By Glenn Naughton
Now that New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles has his new coaching staff in place, fans are finding plenty of reason for optimism with the off-season just a few days away.
Bowles’ decision to bring in long-time New York Giants and Jets linebacker Pepper Johnson to coach the defensive line was a welcome one. The position was previously held by Karl Dunbar, a coach who many fans felt was the only member of the previous regime worth keeping around. Dunbar’s resume is as good as any defensive line coach in the league, but Johnson is coming off of a season in which the players he worked with put up some eye-popping numbers themselves.
Tasked with coaching the Bills’ defensive line last season, Johnson oversaw a unit that helped the Bills lead the NFL in sacks with 54. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the Bills success up front was the fact that 47 of the 54 sacks came from the defensive line with seven different players contributing to the effort. Mario Williams was one of three players to register at least 10 sacks as he led the way with 14.5, while Jerry Hughes and Marcel Darius contributed 10 apiece. In addition to the 54 sacks, Buffalo’s defensive line logged over 140 quarterback pressures according to PFF.com.
While Johnson will be the one working directly with the lineman, new defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers will be the man calling the shots on defense with Bowles likely having a heavy influence. Like Johnson, Rodgers has had his own share of success in coaching the defensive line for the Miami Dolphins prior to joining the Jets. Under Rodgers, the Dolphins developed Pro-Bowler Cameron Wake, while getting the likes Randy Starks, Oliver Vernon, and Jared Odrick to perform at a high level which led to 65 sacks for the Dolphins D-line over the past two seasons.
Bowles’ reputation as a coordinator was that of a coach who liked to bring pressure as the Cardinals blitzed 49% of the time on QB drop backs-last season, tops in the NFL. When you consider Bowles’ preference for pressure, the success of Rodgers and Johnson, and team it with Mo Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison and (possibly) Quinton Coples working up front, immediate results could go a long way helping the Jets make a quick recovery from 4-12 basement dweller, to instant playoff contender.