By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — One lackluster preseason game and plenty of drama filled the first two weeks of training camp up in Cortland, N.Y. The Jets will be looking to shift things into gear going forward.
Now for some, the Jets simply don’t have the horsepower to get optimum mileage on the gallon. Currently, that’s pretty hard to argue. Right now, they look like what you could have predicted months ago: when all is said and done the defense should prove to be among the NFL’s best, while the offense could end up being one of the league’s worst.
But it’s still way too early to bet the house on either assertion, though I would tend to agree that the defense should live up to its advanced billing.
The general reaction following the 17-6 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati on Friday, a defeat that featured only a brief sighting of starting quarterback Mark Sanchez and no Santonio Holmes or Jeremy Kerley, was pretty hysterical, and that’s taking into consideration the average Jets fan’s usual penchant for saying the sky is falling.
Yeah, the offensive line looked bad, allowing a bunch of sacks and barely opening the types of holes Shonn Greene will need if he’s to have this “monster” season the Jets are banking on — and that was without beleaguered right tackle Wayne Hunter seeing the field once.
Hunter is struggling with a back condition, something that will be touch and go, as most back conditions are. Austin Howard started in his place and neither stood out as a liability nor as the true heir apparent to Hunter.
As expected, Jets fans by and large saw the five sacks surrendered and immediately assumed the worst, but if there’s one thing that requires your patience more than anything else it’s an offensive line’s quest for cohesiveness, because generally that’s the last thing that comes into its own, regardless if we’re talking pass protecting or run-blocking.
Basically, to flip out now over a poor showing on Aug. 10 is irrational. I’d expect improvement going forward, mostly because four sports are set in stone with Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson. Hunter has done this before and knows he has something to prove. Howard is a work in progress, though the Jets’ coaching staff really likes him. If nothing else he’ll provide some depth going forward.
Of all the criticisms of the Jets’ offseason that I’ve read, their apparent failure to properly address the right tackle position continues to be a main talking point. A lot of people like to view the failed trade for Jeff Otah as this bona fide attempt to improve the line. I completely disagree and here’s why:
The Jets said way back when Hunter was the starter for now, yet they really didn’t do anything to suggest he wouldn’t be the starter for good. The trade for Otah wasn’t this statement move, mostly because they dealt for a guy with less than questionable health. The Jets knew the odds of Otah even passing his physical were 50-50 at best, and it turns out he failed not only the Jets’ tests but the Panthers’ as well.
Does this, combined with the fact that they haven’t acquired anyone else of note, sound like a team hell-bent to improve the position? It was a shot in the dark on the off-chance that down the road Otah could have stepped in. It was a backup plan for Hunter, should he have failed to capitalize on his final chance to be a starter. It was by no means a cure-all move.
The Jets could very well pick up someone else in the coming weeks since league-wide cuts will once again stock the availability aisle, but either their reluctance or hesitance to do anything in the months prior seems to suggest they are going to ride the Hunter/Howard train out.
The other really big issue that the fans and media continue to harp on is the receiving corps, which is already under the most powerful of microscopes. Short of Patrick Turner showing he has a bit of a rapport with Sanchez, there wasn’t much to talk about Friday. As I said earlier, Holmes and Kerley didn’t play, so there’s really no way to even remotely judge what this group is. Heralded rookie Stephen Hill had a nice grab and a drop and Chaz Schilens was nowhere to be found.
And for the record, the Jets showed no interest in Braylon Edwards, Terrell Owens or Plaxico Burress. And it’s a pretty safe bet they won’t be picking up the bat phone to speak to Chad Johnson, who’s recent arrest led to his being cut by the Dolphins.
Again, the Jets look like a team ready to ride their current personnel out to a logical conclusion.
Then of course there was Tim Tebow, who finished 4-of-8 with an interception in almost a half. Tebow had a few nice connections on hot reads and, as far as I could tell, didn’t throw a single wounded duck, something we all expected to see at least once. Tebow also had two nice runs off broken plays and finished with 34 yards on four carries, further proving the Jets really have to do everything in their power to put the ball in his hands as much as possible.
Tebow will be a huge part of this running game, regardless of the unorthodox manner in which he’ll get his carries. We didn’t see any “wildcat” on Friday, by design. We may not see much, if any of it, this Saturday against the Giants. We may not see it, period, until the season opener against Buffalo. The Jets were practicing versions of the oft-maligned yet highly-success-if-run-correctly offense on Monday, but the media was barred from reporting any specifics.
You may not like this whole cloak and dagger act, but there’s no denying the fact that Tebow is the right guy to run it and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano is not going to be afraid to call his number over and over and over again.
All of this aside, the one true positive I took out of Friday’s game was the play of Joe McKnight. He touched the ball 10 times and churned out 66 yards, often showing the type of shiftiness and explosion the Jets got from LaDainian Tomlinson over the previous two seasons. The difference here is Tomlinson was on his last legs and wasn’t consistent, while McKnight is on the verge of being the type of real-deal third-down back this team desperately needs to help move the sticks, kill the clock and improve Sanchez’s lackluster completion percentage.
If you had told me back in January after the disaster that was the final three regular season games, capped by the debacle in Miami, that Tebow and McKnight would arguably be the two most important pieces of the Jets’ running game going forward I would have thought you mad.
But here we are, and there they are, doing their thing.
Tebow and McKnight may not put up eye-popping statistics on their own, but if you add them together they could very well equal a No. 1 guy.
And on a team built as the Jets are, they could end up being the real keys to the re-emergence of “ground and pound,” even if one fancies himself as a quarterback and the other as more of a receiver than anything else.
But such is often life in the odd-ball world of the Jets.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
What did you take away from the first preseason game? What do you hope to see from the Jets going forward? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …