If the 2012 season unfolds the way Muhammad Wilkerson and the Jets coaches, players and fans want it to, we'll be looking for a better nickname than "Mo" and "Wilk" pretty quickly. Here's an option: The Presence.
Asked about his offseason training regimen at Jets training camp this week, Wilkerson said, "I wanted to make sure my physical presence is still there so I stayed strong."
Then on why he chose to shed 10 pounds off of last year's top weight of about 315: "I felt like I wanted to have a quicker presence this year."
At 6'4" and 305, Wilkerson still presents an impressive figure when he lines up at the end of the Jets' D-line and starts to attack an offense.
"I really believe he's going to have a huge year for us," head coach Rex Ryan said. "He's a guy that there are so many things you can do with him. He can play outside, inside, right, left, down the middle of the center, whatever it is. He's got great athleticism, he's in great condition. He knows the system and I would be shocked if he doesn't have a great year."
"I felt I did pretty well last year in my rookie year," Wilkerson said. "But everybody's tough so I feel I need to step it up a notch."
One under-the-radar measure of how well Wilkerson fared in the trenches last season is that unofficially he led all Jets defensive linemen with 12.5 tackles at or behind the line and, if you want to weed out the no-gain tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss. The last time a Jets D-lineman had more stuffs in a season was 1995, which was a bad year for all but TFLs when DT Matt Brock had 10.0 tackles for loss and DE Marvin Washington had 9.5.
Then there were Mo's three sacks, one for the safety vs. the Jaguars. Not bad for a rookie 5-technique in a 3-4 base. But Wilkerson is already eyeing an improvement there.
"I feel I'm definitely going going to improve in that category," he said, adding that the tutoring from line coach Karl Dunbar has been incredibly helpful to him. Improve by how many sacks, though? "I don't know," he said with a glimmer in his eye. "We'll see."
Wilkerson's already gotten some of Ryan's flattering comparisons. The head coach likened his offseason focus and determination to Darrelle Revis', and he said his play at his position reminds him of Richard Seymour, who's likely to be a Hall of Famer some day.
"That's a great comparison," Wilkerson said. "But I can only do what Muhammad Wilkerson can do, just be the type of player I can be and improve every day while I'm out here."
One additional interesting development this offseason was the drafting of DE Quinton Coples with the 16th pick of the April draft. You may recall that Coples and Wilkerson were teammates once before, on Hargrave Military Academy's 2007 postgrad team. Coples poked his head into Wilkerson's small media scrum the other day and playfully said, "I'm just observing him on learning how to be great."
Coples has had a quiet, perhaps hesitant summer so far, but his good friend from the one year in the rolling hills of Southside Virginia had words of encouragement.
"I was the same way last year," Wilkerson said. "That's going to come when you're a rookie. You don't really want to mess up, you don't want to make too many mistakes, you don't want the coaches to get on you. But as a rookie you're going to make mistakes. Me, Sione [Pouha], Mike DeVito, Marcus Dixon, we're all going to talk to him, help him out when he's out there."
Coples still has his mischievous demeanor and impressive physical tools, though, and he also has grand plans for his future with the Green & White. "I think Muhammad and I can do some damage together," he said.
"Quinton made plays when we were down at Hargrave, at North Carolina he was a dominant player on the D-line," Wilkerson replied. "To have him here now, me and him, we've been best friends for a long time. We're looking forward to great things and I look forward to playing next to him for many years to come."
Coples still has to show how much damage he can do in the NFL. And Wilkerson is intent on showing how much more damage he can do. After all, he has a definite presence about him.