Ellis making big impact for Jets

Updated: October 16, 2003, 5:35 PM ET

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Jets defensive tackle Jason Ferguson has a nickname for Shaun Ellis: "Selfish."

Ferguson and his teammates on the line constantly tease Ellis because he has made so many big plays this season. Ellis leads the AFC with seven sacks in five games this season, and is one behind league-leader Simeon Rice of Tampa Bay.

"Last year he wasn't making the plays just around them," Ferguson said. "This year, he's the one making all the plays. We call him selfish. But it's a good thing."

Until this year, fellow end John Abraham got all the attention. Both were drafted in the first round in 2000 -- Ellis went 12th and Abraham went 13th. After a promising rookie season in which Ellis had 8{ sacks, his production tailed off a bit.

He started 2001 at tackle before moving back to end after the season opener and did not have the same production, getting five sacks. Last year, after ballooning to 300 pounds, he had four sacks.

Abraham, meanwhile, garnered two Pro-Bowl berths in 2001 and 2002 after notching a combined 23 sacks. The two have a friendly sacks competition -- and Ellis clearly is winning this season.

After sacking Drew Bledsoe twice last week, Ellis has a chance to add to his total Sunday against Houston quarterback David Carr. Though he has been sacked just eight times this season, Carr was taken down a league-record 76 times in 2002.

"That's how I envisioned it. I wanted to come out and get off to a fast start," Ellis said. "So far, it's gone that way. I just have to finish off strong, just go out and just play even better than I am playing now."

Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said Ellis has helped the defensive line get off to a great start this season.

"Shaun's been playing lights out," Cottrell said. "If he continues to roll like that, it will be hard to keep him out of the Pro Bowl."

Ellis said his playing weight was too high last season, so he dropped 20 pounds before he got to training camp and now weighs 285. And he did it mostly on the "Subway diet," where he ate subs most of the time. Ellis enjoys eating sandwiches so he figured, why not?

It is hard to argue with the results. In addition to his sacks, he is third on the team with 44 tackles. Cottrell said he noticed Ellis started playing better toward the end of last season and praised him for his ability to play on both sides of the line.

"He's got a better feel for the position and what he's supposed to do," Cottrell said. "He's got a difficult job, going from one side to the other, changing his stance. A lot of defensive linemen can't do that.

"He's focused and he's highly self-motivated. You don't have to get on him. He does all those things automatically. He's become a complete professional football player. He wasn't like that when I first got here."

Ellis is just part of a line that has stepped up its play.

Against the Bills, the Jets had a season-high seven sacks. Coach Herman Edwards said Ferguson had the best game of his career. He finished with six tackles and two sacks, along with a forced fumble to win his first AFC defensive player of the week award.

"I hope I get the same thing next week," Ferguson said. "It's the hardest thing trying to repeat that level of playing. That's what I'm shooting for."

The numbers look nice, but Ferguson and Ellis hope to help the Jets improve on their 1-4 record. Playing well against Buffalo is a start.

"We're a lot more confident than we were before," Ellis said. "We have momentum with us, we have a little excitement now, a little bounce. We just have to carry it over into our next game."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index