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Rex Ryan’s Grand Experiment: The Flexible Front Seven?

Our 285-pound backer?

Our 285-pound backer?

Honestly, I can’t muster enough energy to talk about Sanchez and quarterbacks. The most intriguing thing for me about this Jets team is the experiment taking place on Rex Ryan’s defense. Specifically, with the front seven.

For anyone who’s watched this squad over the years, it’s clear Ryan can coach defense. And the Jets defensive units have been solid. That said, the number of times I’ve watched a quarterback sit in the pocket and look down the field…and continue looking…and check down to his third option…and then slide out of the pocket…and OMFG where the hell is the RUSHHHH!!!!??? This sentiment has been all too common.

In today’s passing league, pressure on the quarterback is only mounting in importance. That responsibility falls primarily on the guys up front. Which is what’s so interesting to watch on this season’s version of the green and white. Our front seven is like a mad chemist’s experimental lab. Are we running a 4-3? 3-4? Both. How much of which? Who’s playing on the outside? Inside? Both? Hand in the dirt. Up. Both. Combinations. Permutations. It’s fascinating, because it’s either going to crash or burn. Hard.

Ryan (and the Jets brass in part exhibited by their selection of Sheldon Richardson) are of a certain mind. Stockpile freak athletes. Take guys who are versatile. Players good enough and flexible enough to play multiple positions in multiple formations — and do so effectively. It’s why Quinton Coples is talking about shutting down Rob Gronkowski and jokingly comparing himself to Deion

Where do you want me, coach?

Where do you want me, coach?

Sanders. It’s why Richardson recently responded to a question about where he was playing during OTAs with one simple word: “everywhere.”

You can understand the philosophy and appeal to a defensive mind like Ryan. Take movable pieces like Wilkerson, Richardson, Coples and others. Add in some role guys and specialists with Garay, Barnes and crew. Mix and match and give yourself more options for different situations. More looks for opponents to deal with. More opportunities to create havoc and bring pressure. For now, it’s great. Everyone’s having a blast and a laugh. It’s like every former player’s dream. A chance to line up everywhere and try everything.

But this is OTAs. What happens when the real whistle blows? Does knowing a bit of everything lead to not knowing one’s role…or understanding any one position quite well enough? Does Ryan’s quiver of arrows turn to more of a deck of crappy mismatched cards? Does flexibility spell futility?

Only time will tell. I can’t wait to see how it all pans out. As long as it means less profanity-laced tirades composed during long periods of unobstructed standing by opposing quarterbacks, I’m all for it.


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