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Over the next few weeks, we're going to break down each position in terms of which players are fighting for those final roster spots. Who is in danger of being cut? Who has a chance to earn themselves a bigger role? We continue with a look at the inside linebacker position.
Probable roster locks
The initial plan for the inside linebacker position is clear: Darron Lee and Avery Williamson will start, barring injury. Beyond that, all bets are off, as everyone else will compete for the backup roles and to be employed as special teams contributors.
Lee and Williamson may well end up playing every snap most weeks. However, Williamson was often removed from the game in passing situations last season and his overall play seemed to benefit from this, so that's an approach the Jets may also adopt. The fact Lee has been tasked with the playcalling duties perhaps indicates they see it as more likely that he'll have an every-down role than Williamson.
In the competition
Of all the backup options currently available to the Jets, Kevin Pierre-Louis is perhaps the most likely to earn a role in which he will play regular defensive reps as a coverage linebacker, since he did well in that role last year with the Chiefs. However, it would be premature to assume his place on the roster is guaranteed. Pierre-Louis' athleticism could make him an asset in sub-packages, but he has only one career start.
By contrast, Kevin Minter has 44 career starts, including seven last season. He is more of a run defender than a coverage linebacker, so while he has a shot at being Williamson's backup, he might not get many reps unless there's an injury. Bowles trusts him though, having given him a significant role back when he was the defensive coordinator in Arizona.
Neville Hewitt shouldn't be overlooked either. The former Miami Dolphin has more starting experience than Pierre-Louis, as he started seven games in 2015 and 2016 and brings similar playmaking abilities. However, he failed to make it through final cuts in Miami last year and spent most of the year on the practice squad. Like Pierre-Louis, Hewitt would most likely backup Lee if he made the team.
All three bring special teams abilities, although Minter hasn't contributed much there since his rookie year. That could be a deciding for all of these veterans, as there may not be room for all three. On last year's team, the Jets carried just two reserve inside linebackers with Bruce Carter only getting defensive reps in goal line packages and Julian Stanford a seldom-used coverage linebacker who made one start when Lee was injured.
The outside bet here is undrafted rookie Anthony Wint. Wint earned himself a contract by impressing in a rookie camp tryout and has apparently also turned heads during offseason practices. He lacks ideal size and athleticism, but has outstanding instincts and intangibles. With so much competition ahead of him, he's most likely competing for a spot on the practice squad.
Other potential contributors
Free-agent signing Brandon Copeland has played both as an inside linebacker and as an edge defender in the past, and it's unclear what his role would be with the Jets. The competition doesn't seem as fierce on the outside, so perhaps he will be in the mix there instead, although he doesn't offer much as a pass rusher. The main reason for signing Copeland may have been his special teams prowess, so that, coupled with his versatility, perhaps gives him a decent shot of earning a roster spot.
Like Wint, Frankie Luvu earned a contract after attending rookie mini-camp on a tryout basis. He has played inside linebacker in college, but last year he was employed as more of an edge defender, recording 6.5 sacks. He might be undersized to play on the edge at the NFL level, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him in the mix as an off-ball linebacker with the Jets.
Finally, recent signing Courtney Upshaw also played some snaps as an inside linebacker in the past when he was younger. However, he's since added a lot of weight to feature as an interior lineman, so the chances of him reinventing himself yet again and contributing as an off-ball linebacker are remote.