One of the most intriguing New York Jets story lines heading into the summer is whether or not the Jets will be able to, once again, establish themselves as an elite rushing offense. During Rex Ryan’s first two seasons as Head Coach of the Jets, they were ranked 1st and 4th in rushing offense, respectively. Last season, they dipped to the 22nd best rushing team in the NFL. This, of course, was largely due to the fact that former Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer seemingly forgot his bread and butter, and what his offense was built on.
During Ryan’s first two seasons with the Jets, there was no mistake that New York was a ground and pound, in your face, physical, run first, run second offense. Last year, though, they were extremely confused as to what their identity was. In an attempt to re-obtain that identity, the Jets replaced Schottenheimer with former Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparano this offseason. Sparano has made it clear since he came to New York, that the Jets will, once again, be a run first offense, while stating the necessity of returning to the ground and pound style of play. We’ve already seen that Mark Sanchez is at his best when he has a solid running game to work with, as he greatly excels in the play action pass, so getting back to the top tier of rushing teams in the NFL is vital to the success of this offense.
For this edition of New York Jets Fact Or False, we examine what to, and what not to, expect from the newly run Tony Sparano offense this upcoming season.
1.) Shonn Greene will finally have a breakout season and prove to be the Jets’ Bell Cow. Fact. As much as everyone likes to assert the opinion that Shonn Greene is not the guy to carry the running load for the Jets, it is often forgotten that he compiled 1,054 yards last season under the philosophically challenged Brian Schottenheimer. Although he only ran for 6 touchdowns, he had an average of 4.2 yards per carry. Even more impressive is his career average of 4.3 yards per carry.
Greene has all the tools to be an excellent every down back in this league. At 5’11″ 226 lbs, he is certainly big enough to withstand the physical toll that an NFL season can take on a running back, and contrary to popular belief, he has a great ability to explode into the second level. Although he isn’t the greatest receiving threat out of the backfield, he still obtained 30 catches for 211 yards last season. Of course, this is likely a direct result of Sanchez’s numerous amount of check downs, but for the Jets, Greene’s ability to catch out of the backfield should have nothing to do with his status as the bell cow running back.
Greene needs to be the guy to wear down defenses with his big, physical style of running, while opening up the big plays for Joe McKnight and the receiving corps. Last year, Greene played in an offense that was utterly confused with what their identity was and still churned out over 1,000 yards. This season, there is no mistake the Jets are a run first, run second team, and Tony Sparano’s presence will establish Greene as “the guy” when it comes to running the football for the Jets. It should not be a shock to anyone to see Greene compile over 1,500 yards with double digit touchdowns this season. Sparano made a 1,000 yard rusher out of Reggie Bush who, prior to joining Miami last offseason, had a career high of 581 rushing yards, coming in his second NFL season. The season before signing with Miami, Bush ran for a pitiful 150 yards over only 8 games. If Sparano can get that type of production out of Bush, he can certainly propel Greene to finally become the guy everyone has expected him to be since being drafted by the Jets three years ago.
2.) Joe McKnight will obtain 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Fact. Although Joe McKnight has struggled to find his niche in the offense during his first two seasons, this could be the year that the former USC Trojan finally bursts onto the scene for Gang Green. With LaDanian Tomlinson now out of the picture, McKnight will immedeately step into the number two role behind Greene, and due to his fantastic athleticism and speed, could prove to be a very vital piece to the Jets offense this year. He showed his big play ability and explosiveness on special teams last season, a year in which he improved tremendously from his rookie campaign. Expect McKnight to take yet another step to improve his game and contributions to the team.
McKnight has reportedly come into OTAs at about 16 pounds heavier than his normal playing weight, with an eye on taking more of an involvement in the offensive game plan. He certainly has the tools to strike the big play, whether it be as a runner or a receiving threat out of the backfield. McKnight certainly seems poised for a breakout season, and 1,000 total yards from scrimmage should be fairly attainable for the third year pro.
3.) The WildCat will not be used frequently. False. This story line isn’t going anywhere Jets fans. Tony Sparano is one of the founding fathers of the wildcat offense, and Tim Tebow is the perfect wildcat quarterback. Rex Ryan has already proclaimed that Tebow will likely see up to 20 snaps per game, and based on how he has thrown the ball throughout his young career in a traditional quarterback role, the majority of those 20 plays are going to come out of this formation.
The Jets are no stranger to the wildcat, which was formerly run by Brad Smith, who played quarterback in college at the University of Missouri. However, Tebow is much more athletic, and contrary to popular belief, is a better passer than Smith. Everyone saw how much Rex gloated about the wildcat being used after the Redskins game last season, so expect to see a great amount of this, particularly in short yardage, and goal line situations. If Sparano can stay creative enough with this scheme to keep opposing defenses guessing, combining his intuition with Tebow’s athletic ability could make this a very potent offensive threat.
4.) Wayne Hunter will improve from his poor 2011 performance. Fact. There is certainly a great lack of faith in Hunter among Jets Nation, and for valid reason. Hunter, to put it nicely, was god awful last season. After allowing 11 sacks, along with 32 QB pressures, he certainly has a long way to go before winning over any fans of the green and white. However, with such a horrible performance last season, an improvement is seemingly inevitably. Is it humanly possible that Hunter could play worse than he did last season? I don’t think so.
Hunter will be coming out with a serious chip on his shoulder. Many of his detractors have considered him the worst lineman in the National Football League. However, we must not forget, that before stepping into a full time starting role, Hunter was exceptional as a reserve player. Filling in for Damien Woody in late 2010, Hunter earned himself his current contract with Gang Green, due to the high level of potential he displayed. Hunter is a physical freak, and certainly has a mean streak, as displayed by his on the field altercation with Santonio Holmes last season. Couple these facts with Sparano’s more physical style blocking approach,and Hunter could shock the world in 2012.
It is important to remember that in 2010, the Jets were a physical, smash mouth team. Last season, they seemingly got away from that style of play, focusing on more of a finesse type of offensive blocking scheme. This year, Sparano will bring the Jets offensive line back to where they thrived the most with a tough, man on blocking approach. Hunter will undoubtedly improve from 2011, and could actually surprise many by having an average to decent season as the Jets’ starting Right Tackle.
5.) Dustin Keller will prove to be a solid blocking Tight End under Tony Sparano. False. Keller has succeeded up until this point in his career for his athleticism and receiving skills. In fact, he was drafted so high because of these same attributes, after an impressive career at Purdue, followed by a lights out combine heading into the 2008 NFL Draft. Blocking has never been a strong point in his game, and New York shouldn’t expect that to start anytime soon.
This is not to say Keller will not be a valuable piece in Sparano’s system. In fact, Keller should realistically thrive as a receiving threat under Sparano. Miami Tight End Anthony Fasano had just one career touchdown before falling under the tutelage of his former head coach. Since then, Fasano has reeled in 18 touchdowns. If Sparano can get this type of production out of a one time anemic player at the position, imagine what he can do with an athlete like Keller.
As for the blocking aspect of the tight end position in this system, expect the Jets to closely monitor the development of Hayden Smith. At 6’6″ nearly 260 lbs, Smith certainly has the physical tools to be a great blocker, and his experience as a former rugby player prove that he has the tenacity needed to get in the trenches with some of the toughest defensive lineman in the NFL. What will matter most for Smith is how fast he can pick up this game and prove his worth to the coaching staff before the final roster adjustments need to be made. If he cannot convince them he will be a worthy piece of this offense, expect the Jets to look into free agency for a blocking Tight End, perhaps free agent Visanthe Shiancoe, who at 31 years old, certainly has some good years left in him.
6.) Terrance Ganaway will beat out Bilal Powell as the third RB. Fact. Although Powell may not have gotten the fairest chance to prove himself as a rookie last season (13 car, 21 yards, and a fumble), he does not seem to quite fit in with the direction the Jets are heading offensively. At 5’10″ 204 lbs, Powell is a smaller back, who is certainly in no position to beat out Joe McKnight as the home run threat to the rushing attack this season.
Ganaway, on the other hand, fits the bill of the Jets new offensive identity to a T. He is very big at about 6’0″ 240 lbs, and has displayed excellent agility and elusiveness during his time as a Baylor Bear. Coming from Baylor, he has a high level of experience playing in an option type offense, and was seemingly drafted to play a similar role in New York’s wildcat package with Tim Tebow. The Jets certainly seem to have a plan in place for Ganaway, and barring something unforeseen, expect Powell to be on the outside looking in after training camp.