- Last Updated: 4:07 AM, December 1, 2012
- Posted: 1:11 AM, December 1, 2012
Every bad team has at least a little bit of good. Inside every losing team’s locker room are at least a few winners.
For the Jets, second-year defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson is one of those players.
During the Jets’ slide into the darkness of a 4-7 record and scant playoff chances entering tomorrow’s home game at MetLife Stadium against the 4-7 Cardinals, Wilkerson has been a beacon of light.
Wilkerson, the Jets’ first-round draft pick in 2011 and a local product out of Linden, N.J., is one of those “we-need-more-of-those-guys’’ guys.
If general manager Mike Tannenbaum, coach Rex Ryan and the scouting department had more direct hits like Wilkerson in the last few drafts, the Jets wouldn’t have gotten into this mess in the first place.
The fact is, Wilkerson has been a pretty solid player since his rookie season, when he was second in the NFL with nine tackles for losses. This year, he only has gotten better, particularly of late.
In the each of the Jets’ last three games, Wilkerson has made at least one impact play, making you wonder what he might have in store for Cardinals rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley, who threw four interceptions last week in his first career start. The Cardinals have yielded an NFL-high 46 sacks this season, 11 more than the team with the next most.
Three games ago in Seattle, Wilkerson recovered a Russell Wilson fumble and returned it for a touchdown — the Jets’ only score of the game — and he forced a Marshawn Lynch fumble.
In St. Louis, he strip-sacked Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.
And, before the onslaught of embarrassing follies in last week’s Jets 49-19 blowout loss to the Patriots, Wilkerson’s pressure on Tom Brady on New England’s first play from scrimmage forced an intentional grounding penalty.
Plays like this have belied Wilkerson’s inexperience.
“What year is he in?’’ safety LaRon Landry, in his first year with the team, asked.
“This is his second year,’’ Landry was informed.
“Wow,’’ Landry said. “I didn’t realize that. I thought he was an old, wily vet.’’
Through 11 games this season, Wilkerson has 66 tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles and he has kept his share of opposing offensive linemen up nights along the way.
“Does he make the Pro Bowl this year? I don’t know, but he’ll receive a lot of votes from the guys he’s played against,’’ Ryan said yesterday.
“He gets it already,’’ safety Yeremiah Bell said. “He carries himself like a vet. He’s very smart and he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and that’s unusual for early-year players.’’
Fellow defensive tackle Sione Pouha, a mentor for Wilkerson, said, “Looking on the tape without knowing this is his second year you’d assume he was a five-, six-year player in the system.’’
Mike DeVito, another defensive line mentor of Wilkerson’s, called his development in the span of a mere year “exponential.’’
“If he doesn’t go to the Pro Bowl this year it will be soon to come,’’ DeVito said. “Mo has been looked at like a vet from the beginning. The way he handles himself, with his technique, which is flawless, made him respected as a veteran when he was a rookie. I don’t know what it is, but the guy’s got it. Mo has just had it from the beginning.’’
Wilkerson, whose demeanor is quiet and confident, does not relish talking about himself. He credits “just learning from the older guys last year, the veterans, and adding that onto my game’’ for helping shape him into the mature-beyond-his-years player he is.
Wilkerson actually resides in the same locker that housed one of the Jets’ biggest draft whiffs of all-time, Vernon Gholston, before the team cut bait on its $20 million mistake. Yet Wilkerson, a quick study and immediately productive, is the opposite of Gholston despite not having a proper offseason and a truncated training camp his rookie year because of the NFL lockout.
“Last year I felt like I was a little slow, but now I feel like I’m playing at a faster pace because of the offseason I’ve had to work on the defense,’’ Wilkerson said. “Eventually, I’d like to be a leader on this team.’’
He already is. The Jets need more Wilkersons.Follow @NYPostsports