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Muhammad Wilkerson excited to see who Jets draft

Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. (File photo)

Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. (File photo) Credit: AP

Jets fans weren't the only ones who noticed. Muhammad Wilkerson did too.

The 23-year-old defensive lineman was left off the list of 2012 Pro Bowl selections -- a noticeable snub in his eyes.

"I'm just going to use that as motivation and make sure I get to Hawaii this year," Wilkerson said.

For Wilkerson, there's much work to be done -- not just himself, but also his team.

The Jets followed up their offseason salary cap purge by trading away their best player, cornerback Darrelle Revis. Despite the roster upheaval, Wilkerson believes the "sky's the limit" for the rebuilding Jets.

"Everybody's putting in great effort in the weight room and everybody's busting their behind on the field, running, doing their conditioning," he said Thursday at a Citi Field appearance. "The sky's the limit and I think we have the talent right now and we're only going to get better."

The Jets will look to improve through the NFL draft, which begins Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall. And with two first-round picks (No. 9 and 13) at their disposal, the Jets can go a variety of ways. Wilkerson, a former first-rounder in 2011, is just as excited as fans are to see who new general manager John Idzik takes.

"It's good to watch the draft and see who's going to be part of your team and congratulate them," he said, adding that he'll be at the team's facility Thursday night for the draft party the Jets are hosting. "I'm just watching like everybody else. Whoever we pick, I'm pretty sure [it'll] definitely be a good pick . . . I'm all for whoever the team picks."

Thursday represented a renewed sense of commitment and hope for the future -- not just for the 200-plus kids at the Citi Field Kids program event who listened to Wilkerson tell his story of accomplishment despite adversity. But also for the young defensive lineman, who, despite his age, will look to lead a rebuilding franchise.

"I'm not a rah-rah guy but speaking to [defensive line] coach [Karl] Dunbar, I feel like I can lead by example," said Wilkerson, who had 69 tackles and five sacks last season. "We have guys on the team that are older than me -- [Antonio] Cro [Cromartie] is a great leader, David Harris as well. We have multiple leaders on the team. It's not just one."

But Wilkerson "definitely" has his sights set on taking his game to the next level.

"I challenge myself to get better each year and I feel like I've just got to move on from last year and work hard and do better than I did," he said.

Rex Ryan vowed Sunday that his defense would play "great," even in the absence of Revis. And Wilkerson, who's down "a couple pounds" to 295, is eager to make good on his coach's promise.

"Rex is the man who calls the shots and if he said it I'm going to back him up," Wilkerson said. "Definitely, just as a defense we feel like we didn't pursue some things last year, at the beginning of the season. A lot of teams were rushing multiple yards on us. We knew we weren't ourselves and we looked at that on film and we're just going to make sure that doesn't happen to us this year.

"It's not just the defensive line, it's the whole team. Everybody has to step up and do their part. Last year wasn't a season we wanted it to be and we just got to move on from that, look at the bad things we did and also the good. And work harder on the bad things we did and hopefully those things won't happen this year."

Of course, they'll have to show improvement without several veteran players from last year's team including Sione Po'uha, Mike DeVito, Yeremiah Bell, LaRon Landry, Bart Scott and Eric Smith.

And, of course, Revis.

"I wish Darrelle the best down in Tampa," Wilkerson said, noting that it will be weird without the star cornerback in New York. "He was a great player while he was here, a great teammate on and off the field. But we've just got to move on and look forward to the 2013 season."

Asked about the loss of so many veterans on defense, Wilkerson said: "There's a lot of older guys that left but I learned a lot from those guys. Like I said, that's something I can't control . . . That's something the business people upstairs had to handle. And I guess they felt they handled it the best way they felt. So there's nothing I can say, I wish those guys the best."

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