Hey Nors, you see that? SAINTS 23, JETS 13 Debut of the defense New players and schemes suggest that Henderson's unit, a weak spot last year, has been bolstered BY KEN BERGER STAFF CORRESPONDENT August 14, 2004 NEW ORLEANS - The guesswork was over at a little past 8 o'clock Friday night, when John Abraham stood up at the line of scrimmage and Jonathan Vilma assumed his position in the middle of the Jets' new-look defense. There is still much more that we don't know about this team and the complicated defensive schemes imported by daring defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson. But at least a couple of answers were provided in the preseason opener against the Saints. On defense, the Jets will run fast and hit hard, even if they're not always running to the right place. Did they look good, you wonder? They looked interesting, which is better news than you think. "For the most part, we put in a good effort," coach Herman Edwards said. "But we still have to play a lot smarter." They lost to the Saints, 23-13, but that was hardly the point of the exercise. Most of the game was contested by the junior varsity. The biggest curiosity surrounding this team involved the unveiling of the new defense, with Abraham in a new role and Vilma, the first-round pick, bringing sorely needed speed. The starters were on the field together for only 13 plays, but the early returns were positive. Despite switching between 4-3 and 3-4 looks, with multiple fronts within each alignment, Henderson's defense was more cohesive than most observers expected. They came out in a 3-4 alignment, with Vilma and Sam Cowart in the middle and Abraham and Victor Hobson on the outside. The starters didn't make a sack, but got good pressure on quarterback Todd Bouman, who started for Aaron Brooks (quad injury). Vilma and Josh Evans, who rotated with Dewayne Robertson, each let Bouman slip out of would-be sacks. Free safety Jon McGraw had an interception out of a formation that was reminiscent of Bill Belichick's amorphous 3-4 defense in New England. With the Jets rushing three linemen and a linebacker, McGraw broke toward the sideline and sat on Donte Stallworth's route for the easy pick. Abraham, now a hybrid end/linebacker, dropped into coverage on the other side of the field. It was a night for experimentation, including Henderson eschewing the sideline for a spot in the press box instead. Edwards, previously stoic on the sideline as he deferred to his staff, was much more demonstrative and involved in the play-to-play operations. Shaun Ellis picked up where he left off in his Pro Bowl season of 2003, unloading two menacing hits on Bouman. Vilma's open-field tackle on running back Aaron Stecker was a stark reminder of how the Jets lacked speed and playmaking ability last season, when their defense was embarrassing. On offense, Curtis Martin got his long-awaited carries (three for 20 yards, including a 15-yard run). Chad Pennington was sharp (3-for-5, 32 yards), leading the Jets on a 10-play, 76-yard drive that produced Doug Brien's 22-yard field goal. Pennington threw incomplete for Justin McCareins twice, including a fade route on which the opening drive fizzled. "I feel good about everything and I feel like we keep making progress," Pennington said. Brooks Bollinger, trying to prove that he's a capable backup, had an uneven performance. Bollinger (6-for-11, 85 yards) played only two series with the starting offensive line, and there were some issues. He was sacked and lost a fumble on his first possession, and fumbled Kevin Mawae's snap on the first play of the second series. Though he missed a couple of open receivers, Bollinger showed some good signs, hooking up with fourth-round pick Jerricho Cotchery (three catches, 50 yards). Bollinger left the game in the third quarter with a sprained right knee. Edwards did not know the severity, but if it's serious, the Jets will have to intensify their search for a backup quarterback.