FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Muhammad Wilkerson hasn’t looked like himself. And there’s a good reason.
“Is my foot bothering me? Yes,” the Jets’ defensive end admitted to Newsday.
Wilkerson was limited in practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday’s session with a sore ankle. He said he’s been dealing with the pain “for a couple weeks.”
The expectations for the 2011 first-round pick were extremely high after he recorded 12 sacks last season before breaking his right fibula, the smaller of the two bones between the knee and ankle, Jan. 3 in a Week 17 loss at Buffalo.
His career year earned him his first Pro Bowl selection, and Wilkerson finally got the long-term contract he had been seeking — a five-year, $86-million deal in July. But after recording 1 1⁄2 sacks against Cincinnati in Week 1, he’s been virtually a nonfactor, and he knows it.
Wilkerson said there’s been “no setbacks” in his surgically repaired leg, nor is he worried about the injury when he goes out on the field. “It’s not mental,’’ he said. “It’s just physical.”
Is the pain affecting his play?
“I don’t know,” he said, with a grin.
Asked if it would be beneficial to sit out a game to rest his sore foot, he replied: “I can’t make that call.”
Wilkerson has been limited in each of the last four Thursday practices because of the ankle injury, but coach Todd Bowles has labeled those rest days as regular “maintenance.” When asked Wednesday if Wilkerson’s sore ankle is related to his offseason surgery, Bowles said: “It’s part of his every-week process. It was just more sore than normal.”
Defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers also downplayed the severity of Wilkerson’s injury Thursday, adding that it hasn’t affected his play. “When you talk about his health and everything, you have to take that up with Todd,” Rodgers said. “But just watching his play, I wouldn’t say there’s a drop-off because he’s playing so many plays.
“I just think it’s something, right now, like maintenance,” Rodgers added. “But coming into the game, he’s ready to roll.”
Wilkerson, however, seemed far less optimistic about his health. “I don’t call those shots,” he said of whether it would make sense to sit out a game. “I can’t say I’m not playing.”
He’s played 96 percent of the defensive snaps (372 out of 386) this season. But the coaching staff doesn’t seem to think that’s overdoing it.
“(Defensive line coach) Pepper (Johnson) does a really good job of rotating those guys, and Mo is a true pro,” Rodgers said. “We rest him some during the week, but he doesn’t want to come off the field. He wants to be out there. He wants to give us every chance to win.”