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JETS HOPE VERNON IS ON PACE


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by Dan Martin The Post

Calvin Pace's loss could be Vernon Gholston's gain.

At least that's what Kerry Rhodes hopes.

The Jets will be without Pace for the first four games of the season after the linebacker was suspended for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances, and Rhodes said he believes Gholston will be up to the task of replacing Pace.

"We've got capable guys and Gholston has learned the system and is doing better," Rhodes said of the Jets' former first-round pick, who struggled last year during his rookie season. "He's been through a whole year and he's older. And now he's going to be more aggressive and attack. But it's not just him. We're not going to put all the pressure on him."

Rhodes, a close friend of Pace, said Pace is doing well but is remorseful.

"He's doing the best he can," Rhodes said last night at Justin Tuck's Celebrity Billiards tournament, benefitting Tuck's child literacy program, at Slate in Midtown. "He knows he didn't do the right thing."

Tuck's Giants have their own suspension to deal with. New linebacker Michael Boley, who is still recovering from hip surgery, was suspended for the team's first game stemming from his arrest over a year ago for allegedly punching his wife.

Chase Blackburn played weakside linebacker last year and is ready to play there again if called upon.

"I hope at least I'm competing for the job," Blackburn said. "I have a lot more confidence than I did last year."

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NEW YORK -- Jets safety Kerry Rhodes is good friends with linebacker Calvin Pace, so before the NFL announced his teammate's four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing substances policy, Rhodes knew it was coming.

"He's doing the best he can," Rhodes said Monday night on the red carpet of Justin Tuck's celebrity billiards tournament to benefit Tuck's R.U.S.H. for Literacy initiative. "He knows it's a tough situation. You don't really want to talk about it too much, put too much out there as far as how he's doing, but he knows that he didn't do the right thing in that situation. You've just got to be careful what you take, he knows that."

Pace, who started all 16 games at outside linebacker for the Jets last season, seemed primed for a strong season under new head coach Rex Ryan's aggressive defense. But between Sept. 5 and Oct. 5, the scheduled length of Pace's suspension, the unit will have to rely on other players to fill in, starting with second-year pro Vernon Gholston.

Gholston had a disappointing rookie season, but the new coaching staff seemed encouraged by his progress during offseason OTAs and minicamp. Rhodes was impressed as well -- though he added the team is "not going to put all the pressure on Vernon" to absorb Pace's loss.

"I think he's matured into a player now," Rhodes said. "He's been through a whole year of it, and he's in a system where he's going to be able to be more aggressive and attack more, which is more of his style. He's not going to sit back and be reactionary a lot, so I think it's a good thing for him."

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