The Jets are heading into the offseason with a mountain of questions. The great collapse of 2008 came and went, and no one can effectively explain why. While the team isn’t in complete disarray, there are numerous positions that need to be addressed.
Who’s going to replace Brett Favre? How much does Thomas Jones have left in the tank? Is there a priority on finding a cornerback to complement Darrelle Revis? A new wide receiver?
And somewhere in the middle of all that rests Vernon Gholston, immediately followed by another question: what on earth happened?
The whirlwind of 2008 swept through the Meadowlands, wreaked havoc, and when the dust settled, Vernon Gholston was the one man who was unaccounted for.
The Jets’ top pick in 2008 struggled to find the field. When he was drafted, it was understood that he would be a project.
He was drafted to play a new position, and league rules required him to finish out his school year when he could have been learning.
When he took the field in preseason, his hesitation was evident to everyone. The physical freak of the NFL combine looked like he was second-guessing every step. He’d get locked up with offensive linemen, and showed half-hearted efforts in breaking free from blocks.
But it didn’t matter in the beginning. The Jets were playing strong defense, and having no issues getting to the quarterback.
Heading into the midway point of the season, the Jets were second in the NFL in sacks with Bryan Thomas, Calvin Pace, and Shaun Ellis leading the way.
But when that production stopped—when Mangini decided it’d be more pertinent to drop his linebackers into coverage—people wondered when the highly-touted bull rusher was going to finally arrive in the NFL.
Instead, Gholston finished the season barely playing in 15 games—mostly in special-teams—recording only 13 tackles, and only coming close to a sack once. Unfortunately, Jay Cutler evaded Gholston’s pressure and launched a perfectly thrown 24-yard pass off his backfoot.
Perfecting the Potential
When the “bust” talk really started buzzing down the stretch, Gholston reached out to Giants’ legend Lawrence Taylor.
Accepting that he needed help to make the transition to the NFL, the original LT agreed to work with him and had nothing but good things to say.
LT has stated that Gholston has more physical capabilities than Cowboys’ DE DeMarcus Ware. But it’s now a matter of cultivating those skills, and refining them so that he can become a dominant force on the defense.
The Jets didn’t draft him to be a solid starter. He needs to become a terror. He needs to develop his confidence for that potential to be fully realized.
Unfortunately, given his soft-spoken nature and general vibe in interviews, Gholston sometimes looks as if he doesn’t even enjoy the game—as if he’s only out there because he’s big enough and strong enough to be.
The Mad Scientist’s Laboratory
LT looked at Gholston and saw more potential than DeMarcus Ware. Rex Ryan looks at him and sees someone he can turn into a Terrell Suggs-caliber player.
That’s not bad company.
Jets’ fans have faith in Ryan’s schemes and gameplans. His strategies are a proven success, and his players are given opportunities to thrive. Unfortunately, that might not be good enough.
The things Gholston needs to develop are intangible. He can stand to learn how to read an offense better, understand his position to perfection, and create techniques to toss blockers off of him. But that’s only half the battle.
Can Ryan boost Gholston’s confidence? Can he develop Gholston’s tenacity? Can he make him a completely different person on the playing field?
Maybe he didn’t get that from Mangini. Maybe Gholston wasn’t getting the proper professional tutelage out of college.
The reasons don’t matter at this point. The pressure is on, and he has the benefit of calling one of the NFL’s brightest defensive minds his new head coach.
If he can’t turn it around now, will there still be hope down the line?