By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — The Jets just completed a series of organized team activities and a mini camp and appear to be in a solid position to hit training camp next month on the fly and ready for serious work.
The question marks will remain many for this team coming off an 8-8 season in 2011, including their failure to make the playoffs off two consecutive appearances in the AFC title game, and the usual stream of controversy that always seems to follow this group of players around, something that is usually a product of their own decision making or ill-timed quotes.
However, the good news for Jets fans is the players and coaches by and large kept a low profile out at Florham Park. Of course, it could be an entirely different ball game up in Cortland, N.Y., starting in mid-July when the microscope really begins to zero in on team operations due to the media horde growing exponentially.
It’s important for the Jets to stay the course here and, if possible, simply be dull. This is a franchise that really cannot afford major distractions right now. And while it’s true the Jets have excelled in the past regardless of all the off-the-field nonsense that has crept up here and there, there’s just too much riding on the 2012 season for any of these players to approach camp with anything resembling a chip on their shoulders against the massive numbers that can’t wait to see them fail.
To put it plainly, the Jets need to keep their quest internal and become unified. It’s a cliche, but apropos nonetheless — the Jets can still have the us against the world mentality, but they just need to be smart about how they approach it.
The Jets were humbled last season. There’s no question about it. Head coach Rex Ryan has vowed to get a better grip on the daily goings on in all aspects and, so far, seems to have been true to his word. The collective message that emanated from Florham Park over the previous few weeks seemed to be one of unity and commitment, two things this franchise sorely needs coming off the dysfunction and internal strife that pretty much put the kibosh on a team 8-5 with sights set on the playoffs in 2011.
Of course there are two areas that are impossible to simply sweep under the rug. No matter what happens reporters are going to continue to monitor the so-called quarterback “competition” between incumbent Mark Sanchez and lightning rod Tim Tebow. While I think it’s pretty much understood that come hell or high water Sanchez will be the starting quarterback until his play leaves the team with no choice but to make a change, those watching the situation closely will look for any crack and try to make it a chasm.
So, in other words, you will continue to see specific stats on completions, touchdowns and interceptions and analysis of everything from passing accuracy to body language from these two in all drills throughout the weeks in Cortland. The important thing is to focus on what’s really fact and ignore that which is fiction. And right now, anything suggesting Tebow can be the starter in Week 1 against Buffalo is nothing more than pure fiction, barring Sanchez suffering a serious injury.
It’s important to continue to view Tebow as a weapon to be used in multiple offensive sets and to forget about the notion of him possibly dropping back in the pocket 25 times per game. It’s just not going to happen right away, if ever. On the other hand, getting the ball in Tebow’s adept hands will be important, but not exclusively as a passer. That task is on new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and how he will do it will remain a point of intrigue for the foreseeable future.
The other issue to watch closely involves all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis. Will he hold out again looking for what he deems a mega-contract, or will he play the good teammate and show up at camp ready to honor the last two years of his current contract? My honest answer is I haven’t the first clue, but I would lean toward Revis not showing up, mostly because this is a high-stakes game of chicken, one the Jets have played before with this player and lost.
Revis is obviously a tremendous football player, the best in the business at his particular craft, a sure-fire Hall of Famer who is on the short list of the greatest players to ever pull on this franchise’s jersey. But he’s also a keen businessman with an excellent grasp on his worth financially and importance to this club athletically, so in a lot of ways it’s hard to kill him for wanting to get every last dollar while playing in a league where your career could end in a heartbeat and nothing is guaranteed beyond a signing bonus.
Rightfully, the media will continue to ratchet up the coverage on this and if he does hold out it will explode into no-holds barred chaos, shifting the emphasis from the Jets trying to right the wrongs of a season gone badly awry to more of a player watch, a scenario that will in all likelihood dwarf all other issues both football- and non football-related.
Besides those two glaring issues, the Jets still have several other things to figure out. In no particular order, they’ll have to see to it that embattled right tackle Wayne Hunter is truly up for the challenge of improving on what was for him a horrifying 2011 season. I have stated that I believe in Hunter because of his athleticism and the fact that he’s a leader, even if his actions are often overshadowed by his suspect play. The bottom line is if you don’t hear much about Hunter going forward, he’s doing his job.
The Jets also have to come up with answers at the other offensive skill positions. Is Joe McKnight ready to be the 1A running back next to Shonn Greene? Will tight end Dustin Keller play his way to the new contract he so desperately craves? Will Santonio Holmes check his tongue and get back to being the clutch wide receiver he’s always been? Will the rest of the Jets’ largely no-name but athletic receiving corps make names for themselves?
All of this will go a long way toward proving if Sanchez will remain the face of this franchise. As for Sanchez himself, he has a lot of soul searching to do and a lot of improvement he has to make, especially with his reads. We are already seeing a much more focused Sanchez, a player more no-nonsense than happy-go-lucky as we’ve seen in the past.
Defensively, the Jets’ main point of contention has been the pass rush, though it appears they could be very good with the likes of their last two first-round picks, Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, getting at it alongside the multitude of hybrid defensive end/outside linebackers the Jets are figured to deploy and that’s regardless of the defensive set the use. Expect multiple looks in camp, including 3-4, 4-3 and 46 formations.
The spotlight will also be on linebacker Bart Scott, who lost a step in 2011, but appears to be in fantastic shape and ready to re-assume his role as the complement to the wrecking ball that is David Harris. I, myself, am intrigued by the prospects of rookie DeMario Davis, a player that seems to have all the requisite skills needed to excel as both a pass rusher, run-stopper and even in coverage.
We also don’t know yet if the LaRon Landry signing was a shot in the dark or great decision, but we do know that barring a setback Landry will take his massive frame to the field in Cortland ready to earn every last dollar. The secondary could be a real strength for the Jets, and I’m not just referring to an in-camp Revis and Antonio Cromartie out wide.
Special teams also need work. Coach Mike Westhoff, who is coming off surgery himself, will figure to be hell bent to get that unit back to being one of the best in the NFL. And, while we’re at it, let’s not forget the impending kicker battle between incumbent Nick Folk and veteran Josh Brown. Folk will have his hands full because Brown has been there and done that in this league.
At the end of the day the Jets are and will remain a work in progress, but they certainly have the personnel to easily rebound from last season’s misfortunes. They are younger and more athletic at most positions and appear to be re-dedicated to the task of playing winning football.
Ryan remains the key. He’s been dealt a good hand by General Manager Mike Tannenbaum. If Rex stays on top of everything, as he has vowed to do, Sanchez takes the next step in his progression, Tebow is used correctly and the defense morphs into the shutdown unit many figure it can be, the Jets will be back in the playoffs in 2012.
But, of course, that’s a lot of ifs and right now the Jets are only in the infant stages of their yearly maturity.
That’s the key word here: maturity. Execution on the field comes with it. More than ever, the Jets simply need to stay the course they’ve set and not worry about that which they cannot control. Again, that’s a cliche, but it’s totally appropriate considering where this team currently is and hopes to go.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
Do you like what you have seen from the Jets this offseason? What do you expect to see at training camp? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below. …