For our final Preseason edition of New York Jets Fact Or False, we take a look back at the play of Gang Green throughout the summer, as well as making some predictions for the final 53 man roster and the regular season. There certainly is much to be discussed after a four game span that’s only offensive touchdown was led by third string quarterback Greg McElroy. Let’s jump right into it.
Mark Sanchez has taken major strides this preseason. Fact. Mark Sanchez has gone through arguably the most difficult offseason ever faced by an NFL starting quarterback. Since the meltdown in Miami last season, Sanchez has had to face rumors of dissension, trade, along with heavy criticism about his future, and the media circus that has ensued since the acquisition of Tim Tebow. Many players would have succumbed to the pressure and gone in the tank by now, however, Sanchez has seemingly done the complete opposite.
In his fourth preseason, Sanchez had to deal with a severe injury plague to his wide receiver corps, an issue that gave him virtually no real time with Jets’ veterans Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley, a disastrous situation at Right Tackle, and a mediocre, at best, running game. Despite all of this, however, Sanchez posted a completion percentage of 68.6.
Numbers aside, the fourth year pro out of Southern California has shown the moxie that Jets fans have been waiting for since his rookie year. He’s looked more poised than he ever has, proved willing to look downfield (particularly against Carolina), his footwork and pocket awareness seem to be at an all time high, and most importantly he has displayed an excellent command of the offense. He did make one bad decision–the interception returned for a touchdown against the Giants–but other than that Sanchez has put any type of quarterback controversy to bed for now. If the offensive line and running game can get it together, this will likely be the most efficient season of Sanchez’s career.
Austin Howard will start the entire season at Right Tackle. False. While Howard certainly played well in his first start against Carolina this preseason, he showed some signs of struggle against Philadelphia last night. Although he is seemingly an upgrade over Wayne Hunter, the Jets gave the newly acquired Jason Smith extended reps in last night’s action, and the former 2nd overall pick looked quite impressive. The entire line was playing against the Eagles’ second and third string, but Smith’s play was encouraging, and undoubtedly noticed by the Jets offensive staff. A new environment and good combination of veterans may be just what Smith needs to prove why he was so highly sought after coming out of Baylor in 2009. Howard will begin the season as the starter, but he will be under the microscope, and the slightest slip up could cost him his job.
Quinton Coples is going to be an impact player this season. Fact. It is certainly far too early to deem Coples the next Jason Pierre-Paul or Justin Tuck, however the 16th overall selection has shown tremendous promise this preseason, leading the Jets with 4.5 sacks. Coples has also proved to be very tough against the run, while remaining extremely versatile, having seen reps at both end and tackle along the defensive front. His footwork and hand speed are beyond what you’d expect to see out of any average rookie, and his motor, something that was brought into question when he was drafted, does not seem to be an issue at all. He has shown hustle down the field, despite earning a personal foul for a late hit last night, and he chased down the immortal Cam Newton from behind last week, forcing a fumble, which was recovered by the Jets. Coples also seems to be playing with an attitude, and a bit of a chip on his shoulder, which should help keep him hungry and motivated throughout the season. A double digit sack season is not out of the question for the rookie out of North Carolina.
John Conner will make the 53 man roster. False. This is a bold prediction considering Conner was supposedly drafted as Rex Ryan’s personal choice two seasons ago. However, other than earning himself a catchy nickname on HBO’s Hard Knocks, as well as delivering a few quality Special Teams hits, what has Conner really done for this team? The running game has certainly not been the same since the departure of Tony Richardson, and although that can also be due to struggles on the offensive line during that time period, Conner has shown very little, if any, ability to be an effective lead blocker in this league.
More importantly, though, is Conner’s lack of versatility. Apparently he is not the bruiser that the Jets thought they were getting, as shown by his single carry of 0 yards last night against the Eagles. Conversely, he is virtually non existent in the passing game. As noted by a former NFL executive, the Jets became extremely predictable last season anytime Conner checked into the game, as the opposing defense knew of the fullback’s struggles in the passing game.
Extended reps for rookie Terrance Ganaway at fullback last night could be an indication that the Jets are leaning toward the 6th round pick out of Baylor to be the primary guy for the position this season. In one game he has already shown more versatility than Conner, catching 4 passes for 18 yards and a touchdown. He certainly has the size to be a starting fullback in this league at about 6’0″ 240 lbs, so it will be very interesting to see how this plays out. If the Jets are convinced that he can be a better blocker than Conner, his versatility makes him far more valuable to the 53 man roster.
The Jets will have a top five defense this season. Fact. Although the offense has had its struggles this preseason, the defense has played lights out. Sure, there are some coverage issues to be figured out, primarily the struggles of Bart Scott and Calvin Pace to cover underneath routes, but Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine should get very creative, personnel wise, with their third down sub packages to keep these issues in check. The defensive line has looked elite all preseason, with vast improvements from Kenrick Ellis assisting to a shutdown run defense. The new safety tandem of LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell looks like it can be extremely potent if both players can stay healthy. With the way the two of them have played together thus far, combined with the stellar cornerback play of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, the Jets could very well have the best secondary in all of football. It seems as though this defense has the perfect combination of veterans and young players to be a wise and knowledgeable, yet explosive unit. Expectations are high for New York’s “D” this year.