The long wait is over, Jets fans. Football is officially back as the Jets begin training camp today in Cortland, New York. Let’s take a look at some of the hot topics as training camp gets underway…
Same Old Jets (well, sort of)
Rex Ryan’s Jets are fielding a second year quarterback who will not be asked to carry the team, as he understandably experienced an up and down rookie season. Rather, this quarterback needs to take care of the ball while maintaining respectable red zone efficiency.
The team brought in a very talented wide receiver in the offseason to aid the passing game. A guy that has had no trouble finding his way into the end zone, playing with a Super Bowl winning quarterback on his previous team.
Not only did the Jets bring in a strong pass catcher at wide receiver, but they also signed a new third down running back with excellent hands. Having a back to check down to is essential for a second year passer who struggles with turnovers when under pressure.
The defense plans on forcing teams to become pass happy, thanks to a front seven that does not allow the opposition to form any consistency in the run game. Creating turnovers will be key to help the young quarterback move the offense into the end zone.
The defense is led by a twenty four year old that makes everyone around him much better while being a perfect scheme fit under Rex Ryan. David Harris and Calvin Pace will set the tone versus the run while a talented, beefy defensive line clears space in front of them.
Now am I talking about the 2010 New York Jets or the 2014 New York Jets? Well, it does not really matter because all aspects I mentioned applied to both.
The Jets make the playoffs when they have the personnel to play shutdown defense while controlling the football on offense. I believe much like the 2010 team, the 2014 team will do exactly that.
The biggest question is, how far can they make it if they do achieve a playoff berth? That is on the shoulders of Geno Smith and a young secondary. Even more importantly, it is hard to expect a similar offensive line from that 2010 season because…
If Willie Colon is healthy, that solidifies one spot at guard for the Jets offensive line. Now, what about the other spot? There are a few options in line, which include second year players Brian Winters and Oday Aboushi, rookie Dakota Dozier, or the wild card in second year, former college defensive tackle William Campbell.
Winters has the best chance as he started at the guard position in quite a few games last year. He struggled, but this was expected as he transitioned from the right tackle position he played in college.
Aboushi is also a former tackle, where he did a fine job at Virginia in 2012. The Jets have moved him to guard this offseason, which can mean one of two things. The first being that he does not have the lateral ability to play the tackle position in the NFL, this happens to a lot of players. The second being that the Jets recognized a need at guard and see Aboushi as a talented fit.
Dozier is an intriguing prospect with a lot of potential, but the Jets would be wise to give him a red shirt year. This would allow him to develop while also not being overwhelmed as a rookie starter in a vital spot.
William Campbell is a long shot. I will be honest and say that I (like all of us) have no idea what to expect from him as he continues to work on the offensive side of the ball. He is a player to watch during the preseason.
What can we make of all of this? It really is quite simple: the Jets interior pass protection will most likely struggle. It could even be a huge problem this season. The mobility of the quarterbacks group is no coincidence. Marty Mornhinweg will look to design play action rollouts, while also working Geno Smith in the pistol formation (where he had success at the end of last year).
Under Mike Westhoff, the Jets’ special team unit was solid to very good year in and year out. Last year, Ben Kotwica’s unit did not display the same success.
There was very little in terms of explosiveness on return units, while the coverage units were average at best. Nick Bellore and Ellis Lankster were the two standout guys on the coverage units, but the Jets need to round out this group.
This is where the day three draft picks come in, as they will be fighting for a spot on new special teams coach Thomas McGaughey who was formerly at LSU. If IK Enemkpali, Trevor Reilly, Brandon Dixon, Jeremiah George, and Quincy Enunwa want to make the team, they will have to excel on this unit throughout the preseason.
Each of these players possess at least one trait that indicates the Jets might have drafted them for this exact reason. Enemkpali is a strong, bruiser that runs through blocks. Reilly was a tackling machine at Utah who can play any position in the front seven of a defense. Dixon was in the top five at the combine in the forty yard dash amongst all corner backs. George is undersized, but possesses elite strength and respectable downhill awareness. Enunwa is a large (6’3, 225 pounds), fast, powerful wide out that has shown to be a fierce blocker and hitter at Nebraska.
Most importantly, fourth round selection Jalen Saunders was a fantastic punt returner at both Fresno State and Oklahoma. According to ESPN.com, he did not call a fair catch throughout his entire college career while also bringing three punt returns into the end zone.
When assessing what makes a good NFL punt returner, I look for a player’s vision and first cut. Coming out of school, players such as Kyle Wilson and Jeremy Kerley were regarded as good punt returners. In the NFL, there value in this role has been extremely limited.
Wilson does not have the speed (or vision) to contribute to the position. Kerley is lightning “quick”, but his downfield vision often limits him, leading to a majority of his attempts being called fair catches (NFL coverage units are extremely quicker than college units)
As for Saunders, two things jump out. When the coverage unit reaches him as the ball lands in his hands, he catches it while reading the would-be tackler. As he anticipates the tackle, he secures the ball and shows a superb first cut. It is rare to see the first gunner actually bring him down.
After making this move, he finds the lane in front of him and has the speed to shoot through it. He is not a top end speedster such as Desean Jackson, but he has enough to make plays and take advantage of his blocks. It will be very interesting to see his game translate at the NFL level.