After losing more than half of the Jets' defensive starters from a season ago, Muhammad Wilkerson understands more will be expected of him heading into his third NFL season.
Let it be known: neither he nor any of his defensive teammates are backing away from the challenge.
"We lost a couple of veterans this offseason, but that's just the nature of this business," Wilkerson said Monday afternoon on a conference call with reporters following the completion of the first day of the voluntary offseason strength and conditioning program. "We have some young guys who are talented and learned a lot from those veterans, and it's just their time to step up."
While the Green & White finished a disappointing 6-10 in 2012, Wilkerson, ended the year with 69 tackles, a team-high 37 quarterback hits, 5.0 sacks (second-best on the team), two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Despite the impressive individual numbers, he wasn't voted onto the Pro Bowl roster. Meanwhile, the Jets as a team, failed to reach the postseason for the second straight year. In order to return to the playoffs, the 23-year-old believes he and his teammates have to become more physical.
"As of right now," Wilkerson said, "we've just got to get strong as a team and focus on the little things so that, come September and the season, we're fresh and ready to go."
Will head coach Rex Ryan and first-year defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman line up the defense in more 4-3 fronts this season? It appears to be a possibility. Wilkerson said he will be ready to fire out of either alignment.
"Coming out of college, I played in the 4-3 and the 3-4," he said. "Playing in any front, it doesn't matter to me. I'm comfortable in any front."
Wilkerson stayed in contact throughout the offseason with fellow DE Quinton Coples and anticipates the Jets' first-round pick from a year ago will be a dominant force this season.
"He did some training down in North Carolina, some MMA training," No. 96 said of No. 98, "I know he was doing his end of the deal, working out, staying in shape. I'm looking forward to definitely playing more with him this year and both of us having success on the field."
So far, many aren't labeling the Jets as contenders in 2013. And from Wilkerson's perspective, that's OK. He realizes that preseason predictions and outsiders' opinions aren't anything to worry about. What really matters is the product you put onto the field and how you execute on Sundays.
"To play in this league, you have to have some type of talent," Mo said, "and I feel like we have talent on both sides of the ball. This is a fresh start. Last season it didn't go as well as we wanted it to. But this is a fresh start, the 2013 season, and I feel like everybody is ready to go."