Vernon Gholston stormed through on a blitz and shoved center Nick Mangold back on his heels during a recent New York Jets training camp practice.
It was the type of fierce and powerful move the Jets and their fans have expected from the muscle-bound linebacker since he was taken with the sixth overall draft pick last year.
"I think Nick was surprised by it, and he gave him a little extra shot at the end of the play," coach Rex Ryan said Sunday between practices. "If he can move Nick Mangold like that, he could move anybody."
The problem for Gholston is that those moments have been rare. He was expected to immediately boost the Jets' pass rush last season, but finished with no sacks and saw limited time on the field.
"Did I do all I wanted to do? Probably not," said Gholston, who found himself mainly a special teams player. "But the biggest thing for me, I never look back on the past. I always look forward."
And he certainly has something to look forward to. With starting outside linebacker Calvin Pace suspended by the NFL for four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy, Ryan has already installed Gholston as the fill-in starter.
"We'll see," Ryan said. "It's all going to come out in the end. He's going to be our starter for the first four games, for sure, and let's evaluate him after those games."
Gholston had a decent minicamp and has had a couple of moments in training camp, but much more is expected. After setting an Ohio State record with 14 sacks in 2007, none as an NFL rookie had some fans and members of the media already labeling him a bust.
"A bust? Well, I think people relate it to where you're picked in the draft, but I don't know if you can say that for players who haven't been out there much," he said. "Look at quarterbacks. Some of them take a few years to develop."
Another knock on the hulking linebacker is that he perhaps lacks the competitive fire to be a dominant force in the NFL.
"What is fire?" Gholston said, bristling slightly. "Is fire jumping up and down when you make a tackle? I'm not going to do that. You're supposed to make tackles. That's my job. Now, if we win the Super Bowl, then you'll see me jumping all over the place. To me, it's about working hard and being prepared."
Ryan also insists the desire is there.
"One thing I'll say about Vernon is I've been challenging him everyday with little things here and there," Ryan said. "One of the things I was talking about was just running through things because he is a big, strong guy. He is a rock. Just get that feeling for running through somebody."
Early in training camp, Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine have been mixing Gholston in with Pace and Bryan Thomas, along with Marques Murrell, at outside linebacker.
"It's not really about proving anything," Gholston said. "I know I can play. The coaches know I can play. It's just all about getting in the defense, knowing what I'm in, knowing what I play, what I've got going on and stepping up and doing it."
Murrell is also hoping to play a bigger role in the defense, and has shown some signs of being a solid pass rusher.
"I'm looking to be able to step on the field and let the coaches feel comfortable when I step on the field and be able to make plays," he said. "I don't want to be just out there, to just hold a spot. I don't want to be just a dummy out there."
Ryan said Murrell, at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, might lack the physical size to be an every-down linebacker, but likes him as someone who could get to the quarterback in Pace's absence.
Murrell, undrafted out of Appalachian State, signed with Philadelphia in 2007 before being signed by the Jets off the Eagles' practice squad that season. A solid special teams performer, he has mostly been known as former Jets running back Adrian Murrell's younger brother.
"I must say, sometimes it was frustrating growing up because it was like, 'Yo, that's Adrian's little brother,' but it's not too bad, either," Murrell said. "I've felt like the underdog a lot, but I want to fight and claw to become the top dog."
NOTES: QB Mark Sanchez took snaps with the first-team offense for the first time in the morning session, and Ryan said the rookie quarterback will get more work there as camp progresses. Sanchez worked exclusively with the second team in the afternoon. ... NT Kris Jenkins was in shorts and a T-shirt after straining his left calf Saturday. After initially saying it wasn't a big deal, Ryan said: "It could be a little longer than I thought. Sometimes those calves are a little slower to heal." ... RB Danny Woodhead returned to full practice after missing some time following a blow to the head Friday.