FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) – Vernon Gholston was a coveted man at the NFL draft last year, with several teams hoping to make the hulking linebacker the centerpiece of their defense.

After a disappointing rookie season with the New York Jets in which he had no sacks and provided little impact, he’s still looking to develop into a dominant presence.

“I never lost confidence in myself,” Gholston said Friday between minicamp practices. “I’ll say that honestly. I still feel like when I learn what I can do, I can be one of the best players in this league.”

Jets coach Rex Ryan has declared Gholston will be one of his personal projects this season, eager to tap into the potential that excited New York so much that it drafted him sixth overall last year.

“I’m just letting my eyes do our evaluation, what I see out there right now,” Ryan said. “Vernon is a New York Jet, and I’m happy he is.”

When then-coach Eric Mangini and general manager Mike Tannenbaum drafted Gholston, it was with the intention that the former Ohio State star would easily transition from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker. Fans cheered the pick, envisioning Gholston terrorizing quarterbacks on a weekly basis.

Instead came a year of struggles. He missed minicamp because of an NCAA rule that wouldn’t allow him to practice until Ohio State’s spring semester was completed. He then missed a day of training camp because of a brief contract holdout. Then, he was slow to pick up Mangini’s intricate defensive system and found playing time scarce. He was even inactive for a week and has faced constant questions about what went wrong.

“It’s just the way it works out sometimes,” Gholston said. “I think the bigger measure is how you bounce back from that. You strive and keep going and give yourself a chance to get where you want to go.”

Gholston, who set the Buckeyes’ single-season sacks record with 14 as a senior, had just 13 tackles last season for New York. He was tagged by some fans with the nickname “The Ghost” for his lack of big plays.

“Shoot, I’m dang hungry,” he said. “I definitely want some sacks. I think people look at last year and say I had no sacks, but there were a lot of times I was actually close to sacks. What we did last year, I wasn’t always called to rush. A lot of that just comes with the game plan. A lot of times I was actually close on sacks, I was just a tenth of a second or a step away.”

Gholston knows almost doesn’t quite cut it, not in the NFL – and certainly not when you were being considered by Miami with the No. 1 overall pick.

“The biggest thing is having that ability and just getting on the field where you can actually use it and show it,” he said. “With that being said, you have to know what you’re doing on the football field. You can’t go out there and not know what to do, otherwise you won’t be out there.”

Ryan has liked what he has seen so far from Gholston, who’ll likely continue playing outside linebacker in the new coach’s system.

“You watch him out there these last few practices, you see how he’s flying to the football, making some plays,” Ryan said. “He had a couple of sacks today. You know, I’m happy he’s here.”

Gholston certainly looks the part of a pass-rushing force with his massive arms and shoulders.

He’s soft spoken off the field, though, and he’s not a trash talker or a showboat, causing the misperception that perhaps Gholston lacks the fire to truly be an NFL star.

“I mean, I’m going to be me,” he said. “If anybody knows me, I have intensity. It’s just not shown in that way. If you want a cheerleader, I can just put on a cheerleading outfit and get some pompoms and cheer everybody on, if that’s what people want to see me do.

“But I’m here to play football and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Gholston had a dinner chat with Lawrence Taylor last season when the Hall of Fame linebacker talked about some of his own experiences and passed along some tips that might help the youngster’s development. Gholston hasn’t spoken to L.T. since, but has caught him doing the tango on television.

“When I heard he was on there, I was like, ‘L.T? On Dancing With the Stars?”‘ he said with a big laugh. “I caught it last week and he was actually pretty good. He’s still going.”

So maybe Taylor can someday pass along some of his dance moves.

“I’m going to hold off on that,” Gholston said, smiling. “I’m going to learn football first.”

Notes: Ryan said quarterback Kellen Clemens was “outstanding” and “looked sharp” in the morning practice, apparently giving Clemens the very early edge in the competition with Brett Ratliff for the starting job. … A scary moment occurred in the morning practice when linebacker Kenwin Cummings and wide receiver Wallace Wright had a loud collision during a non-contact drill. Ryan said Cummings might have suffered a concussion, while Wright banged up his left knee, but the coach said both should be fine.

AP-ES-04-17-09 1954EDT

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