When you think about some great Jets’ defensive lines, the “Sack Exchange” usually is the first to come to mind.
Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam had the perfect blend to cause havoc and play an integral role in the team’ success. You could also throw in the Jets’ Super Bowl winning line that included Gerry Philbin, John Elliott, Verlon Biggs, and Paul Rochester to the mix. Individually, Jason Ferguson and Muhammed Wilkerson shined in their prime.
The Jets’ recent restructuring of defensive tackle Quinnen Williams’ contract signaled that the team realizes the importance of his presence along with the anticipated success of the unit this fall.
Since head coach Robert Saleh came on board, he has been concerned about building the depth of the defensive line. The Jets finished seventh in the league last season with 45 sacks, led by Williams’ dozen. He also had 55 tackles.
Now, Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich have to take the next step.
Williams will be the centerpiece, and he will have the pressures to live up to his four-year, $96 million deal. That’s a big paycheck of $66 million guaranteed. However, he does have a strong supporting cast.
Veterans tackles Al Woods, Quinton Jefferson, and Solomon Thomas are all veterans whose presence could be a difference maker. Michael Clemons came on late in the season as a rookie last year, and expectations are high. Clemons made his intentions clear when he showed up at training camp shirtless with a barbed-wire bat.
Carl Lawson was healthy last season and recorded seven sacks. There’s also John Franklin-Myers, who had five sacks, and Byrce Huff, who has continued to improve.
With the veteran depth, second-year end Jermaine Johnson, who had some breakthrough moments last year, and top pick hybrid Will McDonald, who will be under the microscope, will have time to develop. Johnson and McDonald should have the luxury that most budding pass rusher don’t.
Still, it is all based upon the Jets generating the same type of production and even better in 2023.
The overall unit rose to the elite level last season despite needing an upgrade at outside linebacker. Sauce Gardner brought the secondary back to respectability and beyond.
Aaron Rogers will be the face of the franchise, and the offense conjectures begin with a playoff game. If they live up to their assumptions, the defense can take a breath.
Overall, though, Saleh is right. The defensive line will make the difference.