By Chris Lopresti
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This is training camp No. 4 for the Jets in Cortland, NY and sticking with the annual tradition, there are plenty of storylines surrounding Rex Ryan’s team.
More on that in a minute but first, a quick TC review:
2009 – Ryan’s 1st season as head coach and the organization’s first trip to SUNY Cortland. Just a rookie, Mark Sanchez wins the starting QB job over a mediocre Kellen Clemens (perhaps some irony for the current state of the position). Final record: 9-7 (30-17 loss at Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game).
2010 – Two words: Hard Knocks. HBO and NFL Films invade campus to document every move. Notable highlights include the infamous Darrelle Revis holdout, Rex’s “let’s go eat a goddamn snack” gem, and Mike Tannenbaum patting himself on the back for the acquisition of Santonio Holmes. Final record: 11-5 (24-19 loss at Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game).
2011 – Jets train at home in Florham Park thanks to that goofy NFL lockout which lasts until July 25. Final record: 8-8 (no playoffs).
2012 – That No. 15 guy arrives and sets off a media frenzy the likes of which we’ve never seen. (I promised someone on Twitter that I’d never mention his name so I’m holding up my end of the deal.) Other than that, Wayne Hunter’s struggles at right tackle (and eventual trade to the Rams) garnered most of the attention. Final record: 6-10 (no playoffs).
That brings us to 2013. A new general manager, plenty of new faces, and by most accounts, a do-or-die season for the head coach as well as the incumbent starting QB.
I don’t have a crystal ball and can’t predict the future. What I know is this: since taking over for Mike Tannenbaum, GM John Idzik has repeated one word over and over (and then over and over) again…COMPETITION.
That is the unquestioned theme for 2013 and there will be plenty of that between now and August 29,when the Jets wrap up the pre-season with a home game against the Eagles. Ninety players come to camp but only 53 will remain (plus another eight for the practice squad). Chances are, some of the guys who end up with those roster spots are currently playing for other teams. A lot will change before the season opener against (deep breath) Darrelle Revis and the Bucs. For now, let’s deal with what we know.
Sticking with the “competition” theme, we’ll address notable players at each positional group. After all, Rex Ryan said Thursday that nobody’s job is safe except for a handful of well-establish veterans.
Who is gone? Who has arrived? Who is primed for a breakout season? Who might be on the chopping block?
We’ll tackle all of that starting…NOW!
Departed: No. 15 (Now a Belichick disciple)
Welcome aboard: Geno Smith (2nd round-West Virginia), Matt Simms (Participated in NYJ camp last summer)
In-flight: Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy
Storyline: Probably the most obvious one. Who takes the first snap against Revis & Co. on September 8?
Competition: I’d hate to be Greg McElroy these days. About 7 months ago, he had his shot. The result? Played OK in a 10-point home loss to the Chargers, lied about a concussion and now finds himself back at No. 3 (maybe even #No. ) on the depth chart. To his credit, he didn’t seem too broken up about it during the off-season program.
This is a two-man race and it officially begins now. Sanchez is coming off the worst season of his professional career, complete with a handful of embarrassing moments. The only reason he’s still on the roster is because he carries a salary cap hit of just under $13 million. Barring a remarkable comeback performance, he’s likely gone in 2014 thanks to the structure of his contract.
Smith arrives as a highly-decorated spread formation QB from WVU. He spent most of his collegiate career operating out of the shotgun but has a strong/accurate arm and above average mobility. Adjusting to a pro-style offense will certainly result in some growing pains, but the Jets thought highly enough of his potential to consider taking him in the first round. When he fell to them at No. 39, it was too hard to pass up.
Geno and Sanchez are about as even as possible (assuming no organizational bias). They’ve both had plenty of time to digest and study Marty Mornhinweg’s system. Who steps up and convinces Rex Ryan that he can win games and save the head coach’s job?
Prediction: Based on history, I’ll take Sanchez. Training camp has never really been his problem. In fact, he had a pretty strong camp last summer in the face of everything that was going on with #15. Take a look back at 2009 and you’ll recall that he beat out Kellen Clemens as a rookie. Even if that was pre-determined, he still performed well enough to claim the job.
Do I think Sanchez has much of a future with this organization? Not if he doesn’t recapture the magic from ‘09-’10 that abruptly disappeared. However, in my eyes, he looked much more comfortable than Geno during OTA’s and mini-camp. That shouldn’t really be a surprise considering the experience factor. I expect him to have a solid camp and benefit from the return of Braylon Edwards as well as the arrival of Kellen Winslow.
Smith is uniquely talented, has a bright future and definitely could start at some point this season, but I don’t think it will be in Week 1.
RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS
Departed: Shonn Greene (Happy trails to the Titans), John Connor (Terminated to Cincinnati)
Welcome aboard: Mike Goodson (UFA-Raiders), Chris Ivory (Trade-Saints), Tommy Bohanon (7th round-Wake Forest)
In-flight: Bilal Powell, Joe McKnight, Lex Hilliard
Storyline: “Ground-and-pound” is ancient history. Simply stated, can this group run the ball effectively in Marty Mornhinweg’s system?
Competition: Right off the bat, we’ve got a few issues. Mike Goodson was a no-show on Thursday thanks to some “personal matters” that his agent says he’s attending to. For what it’s worth, the Jets released a brief statement to confirm that they “knew Mike was not going to report” and that they “understand why he’s not here.” Goodson signed a three-year deal and was brought in to add a speed element that the team has been lacking out of the backfield. Facing drug and weapon charges from a May arrest in New Jersey, he is a wild card who can’t be counted on for consistent production.
McKnight reportedly failed his conditioning test and was placed on the non-football injury list. Not a good start for a guy who was all fired up during the off-season, telling the media, “They’re gonna have to kill me to take my spot.” On top of that, he has to impress new special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica now that Mike Westhoff has retired from coaching.
Bilal Powell is a nice depth player but hasn’t shown enough play-making ability through two seasons to warrant much attention.
That leaves us with Chris Ivory. Acquired from the Saints for a 4th round pick on draft weekend, the Jets hope this guy turns out to be what Shonn Greene never really was…a masher. Like Goodson, he also signed a three-year deal and now will get the opportunity that never came in New Orleans. Rex Ryan has been itching to see this guy in pads for months. It’s time for Ivory to show off his punishing running style.
At fullback, Hilliard is the incumbent starter and will likely see most of the early playing time. However, John Idzik & Co. were impressed with Bohanon at Wake Forest. He has some experience at H-back and is said to be a good receiver out of the backfield.
Prediction: Assuming he gets his personal/legal matters ironed out, Goodson will provide the Jets with some explosive plays but he’s more of a home run-hitter and a third down option than a bell-cow back (which isn’t a bad thing). If he stays healthy, look for Ivory to get the majority of the carries. I think Rex will quickly fall in love with his style. Barring a long-term injury to one of those guys, Powell probably takes a step back this season. They didn’t hand Goodson & Ivory 3-year deals by accident. McKnight probably keeps his roster spot but only because he’s the team’s best option at Kick Returner.
Departed: Chaz Schilens (Good riddance-Lions),
Welcome aboard: Ben Obomanu (Seahawks)
In-flight: Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley, Clyde Gates, Jordan White
Storyline: When, if at all, will we see Santonio Holmes back on the field?
Competition: This much is clear: Holmes has a long way to go before he’ll be ready for game action. More than nine months removed from foot surgery to repair a dreaded Lisfranc injury, he hasn’t even started running on his own yet. When he addressed the media at mini-camp in June, he talked about learning to walk again. Not good no matter how you slice it. He begins camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
With that in mind, Braylon Edwards is back for a third tour of duty with the team. In limited action late last season, he showed that he has something left at age 30. He seems thrilled to be back with the organization, is still tight with Sanchez, and reported to camp 13 pounds lighter than we last saw him (215 vs. 228). He said he bulked up to benefit his blocking but shed the weight after taking some heat from Mike Tannenbaum. Maybe not so bad for an offense lacking explosive play-makers.
Entering season No. 2 of his NFL career, Stephen Hill remains an enigma. He burst onto the scene with two TD catches in the 2012 opener but dropped five of the 47 balls (10.64 percent) thrown his way before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 14. Drops continue to be an issue as he struggled throughout the off-season program. He needs to improve his focus and concentration. The game hasn’t slowed down for him just yet. If and when it does, his size and speed should present match-up problems for opposing secondaries.
Easily the most productive receiver in 2012, Jeremy Kerley led the team in catches (56) and yards (827) but only managed two TDs (none after Week 3). Listed at 5-9 and 188 pounds, he’s most valuable in the slot and the Jets should be able to continue using him there. He also spent last season as the team’s punt returner but led the league in fair catches with 36. A little more aggressiveness would be nice, especially since he took back a punt for a TD against the Bills in Week 1 (everything looked so promising that day).
Clyde Gates came over from the Dolphins and put up 7/82 against his former team in a Week 8 loss. Other than that, nagging hamstring injuries compromised his exceptional speed.
Jordan White spent most of 2012 on the Practice Squad and Ben Obomanu averaged 1.32 catches over 66 career games with the Seahawks. They are both non-factors.
Prediction: Holmes begins the season on the PUP list and won’t be eligible to return until Week 7 at the earliest. Even if he gets back, don’t expect Santonio to have the same kind of impact he’s had in the past. He’ll likely be cut next season saving the team $8.25 million in salary cap space.
Based on his limited body of work, there’s no reason to believe Hill is simply going to “flip the switch”. That means more ups and downs for the talented but challenged receiver. It also means that Braylon Edwards will play a much more important role than we ever could have imagined 48-72 hours ago. He’s pumped, he’s in good shape, he’s been productive with the Jets in the past and he’ll get plenty of opportunities so he should step up and become a dependable target for Sanchez and/or Smith.
Put Kerley in the slot and leave him there. He’ll make pays, especially if Hill is stretching the field with his speed and Edwards is drawing attention with his size and strength. If Gates can keep his legs healthy, he should be good for a few big plays.
Departed: Dustin Keller (Gone fishin’ in Miami)
Welcome aboard: Kellen Winslow Jr. (UFA)
In-flight: Jeff Cumberland, Konrad Reuland, Hayden Smith
Storyline: Does Winslow have enough juice left in the tank to make an impact?
Competition: Idzik’s decision to let Keller walk to the Dolphins on a one-year deal was the first head-scratcher for me. Maybe $4.25 million was a little rich for a rebuilding team but considering the lack of established talent at TE, I probably would have brought Keller back. Yes, he was hampered by injuries all of last season but he was very productive over five years with the Jets and provided a security blanket for Sanchez that was sorely missed in 2012.
However, the addition of Kellen Winslow Jr. fills some of the void, assuming his balky knees can stay healthy enough to survive a grueling 16-game season. The career resume is very impressive but ‘12 was a forgettable one for the former first-round pick…now 30 years old.
I’m not a huge Cumberland fan but he showed flashes last season and made some nice plays in the passing game. My issue with him is that he doesn’t scream “difference-maker” at a position that has become so important in today’s NFL. If Mornhinweg can find the right blend of Cumberland and Winslow, I think the Jets might have something there.
Prediction: Rex Ryan and his staff will monitor Winslow’s workload during camp just as they have with other veterans in the past. No doubt, it’s important for KW to show what he can do and establish himself with the QB’s, but it’s also essential that he remain healthy or he’ll be an early roster casualty. Cumberland’s contract is up after this season so he’ll be playing for a payday. Look for him to get the majority of the snaps with Winslow lining up all over the field in passing situations. If healthy, Mornhinweg will want to take advantage of his athleticism and the match-up problems that he presents.
Departed: Brandon Moore (waiting by the phone), Matt Slauson (Bears), Jason Smith (Saints)
Welcome aboard: Willie Colon (UFA-Steelers), Stephen Peterman (UFA-Lions), Brian Winters (3rd round-Kent State), Oday Aboushi (5th round-Virginia), William Campbell (6th round-Michigan), Dalton Freeman (UDFA-Clemson)
In-flight: Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Austin Howard, Vladimir Ducasse, Caleb Schlauderaff
Storyline: Can two new starters at guard return this collective unit to 2009-2010 dominance?
Competition: As you can see, plenty of turnover with this unit. Out with the old and in with the new (at guard). Ferguson and Mangold are firmly entrenched at left tackle and center, respectively. Austin Howard was a pleasant surprise at right tackle in 2012 and earned himself a nice raise.
It’s bittersweet saying goodbye to a consummate professional like Brandon Moore but the Jets needed to get younger and more athletic at guard. The running game was a disappointment against last season and for a line that boasts two perennial pro bowlers, protecting the QB wasn’t exactly a walk-in-the-park either. Enter two proven veterans as well as four rookies.
Colon signed a five-year deal with the Steelers right around this time in 2011. He tore his triceps Week 1 of that season and has struggled to regain his original form since then. Last year was his first time playing guard and he excelled in run-blocking. If healthy (an annoying theme of this post), he could prove to be a real asset for the team.
Amongst the rookies (three of which are draft picks), Winters has the most potential and the Jets were absolutely thrilled to land him in the third round. Despite playing left tackle at Kent State, he’s projected as a guard in the NFL which fits well with the team’s needs. Making the transition could take some time but the Jets have the benefit of depth along the offensive line so there’s no sense in rushing Winters along. Still, he’ll be given an opportunity to win a starting job during camp.
Prediction: Nothing to worry about with the three returning starters. Mangold will be helped out by some more athletic players flanking him.
Along with Colon, I look for Winters to earn regular playing time early in the season. Should Colon suffer an injury, Stephen Peterman should have no trouble filling in. Armed with a more diverse backfield, the line shouldn’t have to work as hard to open up holes in the running game and you’d have to think the pass protection will be better thanks to Mornhinweg’s quick-release philosophy.
Tune in tomorrow as we analyze the defensive side of the ball as well as special teams and the coaching staff. Plus, a full recap of training camp practice No. 1.
Questions, comments and concerns? Fire away in the section below or hit me up on Twitter: @CLoprestiWFAN
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