The Jets' sackless wonder

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- As they prepare for the final game of the regular season, the New York Jets are looking out for No. 1.

Vernon Gholston's first sack. Ever.

"Of all our individual priorities, that might be No. 1," coach Rex Ryan said. "I'd love to see Vernon get the sack. Just for him."

Who could've imagined it would come to this? After 44 career games, Gholston is on the verge of taking an 0-for-3 collar -- as in, three seasons. The Jets made him the sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft, with grandiose visions of double-digit sack seasons, but it has gone horribly wrong.

But the past is the past, and with one game to play and a playoff berth already locked up, the Jets are hoping Gholston can tackle the Buffalo Bills' quarterback just once. Who knows? This might be his last chance in a Jets uniform. Players like Gholston, disappointing first-round picks, often don't make it to a fourth season with their original teams.

"It would be awesome," said nose tackle Sione Pouha, smiling as if he were visualizing the sack. "I'd be out there jumping on him, even if I'm not in the game on that play."

Cornerback Antonio Cromartie said, "The guys would be happy for him to get that first sack. That would be a great achievement for him, just to get that monkey off his back."

From all accounts, Gholston is a quiet, unassuming player. He shows up every day and puts in an honest day's work. He doesn't cause any trouble. Other players say he's a good teammate.

He just hasn't been able to get to the quarterback, which is kind of an important thing when you're a defensive end and, previously, an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

Quite simply, Gholston's oh-fer is mind boggling. From the start of the 2008 season until now, there have been 3,182 sacks in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Over the same span, 636 players -- including 110 undrafted players -- have recorded at least a half-sack, as per Pro Football Reference.

Nothing from Gholston.

It defies the laws of probability. Pass-protection breakdowns happen fairly often, a player missing an assignment and leaving a clear path to the quarterback. Why can't Gholston catch a break like that?

Pass rushers get cheap sacks all the time, falling on a quarterback or pushing a quarterback out of bounds after no gain. Why not Gholston?

"It is an amazing thing," Ryan said. "The kid has a lot of talent, but ... golly. You think if he gets his first, he'll get more. The toughest one is that first one. He's a great kid. He's trying."

A total of 14 players on the Jets have recorded sacks this season, with defensive tackle Marcus Dixon becoming No. 14 last Sunday in Chicago. After nearly three full seasons on practice squads, the first two with the Dallas Cowboys, Dixon notched his first career sack in only his second game.

Gholston keeps grinding for the elusive No. 1.

If he's frustrated by his sackless slump, Gholston doesn't show it. It can't be the most pleasant topic to discuss, but he never gets prickly and never loses his patience. He sounds as even-keeled now as he did in his rookie season, when the questions started.

"Of course I'd like to get one," he said. "I feel like once I get one, I can keep going. The goal is to get one."

Gholston was asked if he could recall his last sack. He lowered his head and thought for a moment.

"I guess my last official one on record is Michigan-Ohio State," he said.

That was Nov. 17, 2007, when he recorded three sacks for Ohio State. That was Gholston's money game, the performance that elevated his draft stock. He beat Michigan's previously unbeatable tackle, Jake Long, causing pro scouts to think he had the innate skills to match his wondrous physical gifts.

That was 1,139 days ago.

His teammates wonder how he'll react when -- if -- he gets one. Gholston said he's not sure what he'd do if he drops a quarterback. He dropped plenty in his final season at Ohio State, a school-record 14½ sacks, never imagining he'd go this long before the next one.

Ryan said the coaches have talked about devising a scheme -- something, anything -- to spring Gholston. This would be the ideal week, considering it's not a do-or-die game. He will see significant playing time, with Ryan expected to rest his veterans in preparation for the playoffs.

"Everybody wants it so bad for him," Ryan said. "More than anything, more than any individual thing, I'd like to see him accomplish that."

Said Cromartie, "He's going to get one, and when he gets one, it's going to count for something big."

That is a fact, because as part of the contract he renegotiated last offseason, Gholston needs only one sack to trigger a $9.1 million roster bonus the Jets would have the option to pick up next March. He also could activate the bonus with 20 percent play time or one fumble recovery. He doesn't have any of those, either.

Obviously, the Jets wouldn't pay a bonus that large, meaning they would renegotiate his contract again or release him. In essence, Gholston could punch his free-agent ticket with a single sack. He said he wasn't aware of that clause in his contract.

For now, Gholston's only concern is winning. He prefers to talk team, not about himself. What if he gets a sack in a win over Buffalo?

"That would be the perfect scenario -- win and get a sack," he said, smiling. "Maybe a couple of sacks, to make up for ..."

He didn't finish the sentence.

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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