I'm starting to realize something, this defense isn't as good as it thinks it is. Its linebackers are no exception. Bart Scott, who was already declining with age, was let go this offseason. Calvin Pace isn't the pass-rusher he used to be and he's on the wrong side of 30. Quinton Coples was supposed to bring some much needed electricity and athleticism to the group of outside pass-rushers. He's recently been sidelined with a fractured ankle and will be out indefinitely.
Coples will struggle when he returns to the lineup. Defending the run on the edge and taking on blocks is a bit of a problem for him, but he has the size, strength and athletic ability to succeed in this area. He will need to learn and improve with on-field experience. A player switching positions needs as many snaps and as much playing time as possible, and sadly, Coples won't be on the field in the near future.
David Harris, for the moment, is still the best thing about the Jets linebackers and will continue to provide leadership and stability in the run defense. He recorded his second highest tackle total of his career last season, but he's not as good defending the run as he used to be. I noticed on film he was taken out by offensive lineman too often on the 2nd level. To Harris's credit, he is an underrated blitzer. He uses his power well to get past the block of a back to come down, and lay the boom on an opposing quarterback. He's notched an average of 4 plus sacks a season, going back to 2009. His new partner in the middle of defense is 2nd year linebacker Demario Davis.
Davis started in three games last season, and failed to make a significant impact in all three of them. Davis doesn’t lack athleticism, but too often he fails to use it on the field. Davis does a poor job of diagnosing plays. He also lacks power on his blitzes, and did not get a sack as a rookie. The Jets will need Davis to be more aggressive and more creative in his first season as an NFL starter.
If Harris or Davis get injured, the Jets will be in serious trouble. John Mauga and Nick Bellore are nothing more than overachieving special teamers. Losing Harris would yank the only thumping run stopper the Jets have off the field. Losing Davis would result in New York being without their most athletic cover linebacker. Injuries can strike at any time… just ask Quinton Coples.
The Jets are being as smart as they can be with Coples' injury. Garrett McIntyre will take his place in the starting lineup. McIntyre is not a starting talent, but he keeps Antwan Barnes in place as a rotational rusher. That is a role that Barnes thrives in, and is best suited for. Barnes racked up double-digit sacks in 2011, but 7 of those came in games in which he did not start. Barnes is a high-energy player and possesses a big motor. These are traits that defensive coordinators love to see from their pass rushers who come off the bench. If Coples can get back sometime in the near future, then Barnes will be that much fresher and more effective.
McIntyre also possesses a good motor, but he's lacking as an athlete. McIntyre is nothing special as a run defender, but he's better than Barnes in that area. This is another reason why McIntyre will be starting in place of Coples, and not Barnes.
Rex Ryan's elite defensive mind will help this linebacking group, which has been the norm since he took over for Eric Mangini, but the Jets need Coples back as soon as possible.