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Sporting News Q&A w/ Vernon Gholston

Vernon Gholston, the sixth player selected in the ’08 draft, struggled mightily as a rookie. He recorded only 13 tackles—eight solo—in limited playing time. A standout at the NFL Scouting Combine a year ago with his unique combination of size, speed and strength, Gholston is determined to translate those skills into a more central role with the ’09 Jets. He talked about his goals with Sporting News‘ Bill Eichenberger.

Q: What’s different this spring compared to a year ago?
A: The only thing that has really changed with me is I have a year under my belt. And, of course, the rookie year is the roughest—a new situation, new experiences, coming into a new environment. But all that is out of the way. I’ve gotten accustomed to being in the NFL.

Q: Do you feel the extra pressure that comes with being a first-round pick? Is it frustrating to know you haven’t played up to expectations so far?
A: It is what it is. For me, I’ll tell you upfront, I have more expectations for myself than anybody else. So I don’t really get into what other people think. For me, it is about coming in and doing what I need to do and going where I need to go.

Q: Are you excited to play in new coach Rex Ryan’s aggressive 3-4 scheme? A: Yes, very excited.

Q: When hired, Ryan said one of his priorities was to help you reach your considerable potential. Have you received any special attention from him so far?
A: No, he hasn’t singled me out. The biggest thing is that he understands the situation with me last year. He’s seen my college films; he knows the type of player I can be. He’s just told me to work toward being a great player.

Q: Is there a different atmosphere with Ryan? Are you having more fun?
A: I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me it has been more fun this year because it’s not my rookie year so I have a lot of the learning and the growth off my back. So I’m more relaxed. Plus, it’s been great to get a chance to be here this time of year and go through the installs of the defense and learn everything the right way as opposed to being rushed into it like I was last year.

Q: Is this process of proving yourself new to you, or did you have to convince the doubters at Ohio State as well?
A: It’s pretty much the same thing all over, even going back to high school. When you come in, you start at the bottom of the totem pole. You’re a rookie. You go through your learning experiences. You learn the defense, become a better player. It was the same thing in college. Once you know that, you don’t come in expecting to be great all of a sudden. You know that things worth having are going to take some work. It’s just about coming in and putting your work in.

Q: Is it your goal this season to be a starter?
A: I really haven’t given that much thought. My goal this year is to be a major contributor, however that may be. It’s not necessarily on me to make that decision anyway. The coaches are going to do what they want to do in terms of putting in the scheme and putting the right players where they ought to be.

Q: What do you think you can add to this defense? What particular skill do you have that the coaches can take advantage of?
A: I see myself as a big, strong guy who can move. People talk about creating mismatches on offense, but I think there are situations where I can be a mismatch on defense, going against a bigger guy who is slower than me or going against a smaller guy who I am stronger than. That is the biggest thing I bring to the table.

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