Updated, 4 p.m. ET
At 5-3, the Jets are halfway through the 2011 campaign. The final eight games will determine the outcome of their season, and it starts with Sunday’s highly anticipated primetime matchup with the New England Patriots.
The halfway point also seems to be a good time to catch up with this year’s first-round draft pick, DL Muhammad Wilkerson. He has started every game in his rookie year, totaling 23 tackles, one sack that produced the safety vs. Jacksonville, and one pass defense. The transition from college to the NFL can be a galactic leap for some, but Wilkerson is becoming increasingly more comfortable in his role.
“For me, I’m trying to stay positive,” said Wilkerson. “I’ve been having ups and downs. I’m trying to stay focused on mentally preparing for what I need to do with my alignment and technique so I can finish this year strong.”
The numbers don’t jump off the page, but his impact cannot always be understood through statistics. While the Green & White rush defense struggled earlier in the season to contain the outside runs, a rallying cry of “Set the Edge” rang through the locker room. Wilkerson takes pride in that role.
“I have to make sure everything bounces inside to the great linebackers we have, or just letting Sione [Pouha] and [Mike] DeVito clean it up,” he said.
His job description is akin to that of a point guard, setting up his teammates to make the impact play. After a rough 60-minute stretch against the Pats in Week 5, Wilkerson and his linemates were challenged by head coach Rex Ryan this week.
“Looking back on the first time we played them, there were a lot of ups and downs in that game,” he said. “More downs than ups. We were watching a lot of that film this week, and you really don’t want to watch it, but we have to face the facts. We have to put that aside and show what we’re capable of doing.”
Speaking of capability, Wilkerson feels he still has plenty to prove over the final eight games:
“In every game, there are things that I do good, and some things that, not that I do bad, but that I can do better. I’m just trying to do everything to the best of my ability.”
The transition will continue, but he knows what lies ahead.
“Nothing is easy,” Wilkerson said. “I just take the coaching, and I’m learning. I’ll go from there.”
Wilson Making Strides
As a rookie, CB Kyle Wilson made the same transition that Wilkerson is making right now. Wilson’s struggles were well-documented, leading him to lose confidence and playing time. This year he’s a new player with a fresh outlook.
“Personally, I feel a lot better,” said Wilson. “Having last year to use as experience, I‘ve just been putting in a lot of work. I learn from the guys in the room that I’m working with, like Cro [Antonio Cromartie] and Darrelle [Revis] and continue to accept the coaching.”
“We liked Kyle when we took him,” said Ryan. “We thought he might have been the top corner in the draft when he came out. I’m not surprised at the kind of year he’s having. He’s having as good a year as any nickel in the league.”
It’s high praise for Wilson, who is arguably the most improved player on the Jets’ roster. After logging five tackles in increased action against the Buffalo Bills last week, it’s safe to say he will be on the field early and often against the pass-happy Pats.
With New England having dropped their last two games, QB Tom Brady has found himself under the microscope.
“I love hearing that Tom Brady is struggling,” Ryan said sarcastically. “Based on what? Last year was a once-in-a-lifetime season — four picks, a zillion touchdowns. That’s going to be hard to match. He’s as good as it gets right now.”
As usual, the focus for the Jets defense will be on pressuring Brady, and taking him out of his comfort zone.
“If you can’t get pressure on Brady, you’re going to get destroyed,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to find ways of getting in there. Whether it’s a four-man rush or something creative, I don’t know. We have to get pressure on him.”
TE Shawn Nelson (illness) and S Brodney Pool (knee) did not practice this afternoon and have been listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
All the other injured Jets practiced full and are listed as probable for the game, including WR Plaxico Burress (back), DT Mike DeVito (knee), RB-KR Joe McKnight (toe) and CB Isaiah Trufant (hamstring). The Jets’ full injury report can be found here.
The Patriots have declared LBs Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher out of the game. WR Wes Welker (rib) practiced full after two limited practices and is probable for the Jets. All 10 other injured Patriots were limited in today’s team drills and are questionable for the game: CB Kyle Arrington, S Patrick Chung, DE Shaun Ellis, RBs Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, LB Gary Guyton and Jerod Mayo, WR Taylor Price, T Sebastian Vollmer and OL Ryan Wendell.
Tags: Kyle Wilson, Mike DeVito, Muhammad Wilkerson, Plaxico Burress, Rex Ryan, Tom Brady
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