It's rare for a professional athlete to get the opportunity to play for one of his hometown teams, so Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson considers himself lucky and blessed.
Wilkerson grew up in Linden, N.J., less than 25 miles away from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford and from the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park.
"It's great. I'm glad to be here," Wilkerson told Jets Huddle on Wednesday afternoon. "To be here in New Jersey and play, I have all my family here that can come see me every home game. It's great."
Wilkerson was the first-round draft selection out of Temple a year ago. Last season he joined Marty Lyons (1979) and Dewayne Robertson (2003) as the only rookie defensive linemen to start every game since 16-game seasons began in 1978.
Like most rookie seasons, his had its share of ups and downs. Now in Year 2, Wilkerson is no longer in an adjustment stage. He has started all eight of the Jets' first-half games and compiled 36 tackles, including a sack and a team-leading 8.0 tackles for loss/no gain.
"I think I'm just playing more fast," he said. "I'm recognizing things quicker. I'm not really reading, watching things and then reacting. I'm kind of playing fast and reacting on the move and just trying to help my team as best as I can."
The progression in his second year can be attributed to a variety of things. But one noticeable change Wilkerson's benefited from is being instructed by new D-line coach Karl Dunbar. Prior to joining the Jets coaching staff this past offseason, Dunbar coached the Minnesota Vikings line, which ranked No. 1 in the NFL from 2006-11 combined in rushing yards allowed.
"He's been great for us, teaching us a lot of things," Wilkerson said. "He's taught us how to work different moves on different offensive lineman and things that we need to look at on film, watching against our opponents. So he's been helping out real well for us."
Aside from football, No. 96 for the Green & White enjoys watching TV, playing video games and spending time with his family. He lists his favorite television shows as "First 48" and "Law & Order" and his primary video game choices as Madden and "NBA2K."
The Jets will begin the remaining part of their schedule Nov. 11 on the road at the Seattle Seahawks and the next week will again be away from home against the St. Louis Rams.
"Those are two teams that are playing pretty well and will give us a good test," Wilkerson said.
Mo knows the Jets' play on both sides of the ball has been inconsistent this season. And although he and his teammates are in the middle of their bye week, he plans to continue to work out and study the Jets' upcoming opponents, adding that fans can expect to see vast improvements in stopping the run and more pressure on opposing quarterbacks when the second half of the season gets under way.
"As a defense and as a team, period, we're definitely going to finish strong and get our thoughts together," he said. "What we need to do as a team, we know what we need to do. And the coaches have great game plans for us, and we're going to finish the season strong."