Originally posted on One Jet At A Time  |  Last updated 7/13/13
LB David Harris is the veteran of the unit, and will need to set the bar high.  [Staten Island Advance] Since free agency, trades, and new GM John Idzik having semi-stripped the titan that was the New York Jets defense, it's time once again to build a winning product to take them back to contention. The core of the defense lies in the linebackers, and only a few linebackers remain that are guaranteed a spot on the roster from the past few winning seasons on the Jets. With new acquisitions pre and post draft, many athletes will have to battle for the remaining starting positions for the chance to play for the mastermind that is Rex Ryan. Traditionally they have been 3-4 defense, but would benefit greatly moving to a 4-3, only carrying three linebackers on most downs. However at the moment, its still four. So lets take a look at what will most likely be the starting four. David Harris: Starting LB The veteran leader of the defense has a lot to prove this upcoming season. Set to make 13 million in 2013, and he somehow missed the cut treatment that most of the defense experienced, it's a good time for him to have a career season. Last year, he averaged 4.9 tackles a game, good for 79 total, with 44 assisted, 3 sacks, 0 picks and 1 forced fumble. That's pretty average to say the least, and not what the Jets were hoping for, considering his salary and leadership. There were complaints that he put on weight last season as well, preventing him to move sideline to sideline, when it was needed. That has to change. It's time for him to step up and be the run-stopping force Rex knows he can be, otherwise he won't be in New York too much longer.  More LBs after the jump... Quinton Coples: Starting OLB Last years rookie season was anything but spectacular for Coples. Although he only started in 2 games for Gang Green, he still played in all 16. Averaging 1.4 tackles a game, good for 22 total with 8 assisted and 5.5 sacks. 22 total tackles isn't something you'd expect out of your first round pick. Granted, he did play DE the whole year, and before he was even drafted there was talk about his work ethic and attitude, but Ryan felt he could change the character of the young linemen. Now moving into an OLB position, many questions are being raised about Quinton and his ability to fully play OLB. Dropping into pass coverage, starting behind the line instead of on it, and taking read steps will be very new to the sophomore Jet. New York hopes that he can play up to his potential, and that Ryan was right in drafting him. Antwan Barnes: Starting OLB  Flying in from the San Diego Chargers, Barnes is coming off of an awful season. Appearing in 11 games and starting none, Barnes recored 7 total tackles, 2 assisted, 3 sacks and 1 forced fumble. So what does Rex Ryan see in Barnes, that he had to pick him up after being released by San Diego? Perhaps it's the 18.5 sacks in 38 games the past 3 seasons, or that he started his career under Ryan in Baltimore, or it could be a veteran presence was needed. My guess would be the sacks he racked up over the years, 23.5 for his career in 78 games, as well as him already knowing the style of defense that's required to play for Rex. Either way, as with Coples, it's a bold move if he ends up being the starter. Can he drop into pass coverage when it's necessary? Can he work in a blitzing zone? Can he cover the flats and not be fooled by play action? With 1 career interception, all of that is yet to be seen, as it seems he was brought over strictly to blitz. That won't fare too well against the likes of Tom Brady and some of the more dynamic play action passers in the NFL. But Rex usually has a knack for making defenses click in a way that quarterbacks can't figure out until it's too late.  Demario Davis: Starting LB Davis is the favorite to win the Mike-Backer position with Bart Scott's departure. Ryan has been praising this kid since early last season, making some bold comparisons to Ray Lewis. "Ray Lewis motivated me as a coach," Ryan said. "That’s rare for a player to do that, have that kind of ability. I’m not saying Demario is that guy, and there’s only one Ray Lewis . . . but it’s interesting. His face. His mannerisms. Passion. I see some things. . . . You either have it or you don’t and it seems like he has it." -NYDN Potential must be all he sees in this kid, as his 2012 rookie season wasn't anything to write home about. Only starting 3 games, but playing a full 16, Davis averaged 1.4 tackles a game totaling 22 with 4 assisted. No sacks, no picks, or forced fumbles. He's got a lot to work on, but if Ryan believes he's the future face of the defense than I stand by it. Especially because Ryan had coached Lewis, and he truly does believe he can be the same guy or close to it, then it seems like at least one void will be filled for years to come.  Summary: With all the positions left wide open by the 2013 offseason, it seems the core of the defense could fare just fine. Obviously without Revis and Scott, it will be a big change to being a Top-5 defense in the league, and we could be a long way from that again. But under Ryan's supreme ability to confuse offenses with anyone he has on the other side of the ball, it shouldn't be too long until we can say the Jets have one of the best defenses in the game. And defense after all, is what will win you a championship.  Honorable Mentions that could make the 53 man roster: Nick Bellore, Troy Davis, Josh Mauga, Ricky Sapp, Calvin Pace, JoJo Dickson, Danny Lansanah, Jacquies Smith, Garrett McIntyre, Sean Progar-Jackson. Stats: Pro-Football-Reference.com
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