The NFL season is often viewed as a war of attrition, and two contenders are already dealing with injuries that threaten to ruin their postseason hopes.
The New York Jets and Green Bay Packers just learned that Kris Jenkins and Ryan Grant are out for the season. While both teams field deep rosters, the loss of a key member will thrust an unheralded reserve into a key role.
In New York, Sione Pouha will replace Jenkins at nose tackle. Pouha has logged 16 starts in his career, but the bulk of those came last season when he started at defensive end before shifting to nose tackle following Jenkins' ACL injury a year ago.
Although he's not the athletic behemoth that Jenkins is on the interior, Pouha's a big, powerful defender. His ability to effectively control the point against single and double teams keyed the Jets' top-ranked run defense a season ago.
With Pouha set to shift to nose tackle, the Jets will turn to Mike Devito at defensive end. The scrappy Devito emerged as a valuable member last season as a versatile 3-4 defensive end/4-3 "under" tackle. As a stout run defender with a non-stop motor, Devito is exactly the kind of player that coach Rex Ryan loves to incorporate in the rotation.
While his ascension leaves the Jets with little depth along the line, former first-round disappointment Vernon Gholston will be asked to play a key role in the defensive end rotation. His ability to thrive could determine whether the Jets add another veteran in the coming weeks.
While Jackson isn't an explosive or shifty runner, he's very instinctive and shows a knack for finding creases in the defense. In addition, he's a solid receiver out of the backfield with open-field running skills. He should fare well in the passing game as a viable weapon on screens and check downs.
John Kuhn will also get some playing time as a short-yardage/goal-line specialist. Though he's a fullback by trade, his hard-nosed nature is ideally suited for the complementary role. He should see three or four carries a game in those situations.
Although the Packers have the utmost trust in Jackson and Kuhn, they will surely scan the waiver wire or trade market for a veteran runner to add to the mix. If they opt for a trade, the Buffalo Bills' Marshawn Lynch would appear to be a perfect fit. He's a three-down back with the skills to seamlessly transition into their offense.