Sheldon Rankins has high expectations for the Jets’ defensive line.
Rankins, who signed with the Jets this offseason after five years with the Saints, believes their front can dominate.
“I expect it to be damn good,” the defensive tackle said before listing several good defensive linemen he played with in New Orleans, including Cam Jordan. “I’ve played with some dudes, but the dudes I’m playing with now in this scheme, I feel like the sky’s the limit. I feel like whoever we roll out there, teams better, excuse my French again, they better buckle their [bleep]. We’re coming. When that group gets tired, the next group is coming. We expect to do that for 60 minutes, a full football game week in and week out and dominate.”
It is easy to identify the weaknesses on the Jets’ roster, but the defensive line is clearly the team’s strength. They have an emerging star in defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. They added defensive end Carl Lawson in free agency with a three-year, $45 million deal. Then, they got a potential steal in Rankins, with a two-year deal. Those three headliners have a strong supporting cast: John Franklin-Myers, Vinny Curry, Folorunso Fatukasi and Nathan Shepherd.
“We’ve got a lot real dudes in the room. … We’ve got a room full of guys where everyone can hold their own and make plays and take over a game,” Rankins said.
That did not happen by accident. Both general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh share the same philosophy — that teams are built along the line of scrimmage. When they sat down this offseason to plot out their plan, improving the D-line was clearly at the top of the list.
“When you look at the quarterback position being the most important, there’s schemes that can get him off his rocker and you can try to get him off his game, but when you start bringing pressure and you start trying to trick a quarterback, the great ones can make you pay in a really, really bad way,” Saleh said. “The only position that can really genuinely affect the quarterback without really having to do anything goofy, so you can just play good solid fundamental football in the back end, is the defensive line. Winning one-on-ones and getting in the quarterback’s face and making his life absolute hell. So obviously always priority No. 1 and then on the flip side of it, the next most important position when you get to those O-lineman to protect the quarterback, to keep him. We talk about it in house, it’s rush and coverage but if the O-line can make it seven-on-seven, every quarterback in the league will dominate. That’s the intent and that was kind of the build.”
In addition to the moves the Jets made on the roster, the coaching change should impact the defensive line as much as any position group. Saleh’s line thrived in San Francisco as his system emphasizes getting upfield and being disruptive. The Jets employed a read-and-react system under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, one that sometimes led to too much thinking.
“It’s night-and-day different,” Franklin-Myers said. “I enjoyed last year’s system, probably had the best year of my career there. But I think this is way more simple. I know that I can line up and play football. I know I attack somebody, hit somebody every play. There’s no reading, there’s no false steps. … I think this attack front fits me, fits a lot of guys here.”
All of the linemen seem to love Saleh’s system.
“There’s a difference in the fact that I have to tell myself to just let it go,” Rankins said. “For the last five years, we attacked in New Orleans but also we played gap-sound football and had to make sure you’re always in your gap where as here it’s just get three yards in the backfield and, excuse my French, however the [bleep] it happens.”
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