By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — Heading into last weekend there were two stories that almost certainly would have hijacked the first few weeks, if not all, of Jets training camp had they not come to some sort of resolution.
One has been resolved.
The other? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.
If the Jets have nothing else, they are loaded with their fair share of lightning rods, players that get crazy amounts of misguided attention, regardless if they even leave their homes in the morning. They will always be “news” no matter what they do. Darrelle Revis, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow have the biggest of bull’s-eyes on their backs. You can argue that either all three separately or collectively hold the Jets’ 2012 fortunes in their hands.
Reports started surfacing late last week that Revis would indeed show up for camp up in Cortland, N.Y., on time. He is without question the Jets’ surest thing. Already considered the best cover corner in the NFL, Revis is treated by the fans as much more. He is their connection to elitism, something everyone associated with the franchise has wanted since that magical season some 43 years ago. People just feel better knowing Revis is in a good mood. Now, whether he truly is or not remains to be seen, but at least publicly he is playing the part of a player satisfied to check his ego at the door and get down to business.
When Revis signed his four-year, $46 million deal two years ago it was a stopgap measure. Most everyone knew that sooner or later we’d all come full circle and be envisioning more covert meetings at super secret locations. During the last contract impasse the Roscoe Diner, an establishment already well known to the locals and passers-through on the road to Binghamton, N.Y., and points north, became ground zero of the franchise’s operations, as HBO’s “Hard Knocks” chronicled.
That won’t be the case this time because Revis has swallowed some pride and put his own financial aspirations on the back burner. The Jets, in turn, would be wise to quietly make sure there will never be another offseason distraction like this again. It’s time to fly under the radar and crunch every single number possible to ensure Revis gets his “Jet-for-life” deal. This is necessary because the hysteria that a Revis contract issue creates benefits exactly no one.
General manager Mike Tannenbaum now has no choice but to give his all-everything player the type of deal he craves, for if he doesn’t there won’t be a debate next offseason over whether Revis will hold out. He’ll treat the months before his walk year as if he’s already walked. The holdout will begin immediately and, considering the odds are really good he’ll have yet another superlative season in 2012, his asking price may only increase.
No more Band-Aid deals. It’s time to strike while the media and fans’ attention is elsewhere.
By choosing to report on time, Revis has opened the door to extensive coverage of those areas the Jets and their fans really need to analyze. And while it will be difficult for many to get past the Sanchez-Tebow song and dance, barring a significant injury to one or the other the incumbent will remain the incumbent and the new guy will remain the weapon.
Those asking the questions, regardless if they are media members or fans, need to get past how Sanchez looks in practice. I don’t care how many interceptions he throws during drills or how efficient his red zone offense looks against a defense that will know exactly what play is coming and when. Sanchez is starting and will keep the job as long as he wants it. The only chance Tebow has of becoming the every-down quarterback is if the Jets completely bomb over the first half and/or get to around seven losses sooner rather than later.
I don’t expect that to happen, but that’s a column for another time.
So if you accept the fact that Sanchez is the guy, it’s time to turn your attention to the following areas of concern during training camp:
TEBOW, THE JACK OF WHICH TRADES?
The best-kept secret in the entire NFL right now is how new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano plans to use Tebow. At this point we’ve pretty much heard every incarnation of “the plan,” and from everyone but Sparano and Tebow, themselves. And the odds are they won’t tell you much if anything over the next month. But those who keep close tabs on camp should begin watching in earnest exactly where Tebow lines up and when.
I remain of the belief that there is no way the Jets can simply trot him out there exclusively as a running option, regardless if the blueprint has him taking off from under center or out of the backfield. Tebow needs to throw the ball, and the further down field the better. While there aren’t many people alive that do not know his shortcomings as a passer, the idea here is for the Jets to become unpredictable out of a very basic and predictable offensive philosophy. The Jets will run the ball, a lot, but if every time Tebow is used it’s as a running option it won’t take long for the world to zero in on him and neutralize that which he does well.
The NFL is a league of adjustments. Defenses will figure out how to contain Tebow despite his superiority at improvisation and great broken-play and open field abilities.
Sparano has to keep defenses honest during these situations by allowing Tebow to air it out. And just in case you’re rolling your eyes right now, just know this: Tebow’s issues as a passer are more apparent on shorter routes due to his developing mechanics. Have you ever seen him throw the ball deep? If not, go to YouTube and watch. Defenses are not going to respect him deep. There will be lots of single coverage when he’s on the field.
Sparano needs to make sure the Jets make opponents pay for it.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN SEQUEL TO ‘GROUND & POUND’?
Just take Tebow out of the backfield for a second. We’ve been led to believe he’ll run the ball like a traditional back, but the Jets can’t count on him as the 1A to Shonn Greene, considering all the other ways the Jets plan to use him. The NFL is a two-back league now. Greene, despite coming off his first 1,000-yard season, is probably not someone you want running the ball 25 times a game and not because he’s not capable.
If the Jets execute by design they are going to have the football a lot. Long drives will more often than not be their calling card. Sparano has said the offense will be “explosive,” but let’s assume Sanchez attempts on average 20-25 passes per game. Someone else will have to help carry the load on first and second down, assuming Joe McKnight will be the third-down back.
Can rookie Terrance Ganaway be the guy? He’ll definitely get an opportunity in camp. Does Bilal Powell have anything to offer? So far he’s given the Jets no reason to believe he does. Pay close attention to this battle during the first two weeks in Cortland because if both prove they don’t have what it takes the Jets could acquire someone. The name that immediately jumps to mind is free agent Cedric Benson, but the Jets are content to see what they have for the time being.
WAYNE HUNTER, MAN OF MYSTERY
Jets fans by and large loathe Hunter, despite the fact that he was very good two seasons ago. In fairness to him, he didn’t make excuses for his disastrous 2011 season. He vowed to improve and improve quickly.
However, the Jets don’t appear willing to take a Hunter turnaround on faith alone because on Monday they sent a conditional draft choice to Carolina for 2008 first-round pick Jeff Otah. The 6-foot-6, 340-pounder has struggled with injuries over the last two seasons, starting just four games in 2011. However, it’s believed that if Otah is healthy he can be one of the better run-blocking tackles in the NFL, something that would seem to fit perfectly with what the Jets plan to do.
The line already features three Pro Bowlers. Throw in Otah, or, at the very least, have him push Hunter’s timetable for improvement up and the Jets may again have one of the better lines in the NFL. But in the event that Otah is not ready to contribute right away, the onus will be on Hunter, who won’t have any excuses now that the Jets have a new offensive coordinator who has made a reputation for himself as a guy whose goal is to win wars in the trenches.
As for how Vladimir Ducasse fits into the equation, your guess remains as good as mine.
OH CAPTAIN, MY FORMER CAPTAIN
We know what Santonio Holmes is as a player, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to get inside his head. I fully expect that guy to have a great camp on the field and to be completely dedicated to helping Sanchez improve while being a mentor to rookie Stephen Hill, second-year Jeremy Kerley and relatively inexperienced veteran Chaz Schilens.
However, if and when Holmes meets the media it will almost certainly command your attention. He has a fundamental misunderstanding of reporters’ purposes. The Jets need to be smart about when to turn him loose in front of cameras because, while it could make for excellent television, another Holmes meltdown may not be what the doctor ordered for a team that is trying so desperately to change its public image.
THE KARL DUNBAR FACTOR
The Jets’ defense will likely be one of the NFL’s best in 2012, but unlike previous seasons under Rex Ryan, this time it also figures to have serious depth. That’s not to say the Jets have an overwhelming amount of talent along their line and at outside linebacker, but Dunbar, as has been his custom, is going to have a long rotation. The Jets are going to attempt to get after the quarterback in waves.
How Dunbar uses Muhammad Wilkerson and rookie Quinton Coples will be intriguing. Both have more than enough requisite skills to become menaces. You could argue the Jets haven’t had this much young talent along their front four since the year they selected Marty Lyons in the first round and Mark Gastineau in the second round.
The Dunbar-Mike Pettine dynamic will bear close watching. The Jets’ front seven is younger and more athletic than it has been in a long time. They can afford that with the age and experience of a secondary featuring Revis, Antonio Cromartie, LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell.
I would suspect Dunbar’s presence will be the reason why the Jets have plenty of gas left in the tank in the fourth quarter.
REX MAY NOT BE SO LARGE, BUT HE’S STILL IN CHARGE
Ryan has apparently rededicated himself to all aspects of his life. He’s lost more than 100 pounds and hopes to live forever. It appears he plans on being with the Jets for just as long.
I saved him for last because he’s the least of my concerns. Behind the brash persona is a man who genuinely cares about his craft and the players he’s trying to teach. He’s sworn fealty to the common good within a genuinely impatient fan base, but a fan base that so desperately wants to see this particular coach thrive, and not necessarily because he’s the one that currently occupies the green and white iron throne.
Rex remains as big a star as Revis, Sanchez and Tebow, to name a few.
He can coach circles around many of his contemporaries. He just needs to make good on his new plan to be a quasi-policeman and to have a hand in all aspects of the team. Don’t expect an overly tight ship to be run, but do expect more accountability from everyone associated with the on-field product.
The Jets remain Rex’s team. You’ll see at training camp.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
What’s the one thing you’ll be monitoring more than any other at training camp? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …