FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- On consecutive plays in a red zone period, New York Jets defensive end Carl Lawson stopped running back Michael Carter for a loss and fellow end John Franklin-Myers collapsed the pocket to sack Zach Wilson.
The Jets' defensive line owned Monday at training camp. They expect to own a lot of days this season.
On a young team in transition, the Jets' strength is the defensive line. Coach Robert Saleh's scheme is predicated on strong line play, so they went heavy on defensive linemen in NFL free agency. They added Lawson and Sheldon Rankins to a returning group that features Quinnen Williams. There are no Pro Bowl players in the group (not yet, anyway), but it's a talented, versatile bunch that goes eight or nine deep.
"I expect it to be damn good," said Rankins, a 2016 first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints. "I played with Cam Jordan. I played with David Onyemata. I played with Marcus Davenport. I played with Trey Hendrickson, who just got paid [by the Cincinnati Bengals]. I've played with some good dudes. But the dudes I'm playing with now, in this scheme, I feel the sky's the limit.
"Whoever we roll out there, teams better -- excuse my French -- buckle their s---. We're coming. And when that group gets tired, the next group is coming. We expect to do that for a full 60 minutes of a football game and dominate games."
The Jets also have Folorunso Fatukasi and Nathan Shepherd, along with veteran imports Ronald Blair and Vinny Curry (injured). Lawson, Franklin-Myers, Fatukasi and Sheppard are getting most of the first-team reps in the base front, with Rankins getting work on passing downs. They still don't have Williams, who fractured a foot in the offseason and is two weeks away from returning to practice.
While the Jets don't have a true star, they have enough starting-caliber players to form a strong six- or seven-man rotation, which should keep everyone fresh. Unlike the previous system, which required the linemen to read-and-react, Saleh's scheme will let them attack upfield. As Rankins colorfully noted, their job is to "get three yards in the backfield ... however the f--- it happens."
The Jets have big expectations for their defensive line. Sound familiar?
In 2016 and 2017, they were loaded with high draft picks -- Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams -- but the line never reached its potential. It always left you wanting more. Part of the reason was because the offense was so bad it never had many chances to play with a lead, hurting the ability to be aggressive on defense. That group dissolved before it had a chance to do anything memorable.
Once again, the offense -- led by the rookie quarterback Wilson -- is a big unknown. If the Jets struggle to score points, Lawson, Rankins, Williams & Co. won't get as many pass-rushing chances. That could be problematic.
In terms of philosophy, the Jets have done a 180. Under previous coordinator Gregg Williams, they did a lot of blitzing and tried to confuse opponents with multiple fronts and pre-snap movement. Saleh believes in a four-man rush. During his four seasons as the San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator, he rushed five or more on only 23% of the pass plays, 23rd in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Jets were third at 34% over the same span.
"... There are schemes that can get him off his rocker and you can try to get him off his game, but when you start bringing pressure and you start trying to trick a quarterback, the great ones can make you pay in a really, really bad way," Saleh said. "The only position that can really genuinely affect the quarterback without really having to do anything goofy, so you can just play good, solid fundamental football in the back end, is the defensive line. [It's about] winning one-on-one's and getting in the quarterback's face and making his life absolute hell."
To a man, the players say Saleh's system to much easier to absorb and execute than the previous one. In theory, it should make for few growing pains and allow them to play fast. Buckle up.