of guys who are aggressive and who you have an aggressive style with. It just works hand in hand."
After finishing out of the playoffs for a second consecutive season and ranking 16th in overall defense, the Jets made a number of quality additions to the unit and Ellis supported the moves.
"It think it's something we needed," he said. "With Bart [Scott] and David Harris, we have two vicious linebackers who will hit you and set the tempo early. Lito [Sheppard] is a good man-to-man cover guy and had a lot of success in Philly. [Jim] Leonhard has been lights out ever since he got to Baltimore, a guy who kind of went under the radar but really made a name for himself. Marques Douglas is a great vet who works hard and makes a lot of plays also. The additions are great."
Earlier this morning, Ellis and veteran T Damien Woody almost came to blows after a Leonhard interception. Neither man was willing to give ground and it's surprising a donnybrook didn't follow.
"That's one that nobody would have broke up. Forget that," said Rex Ryan in today's news conference. "It's more like keep fighting until you're tired."
But something tells you Ellis wouldn't have gotten tired. Even though he's thrown a lot of punches during his understated career, he's got a lot of fight left.