Camp preview: Linebacker

July, 23, 2013
Breaking down the Jets, position by position, as they prepare for training camp, which begins Thursday:

Position: Linebacker

[+] EnlargeQuinton Coples
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesDon't be surprised if Quinton Coples returns to the three-point stance this season.
Projected starters: David Harris, DeMario Davis, Calvin Pace, Quinton Coples.

Projected reserves: Antwan Barnes, Garrett McIntyre, Nick Bellore, Josh Mauga, Ricky Sapp.

New faces: Barnes.

The departed: Bart Scott, Bryan Thomas.

Player to watch: Coples. They're calling him a rush linebacker, although it remains to be seen just how much the former No. 1 pick is used as a linebacker. At 280 pounds, he could be the biggest linebacker in the league. Coples is a terrific athlete ... for an interior lineman. Put him in space and ask him to cover a tight end (yikes!), and you're talking about a different deal. Coples likes the position change because he believes it'll give him more pass-rushing opportunities. However, smart opponents will try to take him out of his comfort zone. Gut feeling: The whole linebacker thing fizzles and he winds up playing in a three-point stance.

Potential strength: There's more speed and athleticism than last year. Then again, a glacier moved faster than last season's linebacking corps. Davis, in particular, should be a help. He replaces Scott at the "Will" spot and will help the pass coverage and perimeter run defense. In other words, he can run. The question is, how will he defend the run? Davis played in 308 defensive snaps last season, mostly in nickel situations. The Jets need a bounce-back year from Harris, who didn't make many impact plays for someone who played in 100 percent of the defensive snaps (1,062).

Potential weakness: Same old story -- still no speed rusher on the edge. They tried to address the issue by signing Barnes, a fabulous situational rusher (11 sacks) for the Chargers in 2011. But don't expect him to be the savior. In his six other seasons, he never registered more than 4.5 sacks, suggesting he was a one-hit wonder in '11. Coples could help the cause, but he might be better suited to the interior. Pace? Statistically, he was one of the least efficient pass rushers in the league -- only three sacks in 353 pass-rushing chances, according to Pro Football Focus.

Wild card: Barnes. It's a bit much to expect another 11-sack year, but if he can be in the six-to-eight range, it'll give the defense a legitimate threat on the outside. Barnes already knows Ryan's scheme (he played under him in '07 and '08 with the Ravens), so there should be no adjustment period.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter



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