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Setting the Pace: Jets OLB Succeeds in First Campaign in New York

Archive   ·   September 22, 2014



Being part of a complete overhaul has its advantages. First of all, basically any success will be viewed as an improvement. Secondly, all of the expectations and responsibility will not be placed squarely on one person’s shoulders, so the accolades – and blame – will be divided evenly.


When New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum looked at his defense following a 4-12 campaign in 2007, he knew that he had to upgrade a pass rush that ineffectiveness was effecting the entire 3-4 scheme. Only 29 sacks was a statistic that jumped off the page and was addressed aggressively.


Kris Jenkins was acquired to replace the undersized Dewayne Robertson at nose tackle, Vernon Gholston was drafted sixth overall (and converted from a defensive end to a rushing outside linebacker), and Calvin Pace was signed as a free agent from the Arizona Cardinals, where he enjoyed success playing OLB in the same defensive alignment.


“The guys have embraced me since the day I stepped in,” Pace said. And he has embraced the role, as well. Through 14 games, he had 68 tackles, four forced fumbles and seven sacks, already besting his career high of six and a half sacks during his last season in the desert.


“It’s a different environment from top to bottom,” said Pace comparing Arizona to New York. “The first time I heard the J-E-T-S chant with Fireman Ed…I’ve never been a part of something like that.”


Standing by his teammates is another positive factor that has made Pace’s arrival special. Whether it be keeping a rookie’s chin up or being understanding of a bad off-the-field decision by a veteran leader, Pace had no problem handing both. When Gholston was bumped from the active roster for the December 14 home win versus Buffalo, Pace sat down with the struggling rookie out of Ohio State and shared an experience with him when he himself was deactivated for two games earlier in his career.


Sean Ellis was having his best season and the Jets were flying high at 8-3 and on a five-game winning streak when on the eve of their November 30 game versus Denver, the defensive end was arrested for possession of marijuana following a car stop by police in New Jersey. He did play the following day and since then, the team has gone 1-3, with what was once a certain playoff spot very much in doubt at press time. Pace did not seem to think that the incident effected the team in any way.


“Denver just best us,” he said, disagreeing with the possibility that the 34-17 loss had a ‘hangover’ effect from Ellis’ arrest. “We all make mistakes. Some of them are going to be in the public eye. We got past it right after it happened. Everyone is still behind Sean.”

As far as Pace is concerned, the 2008 club has nothing to do with the past, and even went as far as saying that he was unfamiliar with the term ‘Same old Jets.’ As hard as that may be to believe, even if the team misses out on the playoffs, Pace will not view the season as a failure.


“I don’t know if you can say that,” he said. “I haven’t thought about the ‘what-ifs,” Admitting to a little scoreboard watching this late in the season, the sixth year Wake Forest product has shown he is just like fans such as Fireman Ed. “I wouldn’t mind a little help.”


Probably what Tannebaum said to himself when he signed Pace, who has made good on the investment.


Originally published in the January 2009 issue of New York Sportscene magazine. 

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