Muhammad Wilkerson joins Jets D-line

Updated: June 3, 2011, 11:05 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

MORRIS COUNTY, N.J. -- Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was drafted by the New York Jets more than a month ago, but he didn't meet his new linemates until Thursday. The introduction came in the oddest of places -- in a parking lot behind a high school in northern New Jersey.

Muhammad, meet Sione Pouha. Say hello to Mike DeVito.

After an exchange of pleasantries, it was on to the blocking sled. Welcome to another chapter in the bizarro world of the NFL lockout.

The Jets' defensive line gathered for the first time in this crazy offseason, staging a scaled-down version of Mark Sanchez's recent "Jets West" passing camp in Southern California. There were no spectators, no corporate sponsorships, no catered meals and no palm trees.

Ropati Pitoitua
Rich Cimini/ESPNNewYork.com"When Mark makes the call -- when our leader makes the call -- we're there." -- Sione Pouha

It was just five linemen, a blocking sled, five step-over pads and one football -- a football, by the way, that Pouha took off the mantel in his house. It was a keepsake from last season's opener against the Baltimore Ravens, his first career fumble recovery.

"Mark Sanchez has Jets West, we have the Jets City Club League," Pouha joked after a one-hour workout that took place in the outfield of a baseball field. "We're just a club team now."

In a way, the spartan surroundings were fitting because the defensive line is the anonymous unit on a defense known for its cornerbacks and linebackers. The D-linemen don't have the big names, but the line is the backbone, a tight group that welcomed Wilkerson -- a first-round pick -- into the fraternity.

"I tell you what, he's going to be an instant star," DeVito said of the former Temple standout, who grew up only 20 minutes away in Linden. "You could tell from this little workout that he has the tools, that he has what it takes to be a great player."

DeVito, Pouha and Wilkerson were joined by Ropati Pitoitua and Jamaal Westerman. Shaun Ellis, the longest-tenured Jet, and rookie nose tackle Kenrick Ellis are expected to join the group for future workouts. Pouha said the plan is to meet at least three times a week. On Friday, they're planning to work out near Shaun Ellis' home on Long Island.

Prohibited from communicating with the team, Pouha couldn't track down Wilkerson's phone number, so he contacted him via Twitter, learning a lesson in social media. He made the mistake of including his e-mail address in his tweet to Wilkerson.

"I didn't know tweeting etiquette," said Pouha, who was inundated with e-mails from strangers.

Well, it worked. Wilkerson, the only player wearing a Jets T-shirt, showed up on time and participated in the one-hour workout. It was Football 101: Blocking-sled work, agility drills, technique drills out of a three-point stance and a brief walk-through of defensive-line schemes.

Wilkerson received a playbook when he was drafted, but this was his first opportunity to interact with teammates in a football setting. He received pointers from Pouha and DeVito throughout the session.

"It was helpful because the coaches aren't here to tell us what's going on," Wilkerson said. "I was looking forward to this. Before, I was just going out on my own. ... These guys, they're a real brotherhood."

Unlike some teams, the Jets haven't conducted any full-squad workouts, but Sanchez indicated last week that he'd like to organize one for later this month. Training camp -- if there is one -- is scheduled to begin around Aug. 1. Essentially, the lockout has wiped out all minicamps and OTAs.

"Considering the circumstances, it would be a real good thing for all of us to get together," Pouha said. "When Mark makes the call -- when our leader makes the call -- we're there."

The benefits of these lockout workouts are debatable, but DeVito believes they serve a purpose with regard to building team chemistry.

"To have the whole team together would be very productive," he said. "That's what we're missing. I mean, we're all working out and staying in shape, but it's that team unity you don't have during a lockout."

Pouha is one of the strongest players on the team, but he admitted his wrists were sore because they weren't used to the impact of pounding a blocking sled. He also said his reaction time was slower than usual. But the big fellas will be back at it, grinding in their self-proclaimed club league.

Not quite SoCal.

"I wouldn't mind that, wouldn't mind it at all, but being here in Jersey, why not?" said Wilkerson, showing his Jersey pride. "I love it here."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

MORE NFL HEADLINES