For openers, Pace is ready to go

Some players take opening day for granted, assuming it'll always be there. Not Calvin Pace.

For the first time since 2008, his first year with the Jets, Pace will be in the Week 1 lineup. That, of course, is Sunday night, when they kick off 2011 against the Cowboys.

Pace missed the '09 opener (at Houston) because he was suspended four games for violating the NFL's banned-substance policy. He sat out the '10 opener (Baltimore) because of a broken foot, suffered in the preseason. He watched the game from the press box, the last place a player wants to be on opening night -- or any night for that matter.

The foot injury also cost him four games.

"Last year was unfortunate, and the year before was dumb," Pace said. "It's finally how it's supposed to be. I'm ready to go."

A healthy Pace for 16 games would mean a lot to the defense, which has a short supply of edge pass rushers. Pace probably is the best pass rusher on the team, an outside linebacker with double-digit sack potential, according to Rex Ryan.

Thing is, the Jets' pass rush isn't built around one player, so you're probably not going to see anyone with 10 or 12 sacks, but Pace said he's talked with the coaches about the possibility of featuring him in certain schemes. On occasion, he asked the coaches last season to use a conventional, four-man rush, but that didn't happen too often. There's nothing conventional about the Jets' defense.

Pace will be an important player Sunday night because of the challenges presented by the Cowboys. QB Tony Romo can make plays outside the pocket, meaning edge players like Pace will have containment responsibilities. Pace also gets involved in tight-end coverage, which means he'll be part of the plan to defend Jason Witten.

"Big-play offense," Pace said of the Cowboys. "They've got some weapons -- Dez Bryant, Miles Austin. Felix Jones, he's a home-run hitter. They have the ability to put points up."