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 Bears.
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No. 18. New York Jets
Training Camp Site: SUNY Cortland, Cortland, New York
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 toy.
Key Training Camp Battle To Watch: Right tackle, Wayne Hunter vs. Vladimir Ducasse: Hunter is 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 in 2012.
Final Prediction: Third place, AFC East
No. 17: Chicago Bears
Training Camp Site: Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Illinois
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 2012.
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.