To get you fully prepared for the unofficial start of the 2012
NFL season, we’re ranking every team from worst to first in the
weeks leading up to the opening of training camps.
Every day, we’ll be previewing two teams, one from each
conference, analyzing them from top to bottom and giving you all
you need to know to be an informed fan. What’s the major storyline
heading into camp? What’s the key training camp battle to watch?
Who’s the young guy to watch? Is there any hope?
Today’s two teams: the New York Jets and the Chicago
No. 18. New York Jets
Training Camp Site: SUNY Cortland, Cortland, New
Training Camp Start Date: July 26
BetOnline Preseason Super Bowl Odds: 28-1
What I Like About You: There’s a hint of
“must win” desperation surrounding the Jets this year,
from the top with general manager Mike Tanenbaum to the coaching
staff to the quarterback.
What I Don’t Like About You: Drama. Drama.
Drama. And that was just with Santonio Holmes and Mark Sanchez. Add
in Tebow? Oh boy. And Wayne Hunter! Wayne Hunter as the starting
right tackle — I don’t like that. At all.
Burning Question: Can the Tebow experiment
actually work? Sure. Listen, the Jets didn’t exactly give
away the farm to acquire the third-year left-handed quarterback.
They gave up a Day 3 draft pick. Whether from under center or in
the backfield, Tebow brings a very unique skill set that will
require defensive coordinators to stay up late at night
constructing game plans to stop him. The issue, of course, is
whether Sanchez struggles early on. The Jets fans aren’t
exactly a patient lot. They’ll want to see their shiny new
Key Training Camp Battle To Watch: right tackle, Wayne
Hunter vs. Vladimir Ducasse: Hunter’s terrible and
Ducasse hasn’t been much better in his first three years in
the league. I thought the Jets would draft an offensive tackle,
addressing this need with their first round selection, but they
went pass rusher instead. So, it’ll be Hunter and Duccasse.
Or, the lesser of two evils.
The New Veteran in Town: Laron Landry, free safety: Tebow wasn’t the
biggest offseason addition; Landry was. When healthy, he’s
tremendous and worthy of the sixth overall selection that he was so
many years back in Washington. Alas, he’s rarely healthy.
Still recovering from a torn Achilles, there’s no guarantee
he’ll be ready for the start of the season. As insurance, the
Jets got Yeremiah Bell from Miami, too.
Young Gun to Watch: Jeremy Kerley, wide receiver:
After Santonio Holmes, the Jets’ wide receiver depth chart is
wide open. Former Raider Chaz Schillens was brought in to compete,
Stephen Hill was drafted in the second round and Patrick Turner
showed promise last season. But Kerley’s the guy to put the
gold star on. A gamebreaker at TCU, Kerley had some big plays in
2011 and is expected to play an even bigger role in 2012.
Schrager Prediction: The Jets still have a giant
hole at right tackle and that scares me very much. Tebow and
Sanchez will get the headlines and TMZ-esque coverage all season,
but there are questions on the line, at receiver, and the defensive
backfield, too. I just don’t see Gang Green as a playoff team
Final Prediction: Third place, AFC East
No. 17: Chicago Bears
Training Camp Site: Olivet Nazarene University,
Training Camp Start Date: July 25
BetOnline Preseason Super Bowl Odds: 28-1
What I Like About You: Jay Cutler being reunited
with Brandon Marshall, a healthy defense, and a new offensive
scheme. Phil Emery nailed it at the NFL Draft. Lots of good things
in Chicago this season.
What I Don’t Like About You: Matt
Forte’s still not happy and the offensive line is still
spotty. The line let down Cutler in 2010, was worse in 2011 and
doesn’t appear to be much better (on paper, at least) in
Burning Question: Is the offensive line going to
be able to keep Jay Cutler upright? Cutler was under constant
duress all last season and though his season-ending injury
didn’t come as a result of a sack or pressure, he was
fortunate to even get 10 games in. The Bears were 7-3 when Cutler
went down, only to finish the season losing five of their last six
games without him. The line, which has given up a mind-boggling 105
sacks over the past two seasons, added just one new player —
journeyman Chilo Rachal — to the unit. If I’m Cutler,
I’m not exactly doing flips over what’s been done to
protect me this offseason.
Key Training Camp Battle to Watch: Left tackle, Chris
Williams vs. Ja’Marcus Webb: Mike Tice, who’s
making the move from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator
this season, took Ja’Marcus Webb and installed him as the
left tackle a season ago, which would make him the assumed choice
to start the season there. But Williams could be the guy. Drafted
in 2008 to play tackle, he’s moved around the line in his
first four years in Chicago. Gabe Carimi will start at right
tackle, barring a surprise in training camp. It’ll likely be
Webb or Williams at the other bookend. Neither is exactly Jon Ogden
or Orlando Pace.
The New Veteran in Town: Brandon Marshall, wide
receiver: Marshall’s the elite receiver the Bears
have long been seeking for years, including swings and misses with
Roy Williams and Mushin Muhammad. Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, and
Earl Bennett are nice complementary pieces and second round pick
Alshon Jeffery has tremendous potential, but Marshall’s the
real deal. And he’s the real deal now. He had 81 catches for
1,214 yards and six scores in Miami last season and caught 100
balls twice from Jay Cutler in Denver. They’re friends and
they’re both happy. Chicago had to make this trade.
The Young Gun to Watch: Shea McClellin, defensive
end: Though he might not start right away, big things are
expected for McClellin, the first round pick out of Boise State.
Lining up in the same front seven as Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher
and Julius Peppers will only help the 22-year-old in the long run.
He’ll play with his hand down to start, but could move to the
outside linebacker spot if needed, too. McClellin led the Broncos
with seven sacks a season ago. Look for him to do some damage in
Chicago this year.
Schrager Prediction: The Bears were riding high at
7-3 before Cutler went down with his injury last season, only to
falter and finish the season with a .500 record. They made upgrades
across the roster, but seemed to ignore the offensive line in yet
another offseason. I know I’m harping on this point a bit
— trust me, I get it — but I just don’t see this
unit magically coming together in 2012. Assuming Forte’s back
in the lineup come opening weekend, this team’s going to
compete. I don’t, however, see them making the playoffs.