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19 August, 2016: Washington Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy (16) gets hit hard by New York Jets rookie linebacker Jordan Jenkins (48) during a match between the Washington Redskins and the New York Jets at FedExField in Landover, Maryland. (Photo By: Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire)
New York Jets

Uncertainty surrounds Jets outside linebackers heading into 2016

Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire
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Despite not making the playoffs for six years, the New York Jets have been pretty solid at linebacker in recent seasons. Heading into 2016, the Jets are counting on two outside linebackers under the age of 24 and another, who was the 207th overall pick three years ago, to continue their linebacker tradition.

The name everyone wants to see starting at outside linebacker is 2016 third-round pick Jordan Jenkins. While playing at Georgia, fellow outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received all the attention, but Jenkins had the reputation in football circles for doing all the dirty work. In Jets camp, he has routinely taken on multiple blockers to allow his teammates to make plays.

Jenkins isn’t a dynamic pass rusher, which the Jets surely could have used in the draft, but he is physical against the run with a high football IQ and leadership skills. Last year, New York finished second in rushing yards allowed, so the addition of Jenkins should make a strength of the Jets defense even stronger.

But unfortunately, it’s unclear whether Jenkins will be able to start Week 1. He suffered a calf injury last Monday, Aug. 22, and missed the team’s third preseason game. NJ.com initially reported the injury was “nothing serious”, but coach Todd Bowles called Jenkins “day-to-day or week-to-week”, indicating the recovery time for this injury is really unknown.

If it’s closer to “week-to-week” than Jenkins could miss the season opener on Sept. 11. Should that occur, former seventh-round pick Mike Catapano will likely receive an opportunity to start.

Not that they dislike Jenkins, but Jets fans, especially ones from Long Island, are going to relate quite well to Catapano. The 26-year-old linebacker played his college football at Princeton. In 2013, he became the first Princeton athlete selected in the NFL draft since 2001. He began his career in Kansas City, where the Chiefs immediately switched him from defensive end to outside linebacker.

Kansas City released Catapano before the 2015 season opener, but the Jets signed him a few days later, which was a dream come true, as Catapano grew up a Jets fan on Long Island. He worked hard on the New York practice squad and finally earned a spot on the active roster after Sheldon Richardson suffered an injury in November.

But that didn’t last too long. Catapano sustained a Lisfranc injury on Dec. 6, three weeks after joining the active roster, and was placed on injured reserve. He rehabbed all offseason and has been competing with Jenkins for the starting job this summer.

The fact that the injury placed the starting outside linebacker role in the hands of a former Princeton defensive lineman may be worrisome for some, but the Jets locker room absolutely respects Catapano due to his long journey to this point in his career.

“They (his Jets teammates) know when they line up against me, they know they’re getting ready to work,” he said according to Newsday. “There’s no off plays with me.”

Even still, uncertainty will remain until Catapano sustains that work ethic and stays healthy during regular season game action.

There are also questions with New York’s other projected outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin. The third-round pick from 2015 is projected to be an every-down player, but that comes out of necessity. The Jets decided to move on from linebackers Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples, which essentially handed Mauldin and Jenkins the starting outside linebacker roles by default.

So even if Jenkins returns to the field and solidifies a starting role in time for the season opener, the outside linebacker spot will remain the Jets defense’s biggest question mark.

Uncertainty surrounds Jets outside linebackers heading into 2016

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