The Jets' exciting and scary youth movement at outside linebacker

Everybody loves a youth movement, right? It's fresh and exciting, filled with possibilities. It's also risky because, well, you're talking about youth and inexperience, which means there will be growing pains.

That pretty much describes the New York Jets’ current situation at outside linebacker. They have no returning starters and no players with any NFL starting experience, just a handful of players with upside. It's going to be a thrill ride, if not always a smooth one.

"[They] have a lot of talent, but nothing takes the place of experience, so they have a lot of work to do," coach Todd Bowles said over the weekend at rookie minicamp.

A year ago, the Jets went into the season with Calvin Pace as the Sam (strongside) linebacker and Quinton Coples as the rush (weakside) 'backer. Coples, a former first-round pick, failed to produce and received a pink slip in the middle of the year. They were hurting so much at the position that defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson wound up replacing Coples over the final few games. Bowles already has said he doesn't want to go down that road again.

Their hope is that Lorenzo Mauldin, coming off a rookie season in which he was used as a pass-rushing specialist, can become an every-down player. For now, he's slated to play the weak side. Unless Mauldin implodes in training camp, you have to think he'll be an opening-day starter.

On the strong side, well, it's anybody's guess.

Rookie Jordan Jenkins, a third-round pick from Georgia, is penciled in to play the Sam position, but it should be mentioned that he played mostly in a three-point stance and didn't have many pass-coverage assignments in college. In other words, this will be a transition for him, much like it was last year for Mauldin. Bowles said the two positions are interchangeable, based on the offensive formation, so they'll have to learn both spots.

Other outside linebackers on the roster include Trevor Reilly, Mike Catapano, Josh Martin and former CFL standout Freddie Bishop, who recorded 11 sacks last season for the Calgary Stampeders. At 6-foot-4, 265 pounds, he definitely has the right size for a 3-4 scheme, but it's hard to project a CFL performance to the NFL.

"I don’t know that you compare the number, but 11 sacks is 11 sacks," Bowles said. "I was in Miami when Cameron Wake got there and we took him from Canada. Sometimes it takes guys time to develop and you can develop over there and come back over here and be good players or can develop over there and have a career over there. We saw some things in Freddie, not just the sacks, but as far as him playing the position and knowing how to play the position that made him appealing to us and made us want to sign him."

Yes, the Jets would be quite happy if Bishop is anything close to Cam Wake.

At some point, the Jets may consider a Pace return. Bowles said the door "is not closed" on the 35-year-old free agent, who still wants to play. For now, they would be wise to keep Pace on the back burner, letting the kids get the practice reps throughout the spring. If there's no improvement over the next few weeks, they can reach out to Pace. They could even wait until training camp before making a decision, which wouldn't bother Pace. One of his favorite pastimes is complaining about the drudgery of camp. Pace can set the edge in his sleep, so it's not like he needs a lot of prep work.

For now, it's Kids R Us at outside linebacker.