Jets make fans happy with NFL draft pick

April 26, 2008 3:33:38 PM PDT
The New York Jets tried to improve their pass rush in a big way Saturday, selecting speedy and powerful defensive end Vernon Gholston out of Ohio State with the sixth pick in the NFL draft.The selection of Gholston, expected to play outside linebacker in New York's 3-4 defense, was met with big cheers from the notoriously critical Jets fans at Radio City Music Hall. The 6-foot-4, 264-pound Gholston should boost New York's pass rush, which had just 29 sacks last season.

After Atlanta took quarterback Matt Ryan at No. 3 and Oakland then selected running back Darren McFadden, the New York fans made it known who they wanted. They chanted "Ver-non Ghol-ston!" as they waited for the Jets to make their selection, and one fan had a sign that read, "Jets: Let's Score A Ghol!"

Much to their delight, New York went with a player who set an Ohio State record with 14 sacks last season despite facing double teams regularly.

"I'm going to make things happen," Gholston said moments after his selection.

The Jets have made major improvements to their defense this offseason, trading for defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and signing defensive end-linebacker Calvin Pace to a six-year, $42 million deal that included a $20 million signing bonus.

While Pace and Gholston are considered similar players, the Jets made it clear that they want to get to opposing quarterbacks with more frequency. Gholston gives New York some flexibility at the position with Pace and Bryan Thomas, who also play the hybrid defensive end-linebacker spot.

Vernon's got to come in and establish a role and we look forward to him doing that," coach Eric Mangini said. "We've got a nice mixture of guys now to fill that outside linebacker position."

Gholston was a defensive end in Ohio State's 4-3 defense, his combination of speed - he ran a 4.56 40-yard dash - and power - he benched a team-best 455 pounds and squatted 405 pounds 20 times - made the Jets think he's a perfect fit for their defense.

"He can help in all phases of our defense," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "He can rush the passer, I think he does a good job of setting the edge in the run game. He plays over the tight end as well, so there's a lot of different things he can do and that's why we're excited to have him."

Gholston got his sacks in bunches last season, with four games with at least two, including a career-high four against Wisconsin. He also had a sack against Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long, the only one allowed last season by the No. 1 overall pick by Miami.

"The Jets are getting a great player," Long said. "I respect him as a person and as a player. I'm excited for the challenge to play him again."

About the only criticism of Gholston is that he would dominate during stretches in games, but then appear to takes some plays off.

"I'm always happy with sacks in bunches," Mangini said with a laugh. "If that's the way they're going to come, then that's great, too. There were a lot of games where he may not have had a sack, but he affected the quarterback quite a bit."

The Jets are not concerned about Gholston's work ethic one bit. In talking with Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, Tannenbaum was told that before the Buckeyes were leaving for their championship game against LSU, the entire program was given a day off.

"Vernon went up to (Tressel) and said, 'Just leave the keys to the weight room behind because I still want to work out,"' Tannenbaum said. "He was in there, apparently, by himself."

Gholston didn't play football until his sophomore year at Cass Tech High in Detroit, and played offensive line after being overwhelmed at linebacker. He returned to defense as a senior, and improved so much, he was rated among the top prospects at the position.

He turned down scholarship offers from Michigan and Michigan State to join the Buckeyes, a shocking turn for a Detroit guy. It took time for Gholston to develop, though, as he never played more than 3 minutes in a game as a freshman, then was redshirted after breaking his left hand in the season opener the next year.

He developed into a star in 2006 and became one of the best players in the country last year.

"We think his best football's ahead of him," Tannenbaum said. "We think in our program, he'll have a chance to develop and get better."

The last time the Jets had the No. 6 pick, they selected quarterback Richard Todd out of Alabama in 1976. New York had the fifth pick of the second round.

AP Sports Writer Steven Wine in Miami contributed to this repor