In midst of the storm of negativity that’s surrounded the New York Jets training camp, defensive end Muhammed Wilkerson has continued to shine.
The Jets are still talking about the impressive rookie season Wilkerson had, which was detailed in a late June report by New York Daily News reporter Manish Mehta. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine told Mehta that Wilkerson was, at times, “dominant” last season and praised his work ethic by saying “he doesn’t take a day off, and he doesn’t take a play off.” Head coach Rex Ryan furthered the praise by stating that “he’s going to be hard to ignore,” implying that Wilkerson was going to be making a raucous in offensive backfields sometime soon.
Hard to ignore, indeed.
It was hard to ignore the performance of Wilkerson last season. In his rookie year, he sometimes played like a veteran. He showed great versatility that was illustrated by the constant shifting and stemming to various techniques when the Jets’ defense made adjustments to opposing offenses. He was also very disciplined in his gap assignments, whether he was assigned to be a “force’, “cutback” or “contain” defender, he did his job remarkably well very often.
The versatility Wilkerson showed in his rookie season was impressive, and it especially stood out against the Miami Dolphins in week 17. He aligned in the following techniques:
- 0 technique: head-up on the offensive center.
- 3 technique: shaded on outside shoulder of offensive guard.
- 4 technique: head-up on the offensive tackle.
- 4i technique: shaded on the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle.
- 5 technique: shaded on the outside shoulder of offensive tackle.
- 6 technique: head-up on the tight end.
The multiple alignments were also characterized by gap assignments, and Wilkerson was mostly used as a one gap or two gap defender. A one-gap defender is exactly what it says: he’s assigned to a single gap. Conversely, working as a two-gap defender means he has to account for two gaps. As a one-gap defender, Wilkerson is likely given the green light to charge downhill and get after the quarterback, but when he’s in a two-gap role he has to read and react to his keys.
While playing these alignments, he displayed a good understanding of discipline, leverage, and gap assignments while also showing off his ball awareness as well as quickness at the snap. One play that stood out while watching Wilkerson was a first down draw by the Dolphins, a run to the left of where Wilkerson hovered.
Miami had 11 personnel (1 back, 1 tight end) on the field on this play, and Wilkerson was lined up as a 9 technique across the outside shoulder of tight end Anthony Fasano.
After the snap, Wilkerson stood up, and widened his feet out to shoulder width to create a firm base while he also extended his arms into the chest of Fasano to set the edge because he was the force defender. Because Wilkerson played with a strong base and got his hands inside of the blocker, he was able to control Fasano and play with good leverage.
His quickness also appeared on many plays, including a designed run play by the offense when he blew past left tackle John Jerry and clashed with runner Steve Slaton in the backfield. Ultimately, he ended up missing the tackle because he tackled the ball carrier around the shoulders, which is poor form, but the play still resulted in a loss of yards.
Another play came in the fourth quarter on first down and goal-to-go for the Dolphins. Wilkerson lined up as a three technique, and he quickly ran downhill past the play-side blocker before tackling running back Daniel Thomas short of the end zone.
Last season, Wilkerson didn’t play a significant amount of snaps because he was still developing as a pass rusher. He doesn’t offer the same presence against the pass as he does against the run. The Jets were well aware of that weakness, which is why he was only on the field for 57.7% of the defensive snaps.
It was noticeable that Ryan and Pettine targeted running downs to play Wilkerson because he was very effective and had a very good engine. However, when he was forced to rush downhill, he flashed skill at times even if it was strictly based off his natural talent. This raw ability was showcased during his sack of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, when Wilkerson beat right tackle Kareem McKenzie to the outside with superior quickness.
Speaking of strong, he also did damage against the Jacksonville Jaguars early in the season by powering through the interior of the Jaguars offensive line and sacking quarterback Luke McCown for a safety.
According to Pettine, Wilkerson’s pass rush opportunities are going to increase up to “80-plus percent’ and “Mo’s only going to come off the field when he needs a break”. It can also be expected that Wilkerson will improve as a pass rusher because of his natural talent, hand use, and work ethic.
For offensive linemen, mo snaps means mo problems.