As a former defensive player, Jets Coach Herman Edwards made no secret about his mission to overhaul a unit that ranked 21st in the league last season. Gone are defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell and five defensive starters, including linebackers Marvin Jones and Mo Lewis.
Donnie Henderson, an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens from 1999 to 2003, is the new defensive coordinator, and the team added linebacker Eric Barton (Raiders), cornerback David Barrett (Cardinals) and strong safety Reggie Tongue (Seahawks) via free agency. It also drafted linebacker Jonathan Vilma in the first round from the University of Miami.
The occasional 3-4 alignment the Jets have used during the preseason is another modification.
"We are hopefully a speed defense," Edwards said. "We have some speed players in our front seven that can run, and we have to move them around. We can't sit guys in there and go toe-to-toe and beat guys up all day. We are not built that way. We are built to move."
Any momentum the Jets had heading into last season fizzled completely when quarterback Chad Pennington fractured and dislocated his left wrist two weeks before the season opener. The Jets began the season 0-4 and finished 6-10.
Pennington has been precise with his throws during training camp, and all indications are his hand has healed. The Jets also took steps to ensure Pennington would be their quarterback for quite some time, signing the first-round pick in 2000 to a seven-year extension worth a reported $64 million. The leader in passing efficiency in 2002 had set the end of the preseason as the deadline for a new deal to be completed; otherwise, he said he would cut off negotiations until after the regular season.
"I feel like we have an opportunity to do something," Pennington said. "There's a different focus, a hunger. There's a new energy about us."