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Down two defensive starters, Jets have time to adjust

Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams addresses the crowd

Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams addresses the crowd of fans at training camp on July 28, 2019. Credit: James Escher

Losing two impact players on defense was not what the Jets hoped for heading into this already unprecedented season. But Adam Gase said it’s better it happened now, before any practices have been held.

It will give defensive coordinator Gregg Williams more time to adjust, and you know he will.

The Jets traded two-time Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams to Seattle nearly two weeks ago and last weekend four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker C.J. Mosley opted out of the 2020 season because of concerns over COVID-19. Mosley cited his young son as a reason he chose to opt out.

No one doubts that Williams, one of the top defensive coaches in the NFL, will figure out the best scheme and player groupings to use to get the most out of this unit. He did it last year with Mosley only playing two games because of a groin injury, and the Jets losing various other key defensive players to injury. The Jets still were a top-10 overall defense and the No. 2 rushing defense.

“It is a little different when things happen midseason, middle of training camp, middle of the season and you’re trying to make a bunch of adjustments when you don’t have guys on the roster,” Gase said during a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “This is kind of what we do as coaches: Who do we have? Who’s available? Who’s able to go?

"You construct it. You get ready to adjust throughout the season because things will change as you go. This is really what we get paid to do. We have to do a really good job of using the personnel that is ready to go each week. Gregg has always done a great job making sure that he uses guys to their abilities, and he gets the max out of them.”

Since the Jets haven’t begun practicing yet, Gase said it’s too soon to know whether they will have two regular starting linebackers. That will be up to Williams. But it’s expected that veteran Avery Williamson, who the Jets lost for the year after he tore his ACL in the preseason, will go back to playing a huge role.

Williamson was the Jets’ defensive play-caller the year before Mosley arrived. Williamson was transitioning to the other inside linebacker spot when he got hurt. If he’s healthy – he’s currently on the Active/PUP list – Williamson could slide back into the position he already knows so well. Gase said Williamson needs to “check some boxes” before he’s cleared to resume contact. But Williamson said he expects to be ready for the start of the season.

“I’ve been really good since about May or June. Just really started turning the corner, doing a lot of running,” Williamson said. “The workload has increased over the months. I feel really good. I’m just listening to the trainers right now. They want me to take it slow. I’m agreeing with them.  As long as I’m ready for the season, which I know I will be, that’s all that matters.”

The Jets have depth at inside linebacker with Neville Hewitt, James Burgess, former Raven Patrick Onwuasor, Blake Cashman and B.J. Bello on the roster. Burgess led the Jets in tackles last year. Hewitt was tied for second. Onwuasor could prove to be a big signing. He replaced Mosley with the Ravens last year but eventually lost his starting job.

“It was not an easy decision for C.J.,” Gase said. “We had multiple conversations. He had this opportunity as far as if he wasn’t comfortable with the situation he had the ability to opt out. He had his decision it seemed like fairly early in the process. I appreciated that he did that. We’ll miss him this season. But like always we will have the next man up mentality.

“I feel like we do have a lot of depth at that position and I feel like our guys will step up and do everything they can to fill the void. We’ll develop great defense and team chemistry. The beauty of what Gregg does on defense and the amount of personnel groups that he has, it gives him a ton of flexibility to give a lot of guys playing time. I think that will be beneficial to us.”

Notes & quotes: Linebacker James Burgess was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday. Burgess has either tested positive for COVID-19 or has been quarantined after having been in close contact with an infected person or persons.

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