Jets DE Mo Wilkerson: 'We can have the No. 1 defense in the league'

The Jets' defense, led by Muhammad Wilkerson, enters the season brimming with confidence. Frank Franklin II/AP

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- After six months of hype, the New York Jets' vaunted defense is on the verge of its highly anticipated debut. Inside the locker room, the mood ranges from cautious optimism to raw confidence.

A sampling of the latter from Thursday:

"It's kind of crazy how good we can be," Stephen Bowen said. "That remains to be seen, but we have a lot of talent at every position."

Muhammad Wilkerson said, "I believe we can be as good as we want to be. We can be great. We can have the No. 1 defense in the league. We've just got to come in each and every week improving and do our jobs every Sunday."

And this from Buster Skrine: "This defense should be a playoff defense. This defense should get us in the playoffs. I mean, we have the defense to do it. We've got a lot of talent. It's all about coming together."

New general manager Mike Maccagnan devoted most of his salary-cap room in the offseason to bolstering a defense that already had a solid foundation. He re-signed David Harris; signed free agents Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Marcus Gilchrist and Skrine; and drafted Leonard Williams with the sixth overall pick.

Total price tag: $96 million in guaranteed money.

For that kind of dough, they should be the Steel Curtain.

The Jets should handle the first test. After all, the Cleveland Browns don't threaten with much firepower, not with Josh McCown throwing to Brian Hartline. They have a terrific offensive line, but it's hard to imagine the Jets getting pushed around up front, even with rookie Williams replacing the suspended Sheldon Richardson.

Schematically, the Jets didn't show much in the preseason, so Sunday will be the first true glimpse of a Todd Bowles-coached defense. Look for pressure, lots of pressure. In two seasons as the Arizona Cardinals' defensive coordinator, Bowles had the highest blitz percentage in the league (47 percent of dropbacks), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Jets, under Rex Ryan, finished at 31 percent.

Naturally, Bowles isn't feeding the hype machine with Rex Ryan-like hyperbole. Asked how good they can be on defense, Bowles said, "We don't try to be good. We try to make plays and we try to stop people, but we don't put tags on ourselves. We try to do what we need to do to win games."

It would help if his defense matches the hype.