TOJ Pick Six – Training Camp Takeaways, Day 1 In Full Pads (7/31)

Joe Malfa with reactions from on the ground at New York Jets first fully padded practice…

The Jets donned the pads for the first time on Monday, and Joe Malfa was at practice to take in the action. Here are six takeaways from his trip to Florham Park:

1) It is a two-horse race at quarterback

Todd Bowles opened camp by stating all three quarterbacks would have an equal shot at the starting job. It appears as if he has already strayed from that plan, which is a good thing considering his logic was flawed to begin with. A two-way quarterback battle is already bad enough, considering neither quarterback truly receives enough reps with the first-team offense to establish an adequate comfort level. A three-way battle? Absurd. The reps cannot be distributed among three quarterbacks.

Bryce Petty is the victim of the numbers game. He was the third quarterback to participate in all of the team drills and did not receive nearly as many reps as either Josh McCown or Christian Hackenberg. In one of the last 11-on-11 periods of the practice, the offense simulated 3rd down situations. Petty, by my count, only received three reps near the end of the period. Hackenberg and McCown, by comparison, each received over ten reps.

The less reps for Petty, the better. He had his chance to earn the job when he started four games last season, and he proved he is nothing more than a below-average backup quarterback.

2) Christian Hackenberg may have an early lead in the race

Pause for a moment. Before anyone overreacts, understand that the team is only three practices into camp and a lot can — and will — change. For now, however, it appears Hackenberg may have a slight edge over McCown.

McCown had a dreadful day at the office on Monday. He missed a lot of open targets, took a few sacks and had a couple of minor miscues (stumbled in his drop back and took a sack; lost the ball on a pump fake) that served as the cherries on top of his sundae of mediocrity. He truly looked like a 16-year veteran who epitomizes the phrase “average at-best.”

Hackenberg, on the other hand, had a strong practice. He made a couple of throws during the seven-on-seven period that drew some “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd. The first was a 20-yard back-shoulder throw toward the far sideline (I could not make out the receiver), and the other was a 15-yard touch-pass up the seam to Austin Seferian-Jenkins that was placed perfectly between the safety and linebacker. No other plays really stuck out because the offense featured a steady diet of check-downs and 10-yard out routes, but he was more accurate than McCown and displayed tremendous improvement over the Christian Hackenberg we all saw in 2016.

Hackenberg did, however, have a few mental lapses that forced the offense back into the huddle. Communication is key for a quarterback and Hackenberg needs to clean that up, though these issues will be ironed out as he receives more reps. I will give him the benefit of the doubt on two of those because Lucky Whitehead seemed to be confused when lining up, which is understandable for someone who has been with the team for less than a week.

One practice does not win you a job, but Hackenberg has been the best quarterback in all three practices by seemingly all accounts from Jets beat reporters. If this trend continues over the next few days, Hackenberg may see a heavier dose of reps with the first-team.

3) An insight into John Morton’s style as offensive coordinator?

During each of the team periods, Morton tried to push the tempo. He was yelling for the offense hustle to the line after breaking the huddle and was annoyed a few times when he thought they were too slow. He could have simply wanted the offense to show energy and avoid being complacent, but it seemed to me as if it had more to do with implementing a certain playing style.

There seemed to be a definite pattern to the play-calls as well. Rich Cimini made note of the fact that most passes were check-downs, and it appeared to be by design. The vast majority of passes were thrown in the five to 10 yard range during the team periods, with only a handful of shots up the seam and down the sideline traveling beyond 10 yards.

Of all my takeaways from Monday’s practice, I advise reading into this one the least. Pushing the tempo and working on short passes could have simply been objectives for the day. We will learn a lot more in the coming weeks as we see Morton call plays in the preseason.

4) The young cornerbacks were impressive

Going into practice, I was as excited to watch the cornerbacks as I was the quarterbacks. They did not disappoint.

Juston Burris stood out above the rest of the cornerbacks not named Morris Claiborne. He had a couple of nice pass breakups throughout the day, most notably on a deep ball to Lucky Whitehead during the one-on-ones. He certainly appeared more polished than he was in 2016.

Derrick Jones caught my eye on a few occasions as well, particularly on two consecutive plays during the one-on-one period. He was called for illegal contact on the first play, but it was a borderline call. I thought he did a good job of disrupting the route and preventing the receiver (who I could not make out from my vantage point) from hauling in the pass. He was matched up with Jalin Marshall on the second play. Marshall faked to the outside before cutting back in on a slant, but Jones was with him every step of the way and swatted the pass to the ground. Keep in mind, Jones only recently made the switch from wide receiver to cornerback. He is very raw and has a long way to go, but I liked what I saw.

The rest of the corners looked solid throughout the day — except for Buster Skrine. He was burned a few times during one-on-ones and seven-on-sevens. He needs to step his game up, otherwise he will soon be out of a job.

5) There may be a legitimate kicking battle

Ross Martin turned some heads in training camp last season, but everyone knew Nick Folk would walk away with the job. This year, that may not be the case. The battle between Martin and Chandler Catanzaro will be an interesting one to monitor. Both nailed all six of their field goals during the team session, including two each from 53 yards out.

Catanzaro has the experience that Martin lacks, but he is coming off a poor season. He hit 87.9 and 90.3 percent of his field goals in his first two years with the Cardinals, respectively, before hitting just 75 percent of his field goals in 2016. He also missed five extra points in 2015 and another four in 2016, which ultimately landed him on Bruce Arians’s bad side and on his way out of the desert.

6) The defensive line is still dominant

Lost in all the noise of the tank and the battles at other positions is the fact that the defensive line is still dominant.

The defense is obviously not allowed to hit the QB in practice, but if it could, I counted five would-be sacks by the first unit and another three or four from the second unit.

I do not know what the future holds for the Jets at a lot of positions, but the defensive line will be as ferocious as ever.

Quick Hits

  • Elijah McGuire was the best running back on the field. Matt Forte left practice early with a tweaked Hamstring, which meant more reps for McGuire. With those reps, he showed off the traits that will allow him to eventually supplant Forte — strong hands, elusiveness and speed.
  • Dylan Donahue is a mean looking dude, and his play matches his look. It is no surprise Kevin Greene loves him and he is already getting first-team reps.
  • Morton is by far the most audible coach the Jets have had since I started attending camp annually in 2009.
  • It is amazing how big Seferian-Jenkins is in person, and it is even crazier to think he is still smaller than Aaron Judge.
  • Cameramen are severely under-appreciated. I am a bit biased since I am a cameraman for the University of Maryland, but it’s true. We have to stand on a scissor lift in the heat for a few hours and make sure we film every play for the coaches to review, and we occasionally are nailed by field goals. Catanzaro hit the cameraman in the lift behind the goal posts on two consecutive kicks and came close to making it three. The crowd gave him a much deserved ovation.

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