- Associated Press - Friday, April 29, 2011

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) - Rex Ryan added another big body to his rebuilt defensive line. The New York Jets just hope Kenrick Ellis will play for them this season, given some legal issues he’s facing.

The Jets selected the talented but troubled nose tackle from Hampton in the third round Friday night, a day after taking Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson with the 30th overall pick. The 6-foot-5, 335-pound Ellis played one season at South Carolina before being dismissed in 2008 for repeated violations of team and university policy. He transferred to Hampton and played three seasons for the Pirates as a run-stuffing nose tackle.

But Ellis also sat out the first game of last season after being arrested for assault in the spring. According to the Daily Press in Virginia, the altercation resulted in a felony charge that will put him on trial on July 12. He faces as many as 20 years in prison, according to the newspaper.

“We did vigorous background on him, we’ve met with him,” general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. “Based on all the information that we have, we were comfortable taking him.”

Despite the off-field issues, the Jets were willing to take a gamble on Ellis.

“Organizationally, we have a good support system,” Tannenbaum said. “I think under Coach Ryan and his staff, he’s going to have chance to have a fresh start and be successful.”

Tannenbaum said Ellis was “very transparent, very honest, very accountable” when he met with the team during recent player visits.

“He’s going to come here with a clean slate,” Tannenbaum said, “and we’re going to move forward together.”

The Jets believe that means starting this season, despite an upcoming jury trial that makes his availability uncertain.

“I can’t get into the details with the legal situation,” Tannenbaum said, “but with all the information we have, we’re comfortable with where things are at.”

He could help fill the void left by Kris Jenkins, who was released after the season following serious knee injuries in consecutive seasons. Sione Pouha has played well in Jenkins’ absence, but is 32.

The Jets didn’t have a pick in the second round after they traded it last year to acquire cornerback Antonio Cromartie from San Diego.

Ellis shows explosive upper-body strength, and routinely takes on multiple blockers, freeing up defensive ends _ much the same way Jenkins did when healthy. He was extremely effective against the run, getting into the backfield routinely.

Ellis joins Wilkerson as players expected to make immediate impacts on Ryan’s defense. Wilkerson had 9 1/2 sacks last year for Temple, and Ryan said he wants him to play defensive end and defensive tackle.

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