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Vilma at sisters grad. in Boston

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Jets' Vilma welcomes lofty expectations after subpar season


AP Sports Writer

June 08. 2007 3:24PM

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HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -Jonathan Vilma was hanging out in Boston - enemy territory as far as New York Jets fans are concerned - during an excused absence from preseason workouts.

The linebacker's trip Thursday had nothing to do with the New England Patriots. It was to watch his sister, Alice, receive her MBA from Harvard Business School.

``She's got the brains,'' Vilma said Friday. ``She took them all.''

Walking around the Harvard campus, the former University of Miami star was thoroughly impressed.

``Miami is Miami. Nothing beats Miami, but of course, Harvard speaks for itself,'' he said. ``When I was telling people that my sister was graduating from Harvard, they were taken aback by it and they understand that it's something big and something special. We definitely treated it as something special, and we're definitely proud of her.''

Vilma has been a source of pride to his family since the day he stepped on a football field. He became a coveted player by most NFL teams during his big play-filled career with the Hurricanes and was a first-round draft pick of the Jets in 2004.

A solid rookie season was capped by being selected the league's defensive rookie of the year. Vilma became a Pro Bowl linebacker the next season after leading the NFL in tackles. Already a respected leader on the team and one of its most likable players, big things were expected for the Jets' rising star heading into last season.

Then a few things happened along the way.

Coach Herman Edwards left and the Jets hired Eric Mangini, who implemented a new defensive scheme. Instead of the 4-3 lineup that Vilma thrived in during his first two years, Mangini and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton switched to a predominantly 3-4 scheme. Vilma struggled to adjust and the numbers bear that out: After compiling 143 solo tackles in 2005, he had just 66 last year.

``It's good, though, because it could always be the other way around where I could've had two subpar seasons and everybody's thinking that last year was the greatest season I ever had,'' he said. ``It could always be that way. It's good to know that what people expect from me and the way people perceive me.''

Throughout last season, Vilma heard all kinds of criticism - he's not as effective in this defense; he's not big enough; he's not making enough big plays - despite being described as an undisputed field general by Mangini.

Well, the pressure's on Vilma again, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

``I say that expectations from the two years I had before, everyone's expecting that regardless of what defense you're in or the plays and things of that nature, so it's actually kind of good that people expect big things,'' he said. ``They expect big plays and they expect the big hits and things like that and 200 tackles. Whether it be in a 3-4 or a 4-3, those are expectations that are not going to change. For me, it's good to hear that and it's a little motivating factor for me to go out there and keep playing.''

Despite it being just OTAs - or organized team activities - and the players haven't even put pads on yet, Mangini is already impressed by Vilma this offseason. The coach also is confident that Vilma will thrive in this defense.

``Jon works the same way regardless of what system he's in, where he is, what happened in the past, what's going to happen in the future,'' Mangini said. ``He's a very consistent guy, and he's got a lot of pride in what he does at work and his craft, and you see that.''

Vilma doesn't need negative clippings or postings on fans message boards to get him motivated, and he insists he won't bring any of those thoughts with him on the field.

``I take it as any other season,'' he said. ``I always put a lot of pressure on myself. What's said by the fans and the media, it's all outside stuff for me. I'm even-keeled and I'm not going to change.''

Even still, some eyebrows were raised when the Jets drafted Michigan linebacker David Harris - a player whose talents and build have often been compared to Vilma's - in the second round in April.

``The more the better,'' Vilma said. ``If you can get a bunch of good players around, it's always good for the team. I was happy. When I asked around, there wasn't a guy out there who said he wasn't good. It's good to know that everyone thinks highly of him.''

And despite the outside criticism, the Jets still like Vilma - a lot. And why not? After a full year of learning a new system, Vilma is optimistic about again being the dominant player he was two years ago.

``Of course I'm going to feel more comfortable being that it's the second year of minicamp,'' he said. ``I just can't wait for training camp to start and the season to start.''

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