JUDGE: Ferguson's return will keep Jets from being grounded

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The New York think they can squeeze at least one more year out of quarterback , and so far the signs are encouraging. But it¿s not their quarterback who short-stopped the ¿ flight last season; it was their defensive tackle. Meet , who tore his rotator cuff on the first day of training camp and sat out the entire season. The loss of Ferguson was devastating to a club already short up the gut, and the never recovered: They ranked 28th against the run and were ripped for 215 yards by Oakland in a first-round playoff loss. That game still rankles Ferguson. So does last season. ¿I take it personally,¿ he said. ¿For me to sit there and watch that happening ¿ I should¿ve been there.¿ Well, he¿s there now, and now the think they may have solved a big, big problem. With Ferguson, and — defensive tackles who weren¿t with the team last season — the are better suited to play in a division dominated by top backs. Let¿s see there¿s , , ¿ Martin belongs to the ; Smith and Williams are on the schedule, and the are in better shape to stop them now than they were without Ferguson — a strong, quick defensive lineman who had a career-high 63 stops in 1998. ¿The way this defense is constructed you have to have good, athletic defensive linemen,¿ said Coach Herman Edwards. ¿You have to have guys who can run.¿ Edwards learned from experience. When he was an assistant with Kansas City the had Dan Saleaumua in the middle. When he was an assistant with Tampa Bay, the Bucs had . A year ago he had and as his defensive tackles, and while they did the best they could, their performances weren¿t up to Ferguson¿s standards. That¿s not to say is another Sapp. He¿s not. In fact he was a disappointment in 2000, with some of that attributed to a 3-4 defense that didn¿t suit him and some of it to his physical condition. In short, the guy was too heavy. ¿That was a little bit of a problem,¿ said Edwards. So Edwards talked to Ferguson and told him that if he wanted to be something ¿special¿ he¿d have to shape up. Ferguson got the message. Where once he was 330 pounds, today he¿s at 308 and in perfect position to make things happen again ¿ and, in fact, already has. In the preseason opener against Pittsburgh, Ferguson blew off the ball early in the first quarter and ran over ¿ offensive lineman Jeff Hastings while pursuing a play. It was precisely the kind of speed and power the missed last year, and it made an immediate impression on his coaches. When they reviewed tapes of the game a day later, they ran the play back and forth, back and forth, pausing to appreciate Ferguson¿s achievement. ¿This defense really will help him do what he likes doing, which is penetrating and getting off the ball,¿ Edwards said. ¿In this defense we can showcase his talents.¿ Edwards is convinced the return of Ferguson, plus the additions of defensive linemen like Evans, Webster, and first-round draft pick will make the better on defense — both against the pass and run. But it¿s the run defense where these guys fell down a year ago, and that can¿t happen if you want to go beyond the first round of the playoffs. Granted, New England ranked 19th against the rush last season, but the were an aberration. Of the 10 previous defenses that appeared in the Super Bowl only two — Green Bay and Denver in Super Bowl XXXII — ranked below the top five against the run. The have no shot if they defend the way they did in 2001, and they know it. That¿s why they signed eight free agents on defense and why they¿ll have six new starters there. I know change is not necessarily good in the NFL, but the plugged in eight new starters on defense a year ago, and they made it to the Super Bowl. OK, so and make a difference, but at least the are attacking an area that needed fixing. That¿s a start. The rest is up to and his teammates. ¿I definitely have a whole lot to prove,¿ said Ferguson. ¿But first things first, and I¿m back. That¿s all I needed to prove.¿ Senior writer Clark Judge can be reached at his e-mail address,
Tagged: Titans, Chiefs, Rams, Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, Buccaneers, Panthers, Josh Evans, Steve Martin, Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, Antowain Smith, Ricky Williams, Curtis Martin, Shane Burton, Jason Ferguson, Bryan Thomas

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