Former South Tahoe football player Garrett McIntyre has patiently paid his football dues for the past 10 years.
On Sunday, that decade of hard work and walk-on or backup roles finally paid off. Jets coach Rex Ryan confirmed that McIntyre will serve as starting linebacker for Quinton Coples, who is out indefinitely for medical reasons.
“Garrett, I think he’s really earned that right,” Ryan said. “I think, No. 1, his work ethic is phenomenal. He’s a guy that’s always one of our top lifters and top-conditioned athletes.”
The outside linebacker job will fall primarily to McIntyre, in his third season with the Jets, and Antwan Barnes, who was signed as a free agent from San Diego this offseason.
During his three years with the Jets, McIntyre has learned every detail of the defensive system and also emerged as one of the defensive team leaders.
“He challenges guys. In the game, we had a corner cover a running back and Garrett had to cover the wideout in the slot. Never flinched, just got the job done, even thought that wasn’t an ideal situation for us,” Ryan said. “Garrett’s just a guy who’s smart, knows the defense, we can plug him in a lot of different spots and he does a tremendous job.”
McIntyre practiced with the starters Monday, and has been productive as a backup on defense and special teams contributor. He had 3½ sacks last season, showing occasional flashes while filling in.
This year, Ryan said he expects to see big things from the 6-foot-3, 255-pound outside linebacker.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s a great opportunity for me to go out with the 1s and show what I got,” McIntyre said. “In this game, if you don’t take advantage of opportunities, you don’t play for very long.”
The road to NFL starter was a long one for McIntyre. He joined the Fresno State football team as a walk-on in 2002. He then went undrafted out of Fresno in 2006, and split the season with Seattle, Arizona and Tennessee.
He then moved to arena football with the San Jose SaberCats before spending two years in the Canadian Football League, where he posted 51 tackles and 9 sacks. The Jets signed him in January 2011.
“The more you can do, the more you’re worth,” McIntyre said he always reminds himself.
Coples, who led the team with 5.5 sacks last season as a rookie, reportedly underwent a medical procedure on Tuesday.
“I don’t know the particulars right now on surgery,” Ryan said. “We just know that he’s out for at least the preseason games. We’re putting it that he’s out indefinitely because we don’t know exactly the time frame on it.”
That has been some speculating that the injury could be more serious than first thought. Coples was hurt late in the second quarter of New York’s 37-13 win over Jacksonville on Saturday night when he batted down a pass by Chad Henne and suffered what is believed to be a hairline fracture in his right ankle.
He limped off the field after the play and was examined by team trainers on the sideline before being taken to the locker room a few minutes later for further tests.
Coples lined up primarily at defensive end last season. Ryan planned to have Coples play outside linebacker and occasionally slide into his old defensive line spot — a transition that Coples was still working on this preseason.
Associated Press sports reporter Dennis Waszak Jr. contributed to this report.