One question that is yet to be answered in the wake of CJ Mosley’s opt-out is who will be wearing the headset on defense this year?
Had he played this year, Mosley would’ve played an every down role as the Mike linebacker and without doubt would have worn the headset all season long. Now he’s no longer an option, who is going to take over the responsibility for on-field communication and step up to be the “defensive quarterback”?
The most obvious choice is Avery Williamson, who figures to step in at the Mike position with Mosley gone. Had Mosley played this year, Williamson might not even have been on the final roster but now he becomes a crucial player.
However, there’s a few reasons why having Williamson wearing the defensive headset might not be the ideal solution. The first is that Williamson is better against the run than in coverage, so the Jets might be planning for him to come out of the game on passing downs. That’s what the Titans did with him in 2017 and he responded with arguably his most efficient season as a pro. In 2018, the Jets might have done the same thing if Kevin Pierre-Louis had remained healthy.
Another reason why Williamson might not be the best candidate to wear the headset is that the Jets might lack faith in him to do a good enough job of it. In 2018, there were a lot of coverage breakdowns and a big part of getting Mosley was the hope that these would be eradicated because he’d be so much better at calling the defensive signals.
Although Adam Gase took the blame for Williamson suffering his season ending injury while on the field with the second unit in last year’s preseason opener, it’s easy to see why he was out there. Clearly the Jets felt Williamson still needed game reps with the headset on in Gregg Williams’ scheme because had he been available when Mosley went down, Williamson would have had to assume that role.
We also need to factor in that Williamson has been on the PUP list in the early stages of camp, which has prevented him from getting valuable practice time in this system.
So, if it’s not Williamson, who else could it be? When Mosley left the Ravens after the 2018 season, Patrick Onwuasor took over from him at the Mike position and wore the headset. He’s with the Jets now, so perhaps he could just take over from Mosley again. It’s a possibility, but again, perhaps not as ideal as you might think at first blush.
Onwuasor actually struggled in that role with the Ravens, who ultimately opted to bring in Josh Bynes off the street and moved Onwuasor back to his more suited weakside role. They also gave Bynes the headset. Onwuasor played better after that but that might be because he was back in his preferred position rather than having been freed up from having the headset responsibilities.
Neville Hewitt and James Burgess each saw time at the Mike position and wore the headset last season, with Burgess being the one who took charge as the Jets made their late season run. Burgess has missed time on the Covid reserve list though - and it’s not certain either of these players will warrant a full-time role.
The other potential starter, Blake Cashman, did not wear the headset as a rookie, perhaps because the team felt he was not ready to do so. However, he did it in college and may be ready to do so having been around the team while injured over the past year.
Thinking outside the box, could a non-linebacker wear the headset? This isn’t completely unheard of. In fact, when Mosley injured his knee in 2018, it was safety Eric Weddle who took over the headset duties, a role he often undertook with the Chargers.
If your safety is going to be lined up in the box a lot of the time anyway, then it’s really no different from having a linebacker relaying signals. By all accounts, Bradley McDougald is an extremely smart player with a high football IQ and good communication and leadership abilities. It would be ironic if the player seen by many as a throw-in to the Jamal Adams trade would be the key to fixing such an important issue.
Alternatively, maybe Marcus Maye could do it, since he played in this system last year. He seems like less of a vocal leader though, so this might not come as naturally to him as it would McDougald.
The Jets will be working on their rotations in training camp and probably intend to give multiple players an opportunity to be the one in charge of these key duties.
We’ll be keeping a keen eye out to try and figure out who has the green dot on the back of their head once game action gets underway.