It was a move that was way overdue when the New York Jets finally exiled disinterested defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson to the bench just a couple of weeks ago. Doing so has now opened the door for hungrier, more determined players along their defensive front to see some playing time. Thus far it appears linemen Mike Pennel and Xavier Cooper have been the recipients of those reps, and both have made the most of it.
Through the season’s first ten weeks, Pennel was a rarely used rotational player who played more than 30% of the Jets defensive snaps just one time (Week 5 vs Cleveland) according to pfr.com. With Wilkerson out of the picture, Pennel has seen his snap count go from the mid-teens, to the mid-to-high 20’s in four of his last five games (29,9,23,29,27) and the increased reps has led to improved play.
In watching this Sunday’s game against the Chargers, Pennel looked to be consistently making plays in the middle of the defense, moving blockers around and making tackles. For anyone who follows PFF New York Jets on twitter, you know that the account churns out the weekly high and low performers for that week’s game, and Pennel topped all Jets players this week at 96.8 (subject to change upon review).
Top graded #Jets this week
86.8 Mike Pennel
86.3 James Carpenter
83.2 Demario Davis
82.6 Bilal Powel
81.4 Jordan Jenkinshttps://t.co/8khV815are
— PFF NY Jets (@PFF_NYJets) December 25, 2017
Although not quite as impactful, fellow lineman Xavier Cooper made his Jets debut back in week six and hadn’t played more than 15 snaps in any one game prior to Wilkerson being benched. Over the past two weeks, he has played 39 and 53 snaps respectively and was a big part of the Jets’ loss on Sunday that saw Gang Green hold the Chargers to just 14 points.
With Wilkerson benched and Leonard Williams nursing a back injury, Pennel and Cooper could find themselves getting a big chunk of playing time once again as they try to work their way in to the Jets’ plans for 2018 with a strong finish down the stretch.