Todd Bowles came to the Jets with the reputation of being one of the best defensive minds in football. And in his first season, it was easy to see why. After that, it was all a steady roll downhill towards the Jets becoming one of the worst defenses in the league.
That's startling considering how they had invested in their defense. For eight straight years, before they took quarterback Sam Darnold, they had taken a defensive player in the first round of the draft. And they had spent big money on defenders in free agency like corners Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne as well as linebacker Avery Williamson.
Yet they still had no pass rush and they wore down late in games. The Jets' defense was a remarkable group of underachievers.
When Gregg Williams reports for duty, it's a good bet that's going to change.
The 60-year-old Williams is reportedly finalizing a deal to become the Jets defensive coordinator under new head coach Adam Gase, and that is a brilliant hire for a defense that needs someone to provide a spark. The colorful Williams is known for getting the most out of his players, and for his hyper-aggressive, blitz-heavy, 4-3 scheme.
For a Jets' defense that for years seemed too passive and soft under Bowles, the change could be enormous. And for several players on their roster, it could be a huge boost to their careers:
CB Trumaine Johnson
The $72.5 million corner couldn't have been a bigger disappointment, and that was before he showed up late and was sent home in the final week of the season and then benched for the final game. On the field, he was erratic at best, though in fairness to him, he missed a third of the season with injuries. All in all, that did not look like money well spent.
Johnson earned that free-agent payday, though, because he was outstanding in his six seasons with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams. His best season was 2015 when he had seven interceptions and 17 passes defensed. His defensive coordinator that year? Williams, who ran the Rams' aggressive defense from 2014-16.
DE Leonard Williams
There's no doubt that the 6-foot-5, 302-pound Williams is a good player with freakish athletic ability, but Bowles and his defensive coordinator, Kacy Rodgers, were never able to unlock his potential as a pass rusher. Williams had seven sacks in the last two seasons, which is embarrassingly low and why he was left to brag about his "hidden production". What the Jets need from him, though, is real production and many more sacks.
That could happen as Gregg Williams switches from the 3-4 that Leonard Williams has played since his days at USC to his favored 4-3. There are some who think Leonard Williams could be a decent 4-3 end, but given his strength and athleticism, it seems more likely he'd be a 4-3 tackle. If the Jets put the right pass-rushing end next to him, he could be a huge inside force.
S Jamal Adams
Right off the bat, he's going to see Williams as one of the "dogs" he wanted on this team. He'll love his brash attitude, the way he attacks offenses, and hopefully the way he rubs off on some of the players in the locker room.
The aggressiveness, though, should be huge for Adams. For one thing, he's proven to be a pretty good blitzer. The Jets too often got caught in bad coverage when he blitzed, so it didn't work all the time. Williams should be able to fix that and maybe be better at disguising the pass rush, so Adams can increase his sacks (he has 5 ½ in two season).
But even better, a good pass rush almost always leads to rushed or errant throws and a much better chance for an aggressive defensive back to pick off passes. So far, Adams has just one career interception. That is very likely to change.
LB Darron Lee
Early last season it looked like Lee, a former first-rounder, was finally going to live up to his potential. But he faded along with the rest of the defense before he ended up suspended for the final four games. He did finish with three interceptions, which is good. But he had no sacks as the Jets seemed to shy away from him as a pass rusher - an odd choice considering his speed.
With Lee likely to line up as the weak-side linebacker behind what should be a rebuilt four-man front, Williams could do a lot with a player who might be his most athletic linebacker. Lee has sideline-to-sideline speed which helps in coverage, but could be a boost in the pass rush, too. Williams likes fast, aggressive players, so he'll figure out how to use Lee best.
QB Sam Darnold
OK, he doesn't play defense. Noted. But there's no doubt his chances to thrive were thwarted last season by a defense that sagged, especially in the fourth quarter. They gave up too many leads, and gave up so many points it forced the Jets out of their game-plan into a situation where they had to lean too heavily on Darnold's arm.
Maybe in the long-run that was good for his development, but it's not good for winning football. If Williams can turn this defense into an average unit, it could give Darnold a chance to settle in and play like an actual quarterback instead of having to be a gunslinger playing from behind. There'll also be a lot more turnovers, theoretically, which will give him a lot more chances to show everyone what he learned in his rookie year.