NFL team preview: New York Jets
Coach Rex Ryan decided to give most of his starters the night off in the preseason finale at Philadelphia.
Then again, he had no choice but to do so with two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Revis, whom Ryan talked up last season as the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year after Revis finished second in the balloting, has sat out the entire preseason schedule and training camp, holding out because he wants a lucrative contract extension. The Jets haven't come close to satisfying his monetary desires, and the stalemate dominated the Jets' preseason, overshadowing the stuff that actually happened on the field.
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Of course, the brash Ryan hasn't changed his bold tune one bit, even after linebacker Calvin Pace suffered a fractured bone in his right foot in the third preseason game. After subsequently undergoing surgery, the Jets' best edge rusher will miss at least the season opener and maybe more games.
But Ryan said that even without Pace and with Revis' presence still a question mark, "we've got enough depth here (on defense). We've got enough good football players that offenses need to worry about our defense. We're definitely not worried about it. I've got a lot of confidence in the guys we have. I'm not nearly as concerned as maybe other people are."
Antonio Cromartie, acquired from San Diego in a March trade, also is an excellent cover corner. But while he had a terrific, almost Revis-like training camp, he was a bit shaky in the Jets' third preseason game, the last one in which he played. And it remains to be seen if he can be the game-changer Revis was. Revis was so good in 2009 that he almost always took away the opposition's best receiver.
And because the Jets didn't need to double-team the Randy Mosses and Chad Ochocincos of the world, that freed up more people to blitz and harass the quarterback. Without Revis, it's likely the Jets will have to modify their blitzing strategy or risk getting torched often.
There was no such drama on offense during camp, as everyone was present and accounted for. Still, there were times when one could be excused for thinking the entire first-string offense was missing.
In 18 possessions in three preseason games, the Jets' starting offense scored only two touchdowns. And one of those came early in the fourth quarter of the third game against Washington's backups.
"I think we would've liked to perform a little better in a couple of those preseason games," Sanchez admitted, "but that's behind us and we have to learn from those mistakes and be ready to go when it counts.
"I don't think we're too worried about it," he added. "We're confident. We're excited about this next challenge and we know that it's time to get going."
But if they have to make part (or perhaps all?) of the journey without Revis, it will be that much more difficult. To have a chance to live up to the massive hype that has surrounded the Jets since spring, they must get Revis back into the fold. And Sanchez and a talented cast of wideouts must provide enough of a passing game so opposing defenses don't stack the box the way they did when Sanchez was a turnover-plagued rookie.
COACHING: Rex Ryan, 2nd year, 2nd with Jets (11-8).
REMEMBERING: 2009 record: 9-7 (2nd in AFC East); lost in AFC title game to Colts, 30-17.
PREDICTING: 2010 regular-season record: 10-6 (2nd in AFC East); lose in AFC wild-card game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Jets have lost OLB Calvin Pace, at least for the regular-season opener, because of a broken bone in his right foot. Pace already has undergone surgery to repair the bone. However, coach Rex Ryan isn't conceding that Pace definitely will miss the second game. In the meantime, veteran Jason Taylor will start in Pace's place, and Vernon Gholston, moved from OLB to DE this year, also could see some action in Pace's spot.
Reserve quarterback Kevin O'Connell was waived, paving the way for veteran Kellen Clemens to stick as the No. 3 quarterback. O'Connell was acquired from Detroit for a seventh-round pick last September, just before the season began, but had a disappointing preseason with the Jets.
--LG Matt Slauson has opened a sizable advantage over rookie Vladimir Ducasse in the battle to be the starting LG. Ducasse didn't help his cause by whiffing on Washington DL Kedric Golston, who then delivered a hard hit on QB Mark Sanchez.
--OLB Calvin Pace will miss the Jets' opener and likely at least another game or two because of a fractured bone in his right foot. He will have surgery to repair the break.
--WR Laveranues Coles was released by the Jets, but Rex Ryan said he could be re-signed after the first game of the season. That way, the Jets wouldn't be on the hook for a full year's salary to Coles, who has stated he doesn't want to play for any team besides the Jets. Still, Coles told the Newark Star-Ledger he wasn't sure if he wanted to re-sign after the first game, and indicated he simply may retire.
--K Nick Folk has made seven of nine field-goal attempts in three preseason games, with one of the misses from 62 yards. But he missed a PAT against Washington.
--CB Antonio Cromartie struggled somewhat against Washington, with two penalties, including one that negated his own interception. He also was beaten by former Jet Santana Moss on a deep route, but Moss dropped the ball.
--C Nick Mangold re-signed with the Jets last week, getting a seven-year, $55 million deal that makes him the highest-paid center in the NFL. Unlike CB Darrelle Revis, Mangold chose not to hold out of training camp.
DRAFT PICKS TO STICK
Rd. 1/29, CB Kyle Wilson, Boise State -- Hasn't backed down from challenge of starting immediately with Darrelle Revis holding out. Already has displayed good coverage skills. Will move into more of a backup role, covering slot receivers, if and when Revis returns. Also might return punts if Revis comes back.
Rd. 2/61, G/T Vladimir Ducasse, Massachusetts -- Has fallen behind Matt Slauson in competition to replace the released Alan Faneca at LG. Very strong, but technique needs work as he has struggled making transition from RT in college.
Rd. 4/112, RB Joe McKnight, USC -- Quick and elusive in the open field but Jets think he doesn't run strong enough between the tackles. Has had problems with conditioning. However, has shown breakaway potential in return game.
Rd. 5/139, FB John Conner, Kentucky -- Bruiser who has knocked some of his teammates out of practice with crushing blocks. Rex Ryan already has stated he will make team and he shapes up as heir apparent to veteran Tony Richardson. Seems too stiff in his hips and shoulders to contribute as anything but a blocker.
UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Mark Sanchez. Backups -- Kellen Clemens, Mark Brunell.
Sanchez used his time wisely during the late winter and early spring when he couldn't get on the field because he was rehabbing from February knee surgery. He immersed himself in film study of the successes and failures of his rookie NFL season, paying particular attention to the mistakes. However, his August work, for the most part, didn't seem to indicate whether all that study had paid off. Sanchez's work in practice was somewhat spotty, and in 18 game possessions, he led the starting offense to only two touchdowns. Once again, his habits of locking in on intended receivers and trying to fit passes in tight spaces have been on display. On the positive side, his mobility doesn't seem to be a problem as he is adjusting to playing with a brace on his left knee.
The Jets signed veteran backup Brunell, whom they had coveted for quite some time, a few days before training camp began and handed him to No. 2 job sight unseen. Clemens outplayed the since-released Kevin O'Connell for the No. 3 spot.
Greene came into his own during the 2009 playoffs with two 100-yard games and touchdown runs of 39 (against Cincinnati) and 53 yards (against San Diego), but he still must prove he can get through the pounding of an NFL season without injury problems. Enter Tomlinson, who quieted critics during the preseason with an unexpected burst and his time-tested ability to find the holes and hit them quickly. So maybe he can be a reliable change of pace and third-down receiver despite coming off his worst season as a pro (3.3 yards per carry). He should get about seven to 10 carries per game and some receptions, especially on third down. Fourth-round pick McKnight also could take on that third-down role after the trade of Leon Washington to Seattle. McKnight also could figure in the return game. He has shiftiness in the open field, but is not adept at running between the tackles, something the Jets want him to do, despite the fact that wasn't his M.O. at USC.
Richardson, who will be 38 by opening day, still is a terrific blocker and had another excellent season doing it in 2009. He will mentor fifth-round pick Conner, his heir apparent. Conner has had devastating blocks in practice, some of which have caused teammates to miss playing and practice time. The undersized Woodhead, a prolific rusher at the NCAA Division II level, was moved to WR when the Jets had a cluster of injuries at that position last year, but was moved back when Leon Washington was hurt. The Jets like his versatility. Chauncey Washington has delivered some hard hits on special teams this summer.
Keller's speed and size make him a matchup nightmare and he appears to finally be developing a big-time chemistry with Sanchez. Yes, he had only nine catches for 69 yards and no scores in the last five regular-season games, but came up big in the playoffs, catching a touchdown pass in every game. He also had a TD catch from Sanchez in the preseason. The one Achilles' heel has been his inability to block, but he is improving in that area. Hartsock and Mulligan are primarily blockers, but both are accomplished in that area. The Jets like the receiving potential of free-agent rookie Cumberland, and want to see him work on his blocking.
One year after entering the season without a proven No. 1 receiver, the Jets suddenly have three of them. Cotchery, who was the main man for the first time in his NFL career last season, again was steady and productive, averaging 14.4 yards on 57 receptions. But he won't be a starter by mid-October, once Holmes returns from a four-game NFL-imposed suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Holmes played most of the time with second unit during preseason, and thus has yet to establish a major chemistry with Sanchez. By mid-season, Edwards and Holmes will be the starters with Cotchery taking more of a slot receiver and third-down role. Edwards had a quiet preseason, but believes he is ready for a big year. He had problems last season with dropping passes, botching several potential long touchdowns. It also didn't help that the Jets often went conservative on offense to limit the chance of Sanchez throwing picks.
Smith has yet to become a big-time NFL wideout and may never be, but the Jets value his versatility, including his ability to run the Wildcat. They also gave him multiple conventional reps at quarterback during June minicamp. Clowney is a speedster who has shined in the preseason but has had trouble getting on the field otherwise, and didn't impress on special teams in August. The Jets like the potential of the undersized Taylor. It's possible they could try to re-sign Laveranues Coles after the first game so they don't have to pay him for the full season.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, LG Matt Slauson, C Nick Mangold, RG Brandon Moore, RT Damien Woody. Backups - G/C Robert Turner, T Wayne Hunter, G/T Vladimir Ducasse, C Robby Felix, T Mike Turkovich.
The Jets could have had the same starting line for a third straight season, but chose to release nine-time Pro Bowl LG Alan Faneca to save $2.25 million. (They still owe Faneca, now with Arizona, $5.25 million.) Granted, Faneca's skills have been on the decline, especially in pass protection. But it isn't as if his heir apparent is a sure thing. Ducasse was a tackle in college and had trouble in August making the transition to guard, allowing second-year pro Slauson to leapfrog him in the competition. Slauson's technique is better than Ducasse, who still is somewhat raw. Ferguson recently was re-signed through 2017, and he is extremely close to becoming the shutdown left tackle the Jets envisioned when they selected him. Mangold, who has become one of the best centers in the league, chose not to hold out although he was looking for a contract extension and it paid off, as he re-upped in August. Moore and Woody are quite solid overall and are outstanding in the running game. Turner and Hunter can line up as extra tight ends when the Jets run.
Jenkins looks quite healthy after a lengthy rehab from a torn ACL in his left knee, and should anchor the line much the way he did in 2008. This could be Ellis' last season with the Jets, as the veteran has lost a step but still can get to the quarterback more frequently than most of his teammates. Pouha was a revelation last season as a run-stuffer in Jenkins' absence and again will be a key player up front. Gholston has shown some ability at stopping the run, and figures to be a major part of the rotation. He also could see some time at his old spot, OLB, until Calvin Pace returns from a foot injury. DeVito is underrated and has the knack of being in the right place at the right time. Pitoitua, who showed flashes of potential as part of the rotation last season, was lost for the year in the second preseason game because of a torn Achilles'. He will be missed.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Bryan Thomas, ILB Bart Scott, ILB David Harris, OLB Calvin Pace. Backups -- OLB Jason Taylor, OLB Jamaal Westerman, ILB Kenwin Cummings, ILB Lance Laury, ILB Josh Mauga, OLB Cory Reamer, ILB Brashton Satele.
Pace will miss at least the first game and maybe more because of a broken bone in his right foot. Taylor didn't practice at all during the spring because he still was rehabbing from February shoulder surgery, but did practice extensively during camp. He will start in Pace's absence. The Jets are confident he still has something left in the tank and envision him as a situational pass rusher once Pace returns. Harris and Scott are a terrific interior tandem, although the Jets would like to see a few more impact plays out of the aggressive and highly physical Scott. Thomas is solid on the outside although he hasn't become the star the Jets hoped he would, so he shouldn't feel too comfortable. Youngsters Westerman and Cummings have shown promise, and the Jets like free-agent rookie Reamer. Laury is being counted upon to be a special-teams ace, a role he fulfilled in Seattle.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Antonio Cromartie, RCB Kyle Wilson, SS Jim Leonhard, FS Brodney Pool. Backups -- CB Darrelle Revis, CB Drew Coleman, FS Eric Smith, SS James Ihedigbo, CB Dwight Lowery, CB Marquice Cole, CB Brian Jackson, S Donovan Warren, S Emanuel Cook.
Revis' contract impasse -- he wants an extension and wants to be the highest-paid corner in the NFL -- was one of the biggest storylines of the Jets' spring and summer as his holdout has extended into September. That has forced the Jets to shuffle the starting lineup, moving Cromartie from his intended spot at right cornerback to Revis' spot, and moving rookie Wilson into the starting lineup at right corner. Cromartie impressed during the spring and early in training camp and appeared ready to regain his All-Pro form of 2007 when he was with San Diego, but has had some glitches in games, and the Jets have to hope those miscues don't continue. Leonhard is a hard-hitter and ball-hawker who can play well even when hurt, as he demonstrated in 2009, and he calls the signals in the secondary. Smith briefly inherited Rhodes' starting job and has become a key member of the rotation. However, the Jets gave Pool, formerly with Cleveland, the other starting job at safety, thus freeing up Smith who is a stalwart on special teams. But Pool has had injury problems in recent years, especially with concussions, so his health will have to be monitored closely.
Wilson had been penciled in to cover slot receivers on third down until Revis was a no-show, but he has been impressive in the summer. Coleman, who has great speed but shaky coverage skills, has had the best camp of his career. Lowery has good technique and ball skills but his lack of speed and quickness made the Jets look to use him more as a hybrid safety/corner, but the ripple effect of Revis' holdout has forced him to stay in his role as a backup corner. Ihedigbo is a fierce hitter whose coverage skills are improving.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Nick Folk, P Steve Weatherford, LS Tanner Purdum, KOR Brad Smith, PR Jim Leonhard.
Folk had some erratic performances early in the spring but has had an excellent summer, allaying fears that he wouldn't be able to recapture the stellar 2007-08 form he had with Dallas before sliding into a 14-for-24 funk on field-goal attempts last season. Weatherford beat out T.J. Conley for the punting job. Smith took over primary kickoff-return duties last season after Leon Washington was placed on injured reserve, and Smith's 106-yard touchdown against Indianapolis may have been the most important play of the regular season for the Jets.
Rookie Kyle Wilson was penciled in to take over punt-return duties from Leonhard and WR Jerricho Cotchery, but that plan is on hold with Wilson now starting at corner. Leonhard isn't a game-breaker, but he is reliable. Rookie Joe McKnight also could factor in here at some point. The young and unproven Purdum is a major roll of the dice, as the Jets signed him to save some money instead of re-signing veteran James Dearth. However, he has been solid during the summer.