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Saturday, April 26, 2008 - Page updated at 10:47 PM

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Jets make fans happy, take DE Vernon Gholston with 6th pick

AP Sports Writer

Vernon Gholston heard the crowd chanting his name while the New York Jets were on the clock, deliberating over their first-round draft selection.

A few minutes later, the notoriously critical Jets fans welcomed the Ohio State defensive end to their team with satisfied cheers.

"It was crazy," Gholston said with a smile Saturday night at the Jets' headquarters, a few hours after being selected with the No. 6 overall pick. "When they got to the sixth pick and I was still on the board, they started chanting my name and everything. I guess they anticipated it."

And, the Jets hope Gholston will further improve their pass rush in a big way. The speedy and powerful defensive end is expected to play outside linebacker in New York's 3-4 defense, which registered just 29 sacks last season.

The 6-foot-4, 264-pound Gholston set an Ohio State record with 14 sacks last season despite facing double teams regularly. In the 3-4, he'll be asked to stand up as a linebacker more after playing mostly from a three-point stance in college.

"That's something I've done at Ohio State," said Gholston, wearing a gray, pinstriped suit and a green and white Jets cap. "I'm pretty sure I won't have problems with it."

The Jets added another first-round selection when they traded their second-round pick and a fourth-rounder (No. 113) to Green Bay for the No. 30 pick. The fans who cheered a few hours earlier for Gholston at Radio City Music Hall booed loudly when New York took Purdue tight end Dustin Keller, thinking the Jets might take a wide receiver or quarterback.

"I think it's going to be a really good fit," Keller said during a conference call from a suite in the press box at Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium.

Keller has often been compared to Dallas Clark because of his size - 6-2, 248 pounds - and ability to catch passes. The speedy Keller, the first tight end or wide receiver drafted, is expected to add a much-needed vertical threat to the Jets' offense. He had 68 catches for 881 yards and seven touchdowns last season for the Boilermakers.

The one weakness in Keller's game is his blocking, which he and the Jets believe will improve.

"There's some people I just have to prove wrong," Keller said. "It's kind of a motivator more than anything else to me."

Keller took on Gholston when Purdue and Ohio State played last October.

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"He's a monster of a player," he said. "I mean, he can be as good as he wants to be."

Keller had seven catches for 101 yards in that game, while Gholston had just one tackle in the Buckeyes' 23-7 win.

"He got me a couple of times, but I also got him a few times," Keller said. "I think I fared pretty well."

The Jets have made major upgrades to their defense this offseason, trading for defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and signing defensive end-linebacker Calvin Pace to a six-year, $42 million deal that included a $20 million signing bonus.

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 them a premier pass-rushing force.

"I think I was one of the best in college, but obviously, the NFL's a new level," he said.

Gholston's combination of speed - he ran a 4.56 40-yard dash - and power - he benched a team-best 455 pounds and wowed his teammates with his brute strength - made the Jets think he's a perfect fit for their defense.

"He can help in all phases of our defense," Tannenbaum said. "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.

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," coach Eric Mangini said with a laugh. "There were a lot of games where he may not have had a sack, but he affected the quarterback quite a bit."

Gholston joins kicker Mike Nugent and center Nick Mangold as former Ohio State players drafted in the first two rounds by the Jets.

"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 played offensive line after being overwhelmed at linebacker. He returned to defense as a senior, and was a major recruit for Ohio State.

It took time for Gholston to develop, but he eventually became one of the best players in the country.

"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 The Seattle Times Company

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