In Monday night’s tilt against the Giants, rookie defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson showed Jets fans what his teammates have known for some time. The 6’4”, 315-pounder is one tough cookie, and although he has yet to play his first professional regular season game, he has proven his mettle and shown he belongs.
In the third quarter, with the Jets leading, 7-3, an otherwise nondescript 7-yard completion by the Giants turned into a slugfest. Wilkerson and Giants RB Brandon Jacobs were tangled up when Jacobs threw a punch at the rookie. Wilkerson retaliated and both were promptly ejected from the game.
“He’s a very competitive guy that’s willing to stick his nose in there,” said S Jim Leonhard. “It was a hard-nosed football play, and it ended up where it ended up, which is unfortunate. But you like to see that from young guys. He’s going to be an aggressive player for us.”
Wilkerson, a Linden, N.J., native, acknowledged he might have been better served by not involving himself with Jacobs, but he wouldn’t go so far as to apologize for what transpired between the two.
“Was it a smart move? No. Do I regret it? No,” Wilkerson told reporters on a Tuesday conference call. “It’s football and I’m not going to let anyone take advantage of me.”
Coming off a standout junior season at Temple, Wilkerson started in all 12 games for the Owls, making 9.5 sacks, 70 tackles in all and 13 tackles for loss, and forced two fumbles.
Even though the Jets players could not use the team facilities for virtually the entire offseason, head coach Rex Ryan was able to get a playbook to Wilkerson on the day the lockout was lifted, and then the rookie found two particular teammates to be especially helpful in his transition to the pro game.
“I was looking at it every day,” said Wilkerson. “I also met up with Sione [Pouha] and [Mike] DeVito, and the rest of the defensive line got together one week when Mark [Sanchez] brought some guys out west. That’s what really helped me make such a smooth transition into camp.”
Once Wilkerson arrived at training camp, his skills were front and center. He has above-average agility for a lineman his size, and combined with his strength, he makes for a difficult matchup.
“I think I’ve had a good preseason,” he said. “I just wanted to come in and work week in and week out. I’ve improved from the first game, and I want to keep doing that throughout the season.”
Through three preseason games, Wilkerson has recorded six total tackles in limited playing time. He’ll look to improve further in the preseason finale against Philadelphia at MetLife Stadium. Only a day removed from the Giants game, Ryan said the rookies will be on center stage come Thursday night.
Wilkerson, in all his youthful exuberance, is not concerned with the short turnaround.
“It’s kind of just like practice,” he said. “You practice every day with pads. It’s kind of going to be the same. It’s not like I’m not looking forward to it. I’m ready to go, no matter when, no matter where.”
Wilkerson has been a pro football player for only a short while but already exudes a veteran grit. This comes as no surprise to Ryan, who thinks some of his toughness may be a result of where he grew up.
“I don’t think he’s intimidated by anything,” said Ryan earlier this month. “He’s a tough New Jersey kid. It’s kind of neat when you get a New Jersey guy. New York, New Jersey, we get our own kind of kids here.”
After making a statement on Monday night, Ryan and the rest of the Jets are all in this Jersey guy’s corner.
A Decade of “Hard Knocks”
Ten years after the debut of the groundbreaking NFL Films and HBO Sports collaboration and a year after the Jets were the stars of the show, HBO is ready to air “Hard Knocks: A Decade of NFL Training Camps.” The new show debuts tonight from 10-11:30 p.m. ET/PT exclusively on HBO.
In addition to revisiting memorable moments of the featured teams — Baltimore, Dallas (twice), Kansas City, Cincinnati and the Jets — this special includes new interviews with Rex Ryan and other Hard Knocks veterans.
You can also see the special Thursday at 4:05 a.m. on HBO and at 9 a.m. on HBO2 and at other times on the two HBO networks through Sept. 21.
Tags: Brandon Jacobs, Jim Leonhard, Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Rex Ryan
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