5 Things We Learned From Jets Minicamp

First a few updates:

1. The Jets released tight end Martrez Milner yesterday, which is a good sign for undrafted free agents Jack Simmons and J’Nathan Bullocks both of whom had pretty good OTAs. Kareem Brown has also progressed nicely at tight end and might be able to handle splitting the #2 spot with Bubba Franks.

2. Plaxico Burress’ trial is apparently going to be pushed back until sometime in 2010, which improves the chances of him being able to play this year. Everybody is expecting him to receive a 4 game suspension from the league though, which is something the Jets will have to consider if they are going to sign him. Regardless, it seems they have a genuine interest in bringing him in.

3. Congrats to the Pittsburgh Penguins for winning the Stanley Cup and congrats to the Orlando Magic for choking away game 4…can you make some free throws? The ghosts of Nick Anderson are still haunting this franchise.

5 Things We Learned From Jets Minicamp:

1. It’s going to be a tight one – The battle for starting quarterback that is, which is bad news for Kellen Clemens. The Jets veteran has been consistent and shown a good command of the offense but hasn’t done anything spectacular that is making the Jets regret trading up for Mark Sanchez. On the other hand, Sanchez started out slow but progressed nicely over the past month and is proving to be a quick learner. The guy is getting one of the most complex defenses in the NFL thrown at him everyday in practice as a rookie and handling it pretty well. I’d be shocked if Sanchez isn’t under center week one against Houston.

2. Receivers Battling – Chansi Stuckey has begun to pull away as the #2 receiver behind Jerricho Cotchery. Stuckey doesn’t make many mistakes and catches everything he can get his hands on. He had a pretty good season last year and if he wasn’t phased out of the offense in the middle of the year, probably could have been a 45-50 catch guy. Brad Smith is making his usual acrobatic catches that excites the coaching staff and is probably the #3 receiver now. David Clowney had a case of the drops the past month but has too much talent to fall too far down the depth chart. Wallace Wright impressed the coaching staff and will be on the roster in September because of his special team skills, but he may be working himself a spot on the offense.

3. Defense Rules – The consensus has been that the Jets defense is miles ahead of the offense right now. It makes sense since the Jets are being led by an inexperienced quarterback and were without Thomas Jones and Leon Washington for long periods of time. Beyond that, the Jets defense is just pretty damn good. Kris Jenkins should be even more effective than he was in last year’s scheme, Darrelle Revis remains a lockdown corner, and Bart Scott has added some intensity and swagger to the unit. This is a very deep and talented group, especially when you throw Calvin Pace, Kerry Rhodes, Lito Sheppard, Shaun Ellis, and David Harris into the mix.  

4. Making a Name – Eric Smith, James Ihedigbo, Marques Murrell, and Jamaal Westerman all have impressed the coaching staff and look like locks for backup positions on the Jets defense. Smith recorded 5 interceptions in 3 days this past week is a good #3 safety, Ihedigbo will likely be the #4 safety and has some experience from last year. Murrell could see reps off the bench as a pass rusher and is pushing Vernon Gholston for time. Westerman is an undrafted free agent who the Jets love. He has been working at inside linebacker, after playing defensive end in college.

5. Swagger – The Jets new head coach has tons of it, throwing himself into a verbal battle against both the Patriots and Dolphins. This team couldn’t have a more different personality than they did last year, when Eric “10 hour bus ride” Mangini led without any emotion. Rex Ryan put it best, the Jets aren’t in the AFC East to “kiss Bill Bellicheck’s rings.”

Sanchez Ends OTAs With a Bang

Today was the Jets final OTA, which means tomorrow begins a quiet period for the Jets and the NFL in general until training camp starts up at the end of July. Here’s a run down of what happened on the field today with some analysis, along with a look at what to expect for the next 6 weeks until training camp starts on July 31st:

1. Mark Sanchez responded to a quiet start by closing the Jets OTA on a very high note. He was forced to resort to dump offs in his first 11 on 11 series and was intercepted by Eric Smith, who recorded his fifth take away in two days. However, in his final 11 on 11 series Sanchez gave his coaches, teammates and fans something to feel good about for the next 6 weeks. After hitting Wallace Wright with his first pass, he found David Clowney three straight times and then closed the drive with a 17 yard fade for a touchdown to his new favorite target, Wright. Yes, it is only going for 5/5 with a TD on one 11 on 11 series but still it shows the progress Sanchez has made in the past few weeks. Kellen Clemens played relatively well today also. Rex Ryan stated that he was encouraged by the competition and believes it is about even so far.

2. Back to the wide receivers, Ryan heaped the praise on Wallace Wright today who had a very strong set of OTAs. Wright hasn’t been mentioned much as a factor at the wide receiver position but don’t sleep on this guy. He did pretty well in 2007 when given the chance and could work his way into the rotation this year. Brad Smith made an acrobatic one-handed grab today and Ryan talked about his belief that Smith could be a dangerous slot receiver. He has all the physical talent necessary for the position but needs to show he can be consistent in games, not just practice. Chansi Stuckey continued to play very well is looking the part of a number two receiver. David Clowney has struggled with drops occasionally but still is flashing his speed and big play ability on a daily basis. If the season started today, Cotchery and Stuckey would be the starters with Smith probably receiving the next most reps, followed by Clowney and Wright.

3. Ryan singled out linebacker Marques Murrell for praise today. Murrell has flashed decent pass rush skills in the past and may be able to work his way into the rotation on defense, especially if Vernon Gholston doesn’t step up. Jason Trunsick and Murrell provide the Jets with solid depth behind their group of starters.

4. As I mentioned before, Eric Smith had another strong practice and has made a strong impression on Ryan who raved about him and James Ihedigbo as guys who provide excellent depth behind starters Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard. Smith should see plenty of action on defense in nickel and dime packages and could even push Leonhard for reps if he keeps playing this well.

5. Kris Jenkins has been getting moved around a little bit on the defensive line, seeing some reps at end. He has actually been held out of some drills because of how dominant he is up front, according to Ryan. Howard Green and Sione Pouha have looked good so far as Jenkins primary backups.

6. Apparently the Jets quarterbacks have given up throwing at Darrelle Revis who looks every bit of the lockdown corner he proved to be last year. Dwight Lowery had been quiet but flashed today with a sack and a pass breakup. Lowery was a Mangini guy, so it will be interesting to see where he fits in Ryan’s new defense. He has very good ball skills but lacks speed.

So what to write about for the next six weeks, while the Jets retreat back to their homes for some relaxation before they head to upstate New York for training camp? Fortunately, I never get tired of discussing this team and have plenty of ideas on how to fill up this blog every day. Overall, this may be a slow time for Jets news but it won’t be here. There is plenty to write about: the quarterback battle, the questionable depth at receiver, the ongoing contract issues with Thomas Jones/Leon Washington, potential trades or free agent signings, examining how the Jets can attack their AFC East rivals, breaking down the schedule overall, predicting who will make the roster, looking at camp battles, and providing closer/statistic based breakdowns of the Jets starters, key reserves, and bubble players.

Where to Begin? Recapping an Active Week of Jets Football

I’m back from vacation and finally finished going through the massive amounts of Jets stories/happenings from the past eight days. I was able to follow what was going on in Vegas to an extent but I was beilacked out from any type of updates in Mexico. Fortunately, there was no shortage of information or sources to read through all day today about everything that has been going on in the world of the Jets, here’s my extended reaction and opinions in an attempt to catch up, followed with regular, daily updates for the rest of the year starting with coverage of practice tomorrow:

First a few vacation thoughts:

1. It was my first time in Vegas and it met and exceeded expectations. I was lucky enough to actually win some money, thanks in part to hitting on Leon Washington’s #29 on the roulette tab.

2. American Airlines? Can you give me something to eat? A five hour flight from Dallas (we had a stopover) to Jersey and nothing more than some ginger ale…give me a break. I almost stormed first class in search of a sandwich but figured the risk outweighed the reward.

3. Cabo is one hell of a place…really beautiful. Obviously, I will let you know if I get the swine flu but from my perspective there was absolutely no danger in traveling there.

Back to the trash-talking, swaggalicious Jets:

1. Who isn’t excited about AFC East football this year? There is no need to repeat all of the quotes that have been thrown around by Rex Ryan, Channing Chowder, Kerry Rhodes, Joey Porter…etc but the trash-talk is flowing in full force already in June. I think Ryan’s quote about “not kissing Bellicheck’s rings” is music to Jets fans/players ears. I also don’t think there is anything disrespectful about what Ryan said. You can’t be standing around in awe of New England’s past success and expect to beat them out in the AFC East. The Jets need to be aggressive and hit the Patriots in the mouth to show they aren’t going to back down from them. I don’t care about regular season records, neither of them made the playoffs last year and they split their regular season games, there is no reason the Jets shouldn’t expect to beat the Patriots at home in week 2 this year.

I think it is comedic how concerned the Dolphins are about what analysts are saying about their team in June. They should enjoy flying under the radar and let all the pressure be on the other AFC East teams and then worry about sneaking up on everybody again. What do they care if Vegas sports books are picking them to win 8 games this year? The whole Channing Crowder/Rex Ryan exchange is a little more light-hearted than people are making it out to be. Of course now that I said that, watch the two of them rumble at the 50 yard line before the Jets/Fins Monday Night game.

Crowder also came after Mark Sanchez and Kerry Rhodes. His comments on Sanchez basically claimed he was soft because of his photo spread and that Chad Pennington/Chad Henne were tougher because they wouldn’t do that stuff. All I know is that if Sanchez isn’t throwing 4 INT’s in a playoff game like Pennington or riding the bench like Henne, he can take all the pictures in GQ he wants. Obviously, he needs to produce this year to silent critics of his photo shoot and critics in general.

Crowder went below the belt by saying Rhodes should worry about his off the field problems. Rhodes isn’t a suspect in any criminal investigation and never called out Crowder by name. All Rhodes did was post on twitter his belief that the Jets would have the best defense in the league. I love the confidence of the group and the support he received from other players and Ryan who backed him up, but still you need to show it on the field first before saying you are the best overall in the league.

Regardless, how different is this team from Eric Mangini’s group of robots from last year? I love the new confidence/emotion/swagger but it remains to be seen if it will lead to an improvement from 2008. I would take a group of 11-5 robots over a 7-9 group of trash-talking, emotional players. As of right now though, I agree with Kris Jenkins…hiring Ryan was an even better decision than building their new state of the art facility.

2. Mark Sanchez signed his contract today, which is for 5 years and about 50 million dollars making him the highest paid player in Jets history…pressure, anyone? It is great that the Jets wrapped this up long before training camp, which will allow Sanchez the best possible opportunity to win the starting job and excel in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense.

Turning the focus to on the field, Sanchez has been making steady progress and has flashed better than expected arm strength. The general consensus is that quarterback battle has been about even so far, with Kellen Clemens probably having a slight edge. However, you still have the feeling that inevitably Sanchez is going to keep improving and lock down the starting job by week one.

3. Leon Washington spoke to the media and made it clear that he wants a “fair market value” deal. He showed up for the last week of voluntary workouts as a goodwill gesture but no deal appears imminent. Can we please give this guy his money? He is too valuable to the Jets offense and special teams to be missing any parts of training camp. Thomas Jones still isn’t talking to the media and there are rumors circulating that the Jets may look to trade him this summer. I know they like Shonn Greene, but why trade away a pro-bowl running back when you are going to be starting an inexperienced quarterback? The Jets need to find some way to placate Jones for this season so Green has a year to learn behind him and carry a lighter workload. In 2010, I’d feel much better about Green/Washington backfield than I would in 2009.

4. Chansi Stuckey seems to be creating some space in the battle to start opposite Jerricho Cotchery. Stuckey is the most accomplished guy in the competition, runs fluid routes, and has great hands. He is probably better suited to be in the slot as a #3 guy but if he is the best guy, he deserves to start. Wallace Wright has been flashing a little bit on offense and did show some potential in 2007. Over at tight end, Dustin Keller has had a strong May/June and even drew a compliment from Bart Scott, who said he could be a top 5 receiving tight end in the league. Kareem Brown is also making strides in his transition from defensive end to tight end. Also, if you asked me if I would want Plaxico Burress for 12 games this year…the answer would definitely be yes.

5. On defense, Eric Smith pulled in 3 interceptions the other day and has played well in OTAs. He provides good depth behind Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard. Inside linebacker Jamaal Westerman continues to be a favorite of Ryan, who can’t stop raving about him. Ahmad Carroll has also continued his strong play at cornerback and could see some time on defense this year.

6. The Jets cut punter Eric Wilbur and re-signed Reggie Hodges…thrilling stuff in the punting battle. They also signed LB Craig Kobel and cut LB Nate Harris and DL Brian Schafering.

Tomorrow: Coverage of Thursday’s OTA and more reaction to AFC East trash talking.

Jets Thursday OTA: Sanchez Progressing, Jones Silent

The Jets had their OTA open to the media today, so here’s a quick run down of the day’s events with some analysis:

1. Mark Sanchez improved from last week’s rough performance. After initially struggling during 7 on 7’s and his first two minute drill, he responded by leading the second offense down the field for a touchdown. Also, according to Rex Ryan he had a strong practice on Wednesday, which included a beautiful deep ball on a corner route for a touchdown. Sanchez is facing a difficult, complex defense in practice and any type of improvement is positive. Beyond that, when you hear quotes from Sanchez like this, you have to feel encouraged:

“I’ve made friends with the cleanup crew because I’ve been staying so late…I want to know it (the offense). I want to master it by tomorrow. I want to master it 10 minutes ago. ”

You have to like the guy’s attitude. As for now, Kellen Clemens remains ahead in the QB competition, which is to be somewhat expected. Clemens has been steady during OTAs and isn’t going down without a fight. Right now, he is more comfortable in the offense and isn’t making as many mistakes or miscommunications.

2. Thomas Jones did practice and apparently looked great. Nobody expected Jones to show up out of shape, since the guy lifts more than some of the offensive lineman on the team. He chose not to speak to the media, which is fine. I’d rather have him not talking to the media, than ripping the organization. According to Rex Ryan, Jones stated he is happy to be here and Sanchez, Nick Mangold, and Damien Woody all said Jones was in good spirits and helpful on offense. Bob Glauber of the Daily News proposed an interesting compromise in today’s paper, which would have the Jets pay Jones his 3 million roster bonus this year instead of next year. I don’t know if that will happen or if it is even necessary at this point, but it is something to consider.

3. David Clowney had a pretty rough day, with some uncharacteristic drops. Chansi Stuckey seems to be creating some distance for himself at the #2 receiver spot, since he has been consistently making plays all off-season. Rex Ryan again stated that he is comfortable with his group of receivers and it appears at this point the Jets won’t add anybody else. He also complimented little know receiver, Huey Whittaker who is a guy the Jets pulled out of the Arena League. Whittaker has good size (6’2, 220 lbs) and speed and could be a player to keep an eye on.

4. Darrelle Revis and Kerry Rhodes both had strong practices, recording an interception each. Jay Feely awarded them co-player of Thursday’s practice on his twitter account. David Harris and Jim Leonhard had a nasty collision, when Leonhard was trying to catch a punt. What is with all these collisions at the Jets non-contact practices?

5. Kerry Rhodes refused to discuss the pending legal investigation about a possible rape at his Morristown residence. It is important to remember that Rhodes is not a subject of the investigation and hasn’t been accused of anything.

6. A quick programming note: I am going on vacation to Las Vegas and Cabo from June 1st-June 9th, which means posts may be sparse during those days. However, fortunately I will be getting back in time for mandatory OTAs. I full anticipate having at least one post a day throughout the duration of the summer when I return from vacation.

Five Underappreciated Jets

First a few updates:

1. Thomas Jones did show up for OTAs today…and that is all we know. He will have his chance to say his piece tomorrow to the media. Hopefully, it won’t be the third year in a row where an established veteran on the team is ripping the organization in the off-season. Pete Kendall put on his show two years ago, Chris Baker did his last year, and now Jones may be following their example.

2. The Jets claimed tight end Martrez Milner off waivers today from the New York Giants. Milner was a fourth round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. During that season, he made two starts and had 9 catches for 50 yards. He was inactive all of last year. They also released offensive lineman Kyle Link and tight end Rob Meyer,

3. There still hasn’t been any movement in the Leon Washington situation. I am going to be sick to my stomach if he skips mandatory sessions, which begin on June 9th. Washington is the Jets most dynamic playmaker on both offense and special teams.

Five Underappreciated Jets

It easy to talk about Darrelle Revis, Kris Jenkins, Leon Washington, or Thomas Jones. Everybody is well aware of how valuable they are to the team. However, there are plenty of players who don’t receive much press but were extremely important to the Jets in 2008 and who the team needs another big season from in 2009. Here are five in particular:

Tony Richardson

Everybody talks about Thomas Jones improving so much in 2008 because of the Jets revamped offensive line, but don’t sleep on the difference fullback Tony Richardson made. Despite his advanced age, Richardson remains a great blocking back, who vastly improved the Jets overall rushing attack, especially in short yardage. He also did a good job running the ball the few times his number was called, finishing with 65 yards on 10 carries.

Brandon Moore

The Jets least heralded offensive lineman but arguably their most consistent. Fortunately, the Jets came to their senses and did the right thing this off-season by re-signing Moore after originally letting him go. Moore is solid in both run and pass blocking, never gets hurt, and is the Jets longest tenured starter on the line. Alan Faneca may receive all the hype and accolades but Moore was every bit as good as him at Guard last year.

Shaun Ellis

For some reason alot of people were calling for the Jets to release Ellis this off-season, which makes no sense. Despite doing some stupid off the field things, Ellis is still coming off a 8 sack season as a 3-4 defensive end. He is talented enough to be an every down player and is a veteran leader on the defensive side of the ball.

Wallace Wright

You have to give some love to the special teams. Wallace Wright was an undrafted free agent who has carved out a nice role for himself on all of the Jets coverage and return units. Last year he recorded 22 tackles and always seems to make at least one key play a game on special teams. He has also done a pretty good job when asked to play receiver, espcially as a blocker.

Jay Feely

More special teams love…Feely came in for an injured Mike Nugent last year and did an excellent job, going 24/28 on FG’s. He hit two that were over 50 yards and handled his pressure kicks well, especially when he buried a 50+ yarder against Oakland to force overtime. The Jets were confident enough in Feely to let Nugent (a former second round pick) go this off-season.

Jets Need Improved Secondary to Step Up

First a few updates:

1. I am starting to get concerned about these new wedge rules on kickoff returns. Leon Washington has been a beast in Mike Westoff’s scheme, which now has to be altered because of the NFL’s decision.

2. Thomas Jones is supposed to show up at OTAs tomorrow and then will have his chance to discuss his contract with the media on Thursday. The real question now is when is Leon Washington going to show up?

3. The Cavs are winning tonight…both of these conference finals are going to 7 games.

Jets Need Improved Secondary to Step Up

Despite having a pro-bowl cornerback in Darrelle Revis and a very good safety in Kerry Rhodes, the Jets secondary struggled heavily last season. Teams routinely beat them by throwing the ball all over the field on their defense, part of the problem was a weak pass rush that fell off late in the year but more of the problem was the coverage.

In an effort to improve their secondary, the Jets traded for corner Lito Sheppard, who is a former pro-bowler that is coming off a difficult season where he was knocked out of the starting line-up in Philadelphia by a high priced acquisition in Asante Samuel. Jim Leonhard was also signed from Baltimore to start alongside Kerry Rhodes at safety, and finally veteran Donald Strickland was added to play nickel-back.

The newly constructed secondary will face a difficult schedule in 2009. They will have to match up against Randy Moss and Wes Welker twice, Terrell Owens and Lee Evans twice, and Ted Ginn Jr and Devon Bess twice (just kidding). Beyond that, the Jets face superstars like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Steve Smith, and Andre Johnson this season. Teams are going to test the Jets secondary early and often to see whether the new acquisitions have made a difference.

Darrelle Revis is as good as it gets at one cornerback spot. He is a top five player in the league at his position (regardless of what Sporting News says, Cortland Finnegan and Nate Clements? I don’t think so) and has the ability to lock down his side of the field. The real pressure at corner is on Lito Sheppard to handle the increased number of balls that will be thrown his way. Sheppard was a pro-bowl player in both 2004 and 2006, but has struggled recently with injuries. If Sheppard can return to his 2006 form when he had 19 passes defensed and 6 interceptions, the Jets will be good in shape.

Donald Strickland has looked good so far in mini-camp and will compete for reps with second year player Dwight Lowery, who began 2008 very strongly but tailed off as the year went on. Strickland has been a good nickel back throughout his career and is a reliable player if Lowery can’t return to his early 2008 form. Hopefully, Lowery can continue to develop into a quality NFL corner and provide good reps in both the nickel and dime package. Another corner to keep an eye on is Ahmad Carroll. A former first round pick, Carroll was re-signed because of his special teams ability but has great natural talent and has played well on defense so far in OTAs. Maybe Rex Ryan can find a role for him on the Jets defense in 2009.

At safety, Jim Leonhard is coming off a breakout year in Baltimore. He is comfortable in Rex Ryan’s system and the Jets are hoping he will provide Kerry Rhodes with the freedom to roam around and make plays. Leonhard worked well with pro-bowl safety Ed Reed on the Ravens, so there is a hope he will help return Rhodes to his 2006 form. He will provide better range in pass coverage than Abram Elam, which should make it harder for teams to throw on the Jets. Eric Smith provides decent depth at safety because he has a good amount of playing experience. Beyond him, the Jets don’t have anybody else with experience as a backup.

Teams will be attacking Sheppard and Leonhard often. Both players have plenty to prove. Sheppard needs to show he can bounce back from 2 sub par seasons on the Eagles and Leonhard needs to show he can handle being a full time starter for an entire season. In terms of the incumbents, Revis just needs to keep doing what he’s been doing and Rhodes need to find a way to play at his 2006 level. Hopefully, a 2008 weakness can turn into a 2009 strength for the Jets defense.

Where Do the Jets Fit in the AFC East?

First a few updates:

1. The Gang Green (www.theganggreen.com) has a great feature that tracks all of the Jets who are on twitter. Apparently Mark Sanchez spent the weekend in Seaside Heights…? C’mon Mark, you are going to be a rich man, at least get over to Belmar or something. David Clowney, Chansi Stuckey, Jay Feely, and Dustin Keller all also have active accounts. Keller just got back from Vegas…good for him, I’ll be there next week.

2. Can somebody on Cleveland please help out LeBron James and hit an open jump shot?

3. According to Rich Cimini, Thomas Jones will be coming to OTAs on Wednesday without a new deal or any plans for a new deal. It should be interesting to see what he says to the media, since it appears the Jets may have won this stare down.

Where Do the Jets Fit in the AFC East?

The Jets have had one of the more active and better overall off-seasons in the NFL. Yet, where do they fit in the always highly competitive AFC East? Last year they finished in third place with a 9-7 record, behind the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. The Jets split with both of them last season and swept the Buffalo Bills. When most analysts look at the AFC East for this upcoming season, they rank the Jets as the third or fourth best team, meaning they will be extreme longshots at making the playoffs.

New England is receiving the most pre-season hype in NFL history for a team that didn’t make the playoffs the previous year. They have somehow become the consensus number one team in all April/May power rankings (which, fortunately are never right) and are filling up magazines with talk of breaking every offensive record in the book.

I may hate Bill Bellicheck and New England but I am not naive, they are going to be a good football team this year, like they are every year. However, there are too many questions about the Patriots that are being ignored to just assume they are going to be a 12-14 win team in 2009.

Tom Brady is coming off major  knee surgery. I know the guy is a first ballot hall-of-famer but it takes time to adjust coming back from his type of injury. How can you assume he is going to instantly be back to his 2007 form? New England still has Randy Moss and Wes Welker, probably the best starting duo of receivers in the game but have some questions behind them. I’m not sold on Joey Galloway who looked completely washed up last year and Greg Lewis who has been a 15-20 catch a season guy for the past three years. Their four wide doesn’t scare me like it used to, with Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney who excelled in the Pats system.

Laurence Maroney hasn’t  proven he can handle being a lead back yet and Fred Taylor certainly didn’t look like a #1 or #2 back last season. Their secondary is also very weak. Maybe I am nit-picking with them but I don’t see them cruising to a 13-3 season like every other NFL analyst in the world. I know Rex Ryan did a hell of a job against them in 2007, and I am hoping he can duplicate that effort twice this year.

The Buffalo Bills are receiving a ton of hype because of one player…T.O. Yes, they have a great group of receivers but what about the rest of the team? I’m not sold on Trent Edwards yet as a franchise quarterback, their defense has question marks, and Marshawn Lynch is already suspended for the first three games. Dick Jauron also can’t seem to get out of his own way as a head coach.

The 2008 Miami Dolphins were the 2006 New York Jets. Despite having an overall lack of talent, they used a creative offensive scheme led by an efficient Chad Pennington, an opportunistic defense, and a cupcake schedule to sneak into the playoffs. The 2009 Miami Dolphins are going to be the 2007 New York Jets, maybe not as bad as 4-12 but nowhere near as good as 11-5. Defenses are going to be all over Pennington and their pedestrian group of receivers, similar to the Ravens in the first round of the playoffs. Their secondary also has a ton of question marks and can you really count on Ricky Williams for two good seasons in a row at this stage of his career?

It may just sound like I am bashing all of the Jets rivals, so let my clarify my feelings on the AFC East. New England is the best team as of right now. They have the best coach, the best quarterback, the most dangerous offense and an experienced, solid overall defense. However, they are a very beatable team that isn’t going to run away with this thing as a 13/14 win team. The Jets, Bills, and Dolphins are all grouped together beneath New England. One of the those three will make a strong run at the division, while the other two will hover around .500. It really depends on who can win their division games. The Jets need to find a way to get 3 out of 4 from Miami/Buffalo and manage a split with New England to have a chance at both a division title and making the playoffs.

Jets Need Big Season From #25

First a few updates:

1. A shorter Saturday post today since news is a little slow until practices pick up again this week and the Thomas Jones/Leon Washington watch can begin. Mark Sanchez should also be feeling a little pressure this week to improve on his first week struggles, and by a little, i mean only a little…it’s just OTAs.

2. How about LeBron last night?

3. A few things to think about when you are wondering why the Jets have issues with depth and may have struggled in recent years, since 2004 they have: traded a first round pick for Doug Jolley, traded a second round pick for Justin McCariens, spent a second round pick on Mike Nugent, and spent a second round pick on Justin Miller…owch.

Jets Need Big Season From #25

Arguably the most important part of Rex Ryan’s defense the past few years in Baltimore has been the Hall of Fame level play of safety Ed Reed. Reed is a one of a kind player and it isn’t fair to expect anybody on the Jets to match his level of play, but the Jets do have one of the highest paid safeties in the league who Ryan has expressed a desire to turn into “a New York version of #20 (Reed).” Kerry Rhodes had a monster year in 2006, followed by another strong season in 2007, prompting the Jets to give him a huge contract since he appeared to be on the path of being a perennial pro-bowler. Yet, last season was a disappointing one for Rhodes, who struggled to make an impact in Eric Mangini’s increasingly conservative system.

It is hard to assign too much blame to Mangini because he was in charge of the team in 2006, which was Rhodes’ break out year. Bob Sutton was also the defensive coordinator for the past three years, so if you want to blame those two coaches for Rhodes struggles in 2008, they deserve at least some credit for his success in 2006-2007.

During the 2006 season, Rhodes was robbed of pro-bowl and all-pro recognition. He finished the season with 98 tackles, 13 passes defensed, 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions for the 10-6 playoff-bound Jets. Rhodes was constantly making game changing plays, especially in the opposing team’s backfield. In 2007, Rhodes dropped off slightly but still had a productive season. He finished with 67 tackles, 10 passes defensed, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 touchdown, and 5 interceptions. The decline in his production didn’t really get noticed since the Jets tanked to a 4-12 record, thanks mostly to a weak offensive line and inconsistent quarterback play.

In 2008, Rhodes level of play decreased even further. He did jump up to 84 tackles but only had 5 passes defensed, 1 sack, 0 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. Many people believed Eric Mangini/Bob Sutton weren’t being aggressive enough with him, but regardless some of the blame must still fall on Rhodes for having a such a major drop off in production the past two years from his 2006 season.

The Jets signed Jim Leonhard from Baltimore to give Rhodes a partner at safety who is comfortable with Rex Ryan’s system and who excelled at playing alongside Ed Reed last year. Ryan is going to let Rhodes be aggressive and be in a position to make plays, similar to Reed. Nobody expects Rhodes to match Reed’s overall production but if he can get somewhat near his 2006 numbers, the Jets defense is going to be that much better.

Can Jerricho Cotchery Be a #1 Receiver?

First a few updates:

1. Kerry Rhodes made the media rounds today, appearing on ESPN Radio and First Take. He spent most of the time talking about the hard time everybody is giving Mark Sanchez over his GQ photo shoot. Rhodes also said the Jets “will go as far as their defense takes them” and that their defense is currently ahead of their offense (I’m sure Brian Schottenheimer was thrilled to hear that).

2. There are no updates on the Thomas Jones/Leon Washington contract disputes. You would hope that both players will be at practice by next Thursday, which is the next time the media has availibility for an OTA practice.

3. Some more numbers out of yesterday’s practice: Sanchez was 1-9 during 11 on 11 drills…yikes. Kellen Clemens was 5-13 but victimized by a few drops.

4. Pro Football Talk recently did an over/under for Jets wins this season and set their line at 7…fair enough without a proven quarterback. Tim Graham of ESPN.com also ranked the Jets wide receivers, as the worst group in the AFC East, which is hard to argue with although I may put them in front of Miami.

Can Jerricho Cotchery Be a #1 Receiver?

For the first time in his career, Jerricho Cotchery will be asked to be the Jets unquestioned go-to wide receiver. Since 2006, he has been in a 1-A/1-B type role with Laveranues Coles but with Coles now in Cincinnati and no replacement brought in via the draft or free agency, Cotchery is the Jets #1. Can he handle the increased responsibility and attention that comes with being a #1? The Jets are counting on Cotchery to take the next step as a player, and move beyond his production from the previous three years.

In 2006, Cotchery had a breakout year with 82 catches for 961 yards and 6 touchdowns. He displayed an impressive ability to run after the catch and made numerous clutch receptions, especially in the red-zone. In 2007, most people believed he would surpass Coles as the Jets clear number one receiver and potentially jump up to a pro-bowl level. He moved up from 961 yards to 1130, despite having the same amount of receptions but had a disappointing 2 touchdowns (including a garbage time hail mary against Cincinnati).

Coles spent large parts of the 2007 injured (Cotchery also missed one game), giving Cotchery the opportunity to be the Jets unquestioned #1 guy. Here is Cotchery’s production in games without Coles during 2007:

Week 9 vs. Washington: 5 Receptions, 90 Yards, 1 Lost Fumble.

Week 11 vs. Pittsburgh (Coles only played the opening series): 1 Reception, 5 Yards.

Week 12 at Dallas: 2 Receptions, 43 Yards.

Week 15 at New England: 6 Receptions, 53 Yards.

Week 16 at Tennessee: 8 Receptions, 152 Yards, 1 Touchdown.

Week 17 vs. Kansas City: 8 Receptions, 76 Yards.

In 2008, Cotchery was a mild disappointment. Most people expected a huge year from him with Brett Favre behind center, but Cotchery never could string together a few big games. He finished with 71 catches for 858 yards and 5 touchdowns, regressing to below his 2006 production. Some of the blame belongs on Brett Favre for being innaccurate and turning the ball over, and some goes on Brian Schottenheimer for being so consevative, but regardless Cotchery should have produced more last year.

There are defintley encouraging trends from 2007 for Cotchery being a number one receiver. In those games without Coles, he was paired with Brad Smith and Justin McCariens. For 2009, Smith is somewhat improved since then and I’d take Chansi Stuckey over McCariens in a heartbeat, and David Clowney is also now in the mix. Cotchery struggled initially with the increased attention, especially against Dallas and Pittsburgh but finished the year strong as a #1 receiver. He had a monster game in Tennessee, and had good overall efforts against New England and Kansas City.

The Jets are going to need Cotchery to be a 90 catch/1200 yard/6-8 touchdown guy for them this season. He has shown flashes of being that type of receiver, most notably in 2006 in all three games against the Patriots, in 2007 against Baltimore (7 rec/165 yds) and Tennessee, and last year against New England (5 Rec/87 yds/1TD) and Kansas City (9 rec/102 yds). Somebody does need to step up to take some pressure off him, but defenses will have to pay attention to Dustin Keller and Leon Washington, which should give Cotchery enough 1 on 1 match-ups to make big plays.

Ten Reasons the Jets Will Make the Playoffs

First some updates from OTA’s today, which were open to the media:

1. Mark Sanchez had a rough day. Rex Ryan characterized his first week as being good (Tuesday), bad (Monday), and ugly (today). He struggled in the two minute drill, only going 1-4 and getting sacked once. Despite looking sharp in individual drills, his 7 on 7’s and team drills were filled with mostly incompletions and interceptions. The defense was all over him, often taunting him about holding the ball too long and hanging his receivers out to dry. He also apparently has been hearing plenty about his GQ photo spread. I wouldn’t panic too much about a rough practice in May, Sanchez is a rookie going against a very talented defense that is running a complex scheme, the guy will be fine.

2. Kellen Clemens had a decent day and a good overall week. He dropped in a 25 yard touchdown pass to Brad Smith during redzone drills and led the first offense to a field goal during their two minute drill. Clemens isn’t going down without a fight and to his credit has remained helpful and supportive towards Sanchez despite their competition.

3. Rex Ryan was angered by the high amount of dropped passes by his receivers today. Somebody needs to step up and fill Laveranues Coles’ shoes. Jerricho Cotchery has been good, as expected but another receiver is going to need to step up, so far Chansi Stuckey appears to be leading the pack as the #2 receiver. The defensive backs were the most impressive position group today, with Darrelle Revis standing out as usual and Ahmad Carroll having a strong day.

4. The ongoing theme of these OTAs has been how the defense has been ahead of the offense. You have to expect this with a young quarterback and Thomas Jones/Leon Washington MIA. Danny Woodhead ran with the first team again, since Shonn Greene sat out today with a minor hamstring injury.

5. Ryan praised the progress of Vernon Gholston, Jamaal Westerman, and Kareem Brown. Gholston is taking advantage of participating in these OTAs, which he missed last year. Westerman was a college defensive end who has already worked at both inside and outside linebacker for the Jets and Brown is apparently making strong progress at tight end, despite a drop today.

Ten Reasons the Jets Will Make the Playoffs

After yesterday’s negative article, let’s take a more positive look at next season:

1. Defense Wins – Everybody knows you need a good defense to play into January. The Jets already had a very good defense last season and only got better with the addition of Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, and Lito Sheppard. Rex Ryan will put a more aggressive scheme in place that will take advantage of the Jets personnel, notably Calvin Pace, Kerry Rhodes, and Vernon Gholston who excel attacking the quarterback.

2. Running Wins – Let’s assume everything gets settled with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington in the next few weeks. The Jets have the potential to have the best rushing attack in the AFC, with two pro-bowl RBs, and rookie Shonn Greene. Beyond that, they have a very good fullback in Tony Richardson and one of the better offensive lines in the league. The Jets should be able to hand the ball off 35 times a game and be able to wear out opposing defenses.

3. Winning Attitude – Rex Ryan has changed the culture around this team. They are no longer a passive, reactive team with no notable emotions or personality. Ryan is encouraging a confident, talkative team that will play with some swagger on the field. The Jets won’t be a team that sits back and lets the other team dictate to them anymore.

4. Match-Up Problems – Despite how thin they are wide receiver and tight end, the Jets have two match-up nightmares on offense with Dustin Keller and Leon Washington. Keller shredded up the Patriots and Titans last year because they simply had nobody who could cover him, and Washington is a threat to score a touchdown anytime he touches the ball. He has the ability to play running back, fullback, split end, and in the slot.

5. No More Brett – The Jets will be better off without Brett Favre’s 22 INT’s and the constant side-show that he brought to the team. Yes, Sanchez and Clemens are inexperienced but they won’t throw 20+ interceptions this season, which will improve the Jets overall turnover ratio.

6. Mad Backers – Bart Scott leads a deep and talented group of linebackers who should anchor the Jets defense. He should also help the learning curve for David Harris, Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, and Vernon Gholston because of how familiar he is with the system. Scott and Harris should feed off of each other and Kris Jenkins in front of them, making it difficult for teams to run the ball.

7. Schedule Is Manageable – The Jets schedule isn’t as easy as last season but it isn’t as hard as everyone is making it out to be. Houston, New Orleans, Oakland, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay all missed the playoffs last season. The Jets should be able to manage a 4-2 record in their division, because I believe Miami will be down from last year and that the Jets match-up well against New England and Buffalo.

8. Big Man – Rex Ryan’s defense should be easier on Kris Jenkins, allowing him to two-gap less and showing more 4-3 looks. If Jenkins could be healthy down the stretch, it will make a huge difference for the Jets run defense.

9. Opportunities – David Clowney never got a chance last season to build on a monster pre-season, but with Laveranues Coles now in Cincy he should receive plenty of reps to flash his deep speed and big play ability. Dustin Keller should also get more chances with Chris Baker in New England. Hopefully, Brian Schottenheimer will exercise some common sense and give Leon Washington more touches this year.

10. C’mon Now – We have to be due for finding the right coach and right quarterback, don’t we?