NY Jets LB Calvin Pace has been suspended for the first four games of the 2009 regular season for violating the NFL's performance enhancing substance abuse policy. Pace, who claims the suspension stems from him taking an over the counter dietary supplement, will be allowed to participate in all aspects of training camp and play in the exhibition games as well but will be ineligible to return to the Jets until the Monday following their Week 4 game@ New Orleans.
In addition to missing the New Orleans game Pace will miss the season opener in Houston and will also miss home games against the Patriots and Titans in Weeks 2 & 3. Pace will be eligible to return just in time to play in the Jets lone Monday Night Football game of the season. a Week 5 tilt against the rival Dolphins in Miami October 12th.
Pace is expected to be a big part of the attacking style defense favored by new Jet HC Rex Ryan and his absence leaves a big hole at the OLB position. OLB's Marques Murrell and Jason Trusnik should both see increased playing time while Pace serves out his suspension but the guy who benefits the most from this situation is OLB Vernon Gholston, the Jets disappointing 1st round pick of the 2008 NFL draft..
Gholston was persona non grata last season. He made only 13 tackles in 2008, with most of those coming on special teams play, and had zero QB sacks, zero QB pressures, zero passes defended and zero tipped passes. He was even a healthy scratch in a Week 15 game at home against Buffalo. Gholston appeared to be lost and confused most of the time he was on the field, thinking instead of reacting to what was going on around him.
The firing of Eric Mangini and the subsequent hiring of Rex Ryan should at least in theory help to get Gholston playing better. Mangini's defense was not designed to bring out the best of the people playing in that defense, he installed a defensive system that required all players to be equally versed in what each and every players job was on each and every play, you were not only expected to know your job but the job of the players alongside and behind you as well. Gholston was lost and the word bust was quickly being used to describe his play on the field.
All that now appears to be changing under Ryan, who has taken Gholston under his wing as his personal reclamation project, promising to show that not only was he not a bust but that he could become an integral part of the Jets defense, particularly against the pass. Ryan has said he would at first use Gholston in particular defensive packages designed to better use his abilities, namely his speed and strength, to get to the QB.
With Pace now on the shelf for the first four weeks of the season Gholston will no doubt get the first shot at filling Paces' shoes so we should see something of an accelerated learning curve for him in training camp. Gholston was already going to have an expanded roll in Ryans' defense even before Pace was suspended, now I suspect that role may be expanded even further depending on how well he plays in Paces' absence.
If Ryan and his coaching staff can get Gholston reacting to what's going on around him on the football field instead of just seeing and thinking about what's going on around him we may yet get to see the player the Jets thought they were getting when they drafted Gholston with the 6th overall pick of the 2008 NFL draft.