Mo Knows: Wilkerson becoming big force on Jets' D


Mo Knows: Wilkerson becoming big force on Jets' D

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Muhammad Wilkerson is a quiet guy, appearing almost shy during interviews and deflecting praise.

The New York Jets' big defensive lineman is anything but timid on the field.

Wilkerson is developing into a dominating force in his second NFL season, and while he's not yet a household name, he's a big reason the Jets' once-struggling defense is ranked eighth in the league.

``It's really encouraging just how professional he's been and how coachable he's been,'' defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said Friday. ``Here's a guy that's not repeating mistakes, so the learning curve with him is just so much faster.''

Wilkerson, a first-round pick out of Temple last year, leads the Jets with four sacks and 26 quarterback pressures, and is fourth with 76 tackles. He has forced three fumbles and returned one for a touchdown. It all has coach Rex Ryan hoping Wilkerson's offseason includes a trip to Hawaii the week before the Super Bowl - if the Jets don't make it there, of course.

``I promise you that Muhammad Wilkerson gets a vote for Pro Bowl from Jacksonville,'' Ryan said earlier this week. ``I don't think there's any doubt about that. It was a dominant performance for Mo. It seems like we say it each week.''

Added fellow defensive lineman Mike DeVito: ``I can't speak enough good things about him. He's been a true vet from the moment he got here. If he doesn't make the Pro Bowl this year, it's going to be soon.''

All that sort of talk makes Wilkerson happy, but again, he's almost made uncomfortable with the kudos.

``I give the credit to (Ryan),'' Wilkerson said. ``I'm proud to be a Jet. They brought me here. I'm going to continue to play like a Jet and do my best for the defense.''

As he did during one drive in the third quarter of the Jets' 17-10 last Sunday.

On first down, he smacked into Chad Henne, who threw an incomplete pass. Wilkerson popped Henne even harder on the next play, causing another errant throw. On third down, Wilkerson blew between two offensive lineman and slammed Henne into the ground for a sack.

``Statistically, he had one sack, but this guy, over and over again, (running) backs are having to pick him up,'' Ryan said. ``It's rare to have an interior lineman get the attention from the backs. Usually that's assigned to an outside edge rusher, but the backs are helping on Mo time and time again. It just shows you what the teams are thinking about this guy.

``What a performance by him.''

The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Wilkerson showed signs of what was to come near the end of his rookie season last year, when he was routinely standing out in games and finished with three sacks.

``I just wanted to achieve more than I did last year,'' Wilkerson said, ``and have a better season than I did last year and just keep on improving for however many years to come.''

So, how do you think you're doing, Mo?

``I think I'm doing pretty good,'' Wilkerson said, again crediting his coaches and teammates for helping him along.

He spent the offseason trying to improve his technique and learn the inner workings of the defense, focusing on things such as what to do when a guard moves his hands a certain way or how to rebound on a play in which he has gotten beaten by an offensive lineman and still make an impact.

The development of his ``football IQ,'' as Wilkerson called it, has been a product of lots of work with new defensive line coach Karl Dunbar.

``We saw it at the end of last year and he really carried it over this year, and he's playing at such a high level,'' Pettine said. ``But he's doing all the little things well.''

There was a scary moment in the offseason, however, when being on the field might have been the furthest thing from Wilkerson's mind.

The defensive lineman was in a car accident in New Jersey on June 23, when he struck another vehicle and his truck flipped over and came to rest on its roof. Wilkerson needed stitches in one of his forearms, but otherwise came out OK - as did the passengers in the other vehicle. Alcohol was not a factor, according to police, and Wilkerson was cited for careless driving.

Wilkerson said he never worried in the days following the accident that what he's achieving now might not be possible.

``I love the game of football,'' he said. ``I just knew that I would approach this year differently and move on, and play better than I did last year.''

While the fans see it in games, Wilkerson's teammates have witnessed the leap he has made every day this season.

``Man, the sky's the limit for Mo,'' nose tackle Sione Po'uha said. ``This guy is going to be a great player, and more than that, he's a great individual. He's already just a phenomenal player. I mean, you see the plays he makes out there and you might think he's a great player on Sunday, but he's a beast in practice, too.''


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Davis Bertans reinforces status as Wizards' best offseason addition in win over 76ers

Davis Bertans reinforces status as Wizards' best offseason addition in win over 76ers

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards beat the Philadelphia 76ers 119-113 on Thursday night at Capital One Arena. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

1. The Wizards entered this season with the understanding they probably wouldn't make the playoffs. They wanted to play hard and be a team capable of pulling off upsets on nights their effort and scrappy play caught opponents off guard.

They wanted to have games like they had on Thursday night. For the first time this season, the Wizards jumped all over a very good team and held on for a victory.

The Wizards took out the Sixers 119-113 for what is so far their signature win of the season. Philly is one of the best teams in the East at 15-7 and it was mostly healthy, unlike the Wizards.

Washington snapped a three-game skid as it now flies to Miami for battle with the Heat, who may be the surprise team of the NBA so far this season with a 15-6 record.

2. Though it's not showing in the standings, the Wizards did a nice job in the offseason in flipping their roster and creating long-term financial flexibility. Their most impressive move may have been trading for Davis Bertans.

Bertans was essentially stolen from the San Antonio Spurs for Aaron White, who was likely to never play for the Wizards. And all Bertans has done is thrive in an expanded role with the green light to shoot as often as he wants.

Bertans was lights-out on Thursday with 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting. He set a career high with seven threes, going 7-for-13 from the perimeter. Bertans had 20 points and was 6-for-6 from three in the first half, tying his previous career high for makes.

As I've mentioned before, Bertans is going to be a commodity come the trade deadline and that is going to force a tough decision for the Wizards, whether to trade him or keep him and try to work out an extension in the offseason. If they are offered a first-round pick, it will be hard to pass up.

But there is an argument either way to hold on to him because he is such a good shooter. Just imagine how well he would fit with John Wall.

3. Rookie Rui Hachimura also had a huge game in what was his first career meeting with the Sixers. He popped off for 15 points in the second quarter and ended up with 27 points and six boards.

Hachimura did all of this while dealing with Al Horford and Joel Embiid down low and guarding those guys on the other end. He also spent some time checking Tobias Harris, so there was a lot on his plate.

Hachimura got many of his points with his bread-and-butter midrange game. He made one three and found trouble getting around Embiid at the rim. 

Hachimura took what the defense gave him and it worked. There were several occasions where defenders just let him take long twos and he made them.

Head coach Scott Brooks was just talking pregame about why the Wizards are okay with him living in the midrange, if that's what he is most comfortable with at this point. Good timing with those comments.

Hachimura, by the way, is averaging 22 points over his last four games while shooting 54.4 percent from the field (37-for-68).

4. The Wizards shared some good news on the injury front before the game as both of their backup centers returned. Moe Wagner, who was nursing a left ankle injury, came back after missing two games. And Ian Mahinmi made his season debut after missing two-plus months with an Achilles strain.

Wagner was put in the starting lineup due to Thomas Bryant's absence and, though he did not have his usual scoring numbers, he did what he could to bother Embiid and give the Wizards energy. Wagner finished with five points and 11 rebounds.

Mahinmi played surprisingly well, all things considered. He had some bad moments, some due to rust. Be he did a solid job guarding Embiid, which is no easy task. The Wizards also helped him out with double teams.

The best part of Mahinmi's night, though, was right when he checked in. He has developed a reputation for getting in foul trouble and, sure enough, he got one on his very first play.

5. Though the Wizards got two players back from injury on Thursday, they also lost two. Jordan McRae will be out a few weeks after having a second surgery on his right ring finger. And, in a bigger surprise, starting point guard Isaiah Thomas was a late scratch with a left calf strain.

The Thomas one is a newly disclosed injury and at this point it's unclear if he will miss any more time. But it was enough for him to sit after he had played in 17 straight.


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Win of the season? Undermanned Wizards beat 76ers

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Win of the season? Undermanned Wizards beat 76ers

The Wizards pulled off their best win of the season Thursday night by defeating on of the top teams in the East in the Sixers at home. 

On the backs of a superb first half by Davis Bertans and great defense on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Wizards snapped a three-game losing streak before they head to Miami. 

Here are the top moments from the game:

Bertans goes nuts from three

Davis Bertans set a career-high in three-pointers made Thursday night by hitting seven of his 13 attempts from deep. 

Six of them, however, came in the second quarter without a miss. 

Bradley Beal struggled in the game with Ben Simmons defending him, so Bertans giving the Wizards a lift helped them build a 10-point lead into the break and maintain it late into the second half. 

Chiozza with the steal, Mahinmi follows up the miss

With Isaiah Thomas out with a calf strain, the Wizards turned to two-way guard Chris Chiozza for some minutes off the bench.

He didn't score in his 11 minutes, but he provided a key steal of Joel Embiid that led to two points from Ian Mahinmi. 

Mahinmi's hustle here was not something we've much from the Wizards this season, so it's plays like these that led Washington to their best win of the season. 

Bertans misses? Wizards still get three points

As we stated already, Bertans was the star of the night shooting the ball, but the second half brought a few ugly misses from three. 

On his first shot since going 6-6 in the second quarter, Bertans fired a three off the side of the backboard. Luckily enough, Beal came up with the ball and drained a wide-open three. 

When it's your night, it's your night. 

The Wizards will look to keep the momentum going Friday night as they travel to Miami to take on Jimmy Butler and the Heat. You can watch the game at 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.