Candidates: Kenrick Ellis, Antonio Garay
Background: The nose tackle position is extremely important. Unless a team has somebody who can prevent two interior linemen from getting a push, the offense will be able to run the ball up the middle at will. Jets fans have been spoiled with excellent play at the position since 2008 from Kris Jenkins and Sione Pouha. The Jets thought they had a steal taking Kenrick Ellis at the end of the third round in 2011. Ellis had first round physical tools. They likely were planning on him taking the starting job right around now. After an uneven first few years, the Jets need him to step up. The team signed free agent Antonio Garay over the offseason, giving Rex Ryan another option.
Handicapping the battle: With three first round picks invested in defensive linemen since 2011 and an additional third rounder in Ellis, there is a youth movement along the defensive line for New York. The Jets will certainly try to win as many games as possible in 2013, but with a new regime in town, there is a bigger goal. 2013 is also about developing players and getting ready for 2014 and beyond. With this in mind, the 25 year old Ellis probably fits into the team's long-term plans more than the 33 year old Garay. The Jets want Ellis to grow up with Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Quinton Coples and develop into a top unit. He likely will be given every chance to win this job.
JB's optimal use: Garay is 33 years old playing an extremely demanding position. He has an extensive injury history. He has suffered five season-ending injuries in his career. He only played eight games in 2012. Simply put, he would be served best as a situational player utilizing his pass rushing ability. It is a bad idea to ask him to play a lot of snaps and take a big pounding. He might not hold up for long. The Jets really need Ellis to build on his athletic potential and take this job. The best thing for this team would be Ellis playing well and taking the bulk of the snaps. Garay could spell him when he needs a rest and work on passing downs.