Sunday is a day that 2011 first-round draft pick Muhammad Wilkerson has waited for his entire life.
The 21-year-old defensive lineman from Linden, N.J., has been a focal point for fans and media since being drafted in April, and now he has the opportunity to finally take the field in a meaningful game for the Jets in their season opener at MetLife Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys.
“I’m not feeling anxious or pressured or anything,” Wilkerson said in the locker room today. “I’m a little excited. I’m ready to get out there and have some fun.”
Head coach Rex Ryan has publicized his lofty expectations for Wilkerson since draft day. Preseason aside, Ryan thinks fans will be impressed with the way the young lineman plays.
“We knew we would be fortunate to get him if he fell to where we were picking in the first round,” said Ryan. “He understands what we want from that position. He’s got some God-given abilities. He reminds me a little bit of Shaun Ellis.”
That’s high praise for a rookie, as Ellis averaged over six sacks per season during his 11-year Jets career. But even as a first-round pick stepping into the role vacated by Ellis — and in fact prepared to become the only rookie starter on the Jets’ defense in the opener — Wilkerson says he’s been able to maintain his focus with the help of the veterans alongside him on the D-line.
“Sione [Pouha] just told me to go out there, don’t worry about mistakes, and make my corrections on the sidelines,” said Wilkerson. “He told me to go out there, have fun, and take it one play at a time.”
Pouha and fellow D-lineman Mike DeVito have mentored the 315-pound Wilkerson since he arrived at training camp this summer. Joining Wilkerson under the wings of Pouha and DeVito is third-round rookie DT Kenrick Ellis.
Ellis and Wilkerson will both begin their careers on Sunday night, and both hope to wear the green and white for years to come.
“We came in and are learning from the veterans,” said Wilkerson. “We look to carry on their tradition, their torch. Whenever they feel like they can’t go anymore, hopefully me and Kenrick are still here.”
Here are some notes from Randy Lange on Ryan’s news conference today at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center:
After observing that Thursday’s practice was sluggish and had a few mistakes, Ryan was much happier with the tone of today’s final practice of the week before the season opener.
“Today was our best practice” of the week, he said. “That’s the way you like it, on Friday. … We feel healthy, we feel strong, we’re ready to go. Our guys are flying around right now.”
Ryan meant that last observation almost literally.
“On defense, our guys were running back to where you spot the ball,” he said. “It’s just one of those things I don’t think I’ve ever seen. Usually you jog back to the huddle. Our guys were sprinting back.”
Rex vs. Rob
Ryan said he and his twin brother, Rob, the Cowboys’ DC, have continued their tradition this week. They’ve talked several times on the phone and they take turns “ripping the other guy.” That only happens, though, when they’re playing each other. When they’re taking on different opponents, the phonecalls are more of the supportive and brain-picking kind.
What exactly were the Ryans ripping each other about this week? Rex stayed true to his intentions of downplaying his and Rob’s playful nature.
“Really, I just think this being the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I’d just as soon share those just with my brother,” he said. “This game is so special to so many people. I certainly don’t want to take away from that.”
Ryan touted K Nick Folk as he closes in on playing the team that released him in 2009. “I feel great about where Nick is right now,” he said. “Maybe he doesn’t realize it right now, but it’s going to be extra special going against somebody he used to play for. When I go back to Baltimore, I want to win. You want to show ‘em, ‘Hey, you made a mistake.’ I think that’s human nature.”
A few changes to the Jets’ injury report today: Both FB John Conner (ankle) and QB Mark Brunell (calf) practiced in all team drills today after being limited the previous two days and both are probable for the game. WR Santonio Holmes was added to the Jets’ injury report with illness but practiced full during team drills and is also probable. In fact, other than OL Rob Turner and WR Logan Payne, both out, everyone practiced full and is probable.
The Dallas injury report just came in and the Cowboys are declaring three players out of the game — starting CB Terence Newman as well as TE Martellus Bennett and WR Laurent Robinson. Three others were limited in team drills at today’s practice in Big D and are listed as questionable for Sunday night: CB Mike Jenkins (neck/knee), first-round rookie RT Tyron Smith (knee) and C Phil Costa (knee). Smith, who didn’t practice in team drills Thursday, was limited today.
Ambassador Earl Christy
Earl Christy, the Jets’ Super Bowl III alumnus from the Tampa, Fla., area, is extending his energy, personality and reach to the Midwest to promote the Danville (Ill.) Dragons of the Ultimate Indoor Football League.
Christy, a defensive back and kick returner for the Jets from 1966-68, has been named the Dragons’ Sports and Community Ambassador. In that role he’ll be involved in a game at the David S. Palmer Arena in Danville that will be determined once the team’s schedule is released in March 2012. He’ll speak privately to the Dragons before the game, sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans, and receive an honor at halftime. He’s also be involved in the Earl Christy Award for Outstanding Academic and Community Involvement.
Tags: Dallas Cowboys, Kenrick Ellis, Mike DeVito, Muhammad Wilkerson, Nick Folk, Rex Ryan, Rob Ryan, Sione Pouha
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