HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- The New York Jets tried to improve their pass rush in a big way Saturday, selecting speedy and powerful defensive end Vernon Gholston out of Ohio State with the sixth pick in the NFL draft.
The selection of Gholston, expected to play outside linebacker in New York's 3-4 defense, was met with big cheers from the notoriously critical Jets fans at Radio City Music Hall. The 6-foot-4, 264-pound Gholston should boost New York's pass rush, which had just 29 sacks last season.
The Jets got back into the first round later, trading their second-round pick and a fourth-rounder to Green Bay for the No. 30 pick. The fans who cheered a few hours earlier for Gholston booed loudly as New York took Purdue tight end Dustin Keller, thinking the Jets might take a wide receiver or quarterback.
The speedy Keller, the first tight end or wide receiver drafted, is expected to add a much-needed vertical threat to the Jets' offense. Keller had 68 catches for 881 yards and seven touchdowns last season for the Boilermakers. His selection clouds the future of starter Chris Baker, who recently asked for a trade after the Jets didn't restructure his contract.
Much to their delight, New York went with a player who set an Ohio State record with 14 sacks last season despite facing double teams regularly.
"I'm going to make things happen," Gholston said moments after his selection.
While Pace and Gholston are considered similar players, the Jets made it clear that they want to get to opposing quarterbacks with more frequency. Gholston gives New York some flexibility at the position with Pace and Bryan Thomas, who also play the hybrid defensive end-linebacker spot.
"Vernon's got to come in and establish a role, and we look forward to him doing that," coach Eric Mangini said. "We've got a nice mixture of guys now to fill that outside linebacker position."
Gholston was a defensive end in Ohio State's 4-3 defense, his combination of speed -- he ran a 4.56 40-yard dash -- and power -- he benched a team-best 455 pounds and squatted 405 pounds 20 times -- made the Jets think he's a perfect fit for their defense.
"He can help in all phases of our defense," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "He can rush the passer, I think he does a good job of setting the edge in the run game. He plays over the tight end as well, so there's a lot of different things he can do."
Gholston got his sacks in bunches last season, with four games with at least two, including a career-high four against Wisconsin. He also had a sack against Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long, the only one allowed last season by the No. 1 overall pick by Miami.
"The Jets are getting a great player," Long said. "I respect him as a person and as a player. I'm excited for the challenge to play him again."
About the only criticism of Gholston is that he would dominate during stretches in games, but then appear to takes some plays off.
"I'm always happy with sacks in bunches," Mangini said with a laugh. "If that's the way they're going to come, then that's great, too. There were a lot of games where he may not have had a sack, but he affected the quarterback quite a bit."
"He's just one of those guys who does what he's told and works really hard," Nugent told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "He was a freshman when I was a senior, and I remember him being average size, but he has really improved himself."
Gholston didn't play football until his sophomore year at Cass Tech High in Detroit, and he played offensive line after being overwhelmed at linebacker. He returned to defense as a senior and became a major signing for Ohio State.
It took time for Gholston to develop, though, as he never played more than 3 minutes in a game as a freshman, then was redshirted after breaking his left hand in the season opener the next year.
He developed into a star in 2006 and became one of the best players in the country last year.
"We think his best football's ahead of him," Tannenbaum said. "We think in our program, he'll have a chance to develop and get better."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press