Matty I: Kerry Rhodes recently "tweeted" that he's predicting the Jets to have the league's #1 defense in the NFL in 2009. Two questions. One - are you at all concerned with how cocky this team might be getting? Two - do you honestly think that the Jets could be the league's #1 defense in '09 a year after being ranked 16th?
John B: To answer your first question, no. The possibility exists the Jets will not have a good defense this year. However, that will not be because of anything Kerry Rhodes wrote on Twitter. As a fan of a rival team, you will view this as cockiness. As a fan of the Jets, I will view it as confidence. It is in the eye of the beholder and in all honesty has little to do the execution on the field.
To answer your second question, yes. This is the NFL. Anything is possible. I would be surprised if it did happen, but it certainly could.
I do not really think the fact the defense was the 16th best a year ago is relevant to the discussion. Things fluctuate a lot from year to year in the league. The Dolphins themselves transformed from one of the worst teams in the history of the game into a division champion in one year. The defense that takes the field on Week 1 in Houston will be vastly different from the one that left the Meadowlands in Week 17 of 2008. The system will be completely different, and there will be at least four new starters. Pass defense was a huge weakness in 2008. The team added an excellent cover linebacker in Bart Scott, a Pro Bowl corner in Lito Sheppard, a proven nickel in Donald Strickland, and Jim Leonhard, an upgrade over Abram Elam in coverage. Marques Douglas will likely take over for Kenyon Coleman at defensive end. He quietly has register more tackles for a loss than any end in the league since 2002.
The defense has a lot of talent. One of the biggest complaints fans had a year ago was Eric Mangini and Bob Sutton not properly utilizing that talent. Ryan has a reputation as one of the game's best schemers. His aggressive system will give his playmakers more opportunities to make impact plays.
The key to the defense will be Vernon Gholston. If he can make good on his natural ability, this unit will be really good, and that goal of being the league's best will become more realistic. Rex Ryan's blitzes will become even more effective if the team has an elite pass rusher to draw attention on every play and open things up for other players. Will Gholston develop? I tend to doubt it. A lot of guys overcome struggles early in their careers, but they at least show a flash of promise. Gholston showed absolutely nothing as a rookie. There did not appear to be much on which to build.
Without Gholston developing, the Jets probably will not have the best defense in the NFL. Even if he does, it will be a tall order. That should be the goal, however. Given the new coaching staff and the talent aboard, I will say anything less than the unit finishing in the top half of this year would be a major disappointment if everybody stays healthy.
My Take: I'm sorry - but there's a fine line between confidence and cockiness. And guaranteeing that your defense will be the #1 defense in the NFL is just ridiculously cocky and arrogant. And it absolutely serves no purpose. How did Donte Whitner's prediction of Buffalo making the playoffs last year turn out? Or how about Jon Kitna's 10 win prediction for the Lions a couple years back? More often than not, these asinine guarantees backfire completely and make the person who made it look like an ass. Now - as far as the Jets defense is concerned - I think it'll be better in '09, no question. Bart Scott and Lito Sheppard instantly upgrade the unit. But let's get real. This defense will not be the #1 in the league - no chance in hell. Just like last offseason when I said there was absolutely no way the Bills would make the playoffs (no matter what Donte Whitner wanted you to believe), I will again put my reputation (if I even have one) on the line and tell you there's no way the Jets will have the #1 ranked defense in 2009. Period.
Be sure to head over to GGN at some point today to check out some Cameron Wake talk.