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Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson has lined up with a number of different players throughout his seven-year career, but he believes this year’s group has the potential to be dominant.
There are others who will look to make their marks, but Williams, Wilkerson and Richardson are thoroughbreds and the Jets would figure to ride them a lot in 2017.
“It was just a matter of if I got my number called or not,” said Bass, whose numbers included two tackles for loss plus his sack in just 16 plays. “I know in the game we had four outside ‘backers and a lot of packages that we switch up, and they do a good job of rotating. So I just wanted to be ready in case my number was called to go out and New York Jets jerseys do what I do.”
Both players savored the atmosphere of their first regular-season game at MetLife Stadium. Bass recalled “a bad game” two years ago, when he was a Titan and the Jets rolled, 30-8. But for Donahue, the energy of the full stadium was an experience.
Last year, the D-line flourished in Week 1 as they accounted for 6 of the team’s 7 sacks against the Bengals. The 6’4”, 315-pound Wilkerson registered 1.5 sacks in the opener and finished the season with 4.5, but head coach Todd Bowles said Wilkerson gutted it out while playing through an ankle injury. The Linden, NJ native said he is fully healthy and starting to feel like the player that racked up 12.0 sacks in 2015. Needless to say, he was excited to put the pads on Monday.
“I tell Leo and Sheldon that those guys push me. I want to get better every day,” Wilkerson said. “I tell them that’s what keeps me going. I know what I need to do as a pro, but those guys just push me along with Mac and all the young guys in the room. It makes it fun.”
Wilkerson wears a smile these days, knowing he has gotten over a major hurdle. Crediting the medical staff for helping him through his transition, Wilkerson sounds like a man intent on inflicting some damage in 2017.
After racking up seven sacks of Bengals QB Andy Dalton in Week 1, the Jets have been held to five sacks over the past four contests. They were only able to get to Ben Roethlisberger once in Sunday’s defeat as the Steelers at times opted for max protection which featured doubled teams up front. Roethlisberger also operated almost entirely out of the gun and was quick with his releases. Sometimes RBs are staying in to chip in before leaking out as well.
On Monday, he addressed the entire team on the practice field, letting his teammates know their “lackadaisical” attitude wasn’t cool. It was a ragged practice, and the man of few words told them they were wasting a work day.
Even though he’s only 27, Wilkerson is the longest-tenured member of the defense, and he’s taking that role seriously. Teammates have noticed. Coaches have noticed.
While Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract impasse has dominated the headlines, the New York Jets could have an ugly situation developing on the other side of the ball with Pro Bowl defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.
Unless he signs his tender, Wilkerson can’t be fined for not reporting to training camp because, technically, he wouldn’t be under contract. For Wilkerson, who has skipped the voluntary portion of the past two offseasons, a no-show in training camp would be his loudest statement.
The Jets have been saying for two years, going back to the previous regime, that they’d like to re-sign Wilkerson, but they’ve made no progress in negotiations. They were open to trading him before the past two drafts but found no serious suitors. They haven’t ruled out the possibility of tagging him again next year, which would be $18.8 million.
And because of the winning effort over the Dolphins, Donahue, Bass and the Jets will get to do what they do in front of a MetLife crowd that may be just a little more packed and pumped Sunday when the Jaguars come in.