Jets Positional Analysis: Running Back

First a few updates:

1. I’m already tired of hearing about Brett Favre and he hasn’t even officially signed with the Vikings yet.

2. There hasn’t been any news about Thomas Jones and Leon Washington’s ongoing contract negoitations and  I don’t know if that is a good or bad thing. All I know is that training camp starts in 5 weeks and they both better be there since they are the Jets two best skill position players. You have had a good off-season Mike Tannenbaum, don’t ruin it now by not working something out with your two pro-bowl running backs.

3. I am really getting a kick out of all the controversy Eric Mangini is causing in Cleveland. A 10 hour mandatory bus ride for rookies? Not allowing coaches to wear sun glasses? Painting over a mural of famous Cleveland players? It sounds like they hate him over there. Honestly, I supported Mangini through his time here and thought he took the fall for Brett Favre. I did hate his press conferences but I thought he had a good football mind, but Cleveland seems destined for a 5 win season this year so you have to wonder how long he will last out there. His approach is only tolerable when your team is winning games.

4. You will have to excuse the lack of pictures in this article, I am having some technical issues with storage space that should be sorted out soon.

Jets Positional Analysis: Running Back

Over the next 6 weeks, I am going to go through all of the Jets positions and assess each player, continuing today with the running backs:

1. Thomas Jones #20, Last Season: 290 carries, 1,312 yards, 13 rushing touchdowns. 36 receptions, 207 yards, 2 receiving touchdowns.

History: After a disappointing 2007 season, Jones took advantage of a revamped offensive line to have a career year in 2008. He was a workhorse for the Jets last season and showed an ability to get tough yards in crucial situations, along with the versatility to be an important part of the passing game. He sat out of voluntary activities this off-season and is ignoring the media at mandatory practices in protest of his current contract. The dispute is still ongoing, although Jones is expected at training camp.

Chance of Making Roster: 100% (If Not Traded)

Best Case Scenario for 2009: The Jets work out some type of deal to keep Jones happy and he produces at a similar level to the 2008 season. If Rex Ryan wants to win his way, he needs a healthy and focused Thomas Jones pounding on opposing defenses.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: The contract dispute gets ugly and Jones is traded away for a late round draft pick.

Prediction: Something is worked out to keep Jones in New York for 2009. He has another good year, but not quite to the level of 2008 due to increased role for Leon Washington and the selection of Shonn Greene. He finishes with 1100-1200 yards with 7-10 touchdowns.

2. Leon Washington #29, Last Season: 76 carries for 448 yards, 6 rushing touchdowns. 47 receptions for 355 yards, 2 receiving touchdowns.

History: Washington remained the Jets top playmaker in 2008, building on a very good 2007 season. He made the pro-bowl as a kick returner on top of his offensive production. He ripped off long touchdowns against Buffalo, Kansas City, New England, and Tennessee last season displaying his ability to score at any time. He is also currently unhappy with his contract but did appear at voluntary workouts and is talking to the media. Hopefully, the Jets can work out a long term deal with him.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Washington receives a long term deal. He is given more touches on offense leading to more big plays for the Jets, while remaining a pro-bowl caliber kick returner.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: The contract dispute turns ugly, leading to Washington missing a large portion of training camp and potentially even a game or two, damaging the development of the Jets young offense.

Prediction: The Jets give Washington his long term extension, they’d be stupid not to. He receives more carries and receptions on offense, as the Jets run the ball even more than they did last season and he steps up to help fill the void left by Laveranues Coles and Chris Baker.

3. Shonn Greene #23, Rookie: Drafted in the Third Round

History: The Jets traded away multiple picks to move up to the top of third round to get Greene, showing how highly they think of him. Greene was the 2008 Doak Walker Award Winner at Iowa, given to the best running back in the nation.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: He develops a role on the Jets offense as a short yardage/goal-line back and learns behind Thomas Jones. Greene finds a way to get 5-8 touches a game and helps wear defenses down in the fourth quarter. After Thomas Jones leaves next year, he is ready to step up and split carries with Leon Washington.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: Greene either gets hurt or struggles so much in camp that he can’t stay on the active roster.

Prediction: Greene will be on the active roster and get a few touches a game on offense. Although I think it will be hard to get him ball after already dividing carries between Jones and Washington. It is going to be hard to take carries away from Jones in short yardage situations after the success he had last year.

4. Tony Richardson #49 (Starting Fullback), Last Season: 10 carries for 65 yards, 1 Reception for 4 yards. Many, Many Men blocked.

History: Richardson is a pro-bowl caliber fullback and made a big difference in the Jets short yardage game last season. It was a great move by the Jets bringing him back this season, anybody who watches them play knows how valuable he is to their offense.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: He stays healthy and keeps blocking the way he always has.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He gets hurt and the Jets short yardage problems surface again.

Prediction: I got faith in T-Rich to do the job he always has throughout his career.

5. Danny Woodhead #22, Last Season: Injured

History: Woodhead was a dominant player in Division II during his college career. He received alot of work this off-season with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington skipping practices. Despite a lack of size, he has great speed and ran tough in OTA’s. He was having a good training camp last year before hurting his foot and going on IR.

Chance of Making Roster: 50%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Woodhead makes the roster by carving out a role on special teams and flashing enough big play ability on offense to merit some occasional touches. His biggest problem is that the Jets have a guy named Leon Washington who does what he does, except much better. Unless Washington or Jones gets hurt, he isn’t going to see many touches this season if he makes the team.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He struggles in training camp and is cut.

Prediction: I think he ends up on the practice squad. His best chance of making the active roster is by finding a role on special teams, which could be hard with guys like Wallace Wright and Brad Smith taking spots he would probably excel at.

6. Jehuu Caulcrick #39, Last Season: Practice Squad

History: The Jets picked him up as a UDFA last year. He stayed on the practice squad all season. Caulcrick has good size and has been used as combo FB/RB. A few people have compared him to Le’Ron McClain when talking about him. I’m sure if Rex Ryan sees that, he will find a way to keep Caulcrick around until T-Rich retires or Jones moves on.

Chance of Making Roster: 50%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: He makes the roster as a special teams player and finds a way to contribute in short yardage situations. He proves he could be an adequate replacement for Tony Richardson when he retires.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He gets cut.

Prediction: I think he has a better chance of making the roster than Woodhead. If the Jets keep 5 running backs, I think he’ll be the 5th.

Overall Position Analysis: Jones, Washington, Richardson, and Greene are all locks to make the roster with Woodhead and Caulcrick battling for a potential fifth spot, that may or may not be there. I know I may sound a little too optimistic about Jones and Washington’s contract negoiations but I just don’t see the Jets being dumb enough not to have both those guys back and happy this year after the seasons they had in 2008.

Jets Positional Analysis: Quarterback

First a few updates:

1. According to Rich Cimini of the Daily News, the Jets interest in Plaxico Burress is “cooling off” despite the increased likelihood of him being able to play in 2009. The Burress argument is an interesting one, with fans split on whether the risk outweighs the reward of bringing him in. I still think it is a long shot he ends up in green and white, but crazier things have happened.

2. The Jets signed third round draft pick running back Shonn Greene to a four year deal, meaning all three of their draft picks are locked up. Good work by the Jets front office in getting all their rookies signed well before training camp. Now they can hopefully shift their focus towards pleasing their two pro-bowl running backs…Thomas Jones and Leon Washington.

3. The Jets signed free agent linebacker Brock Christopher, who was a UDFA signed by the Falcons after this year’s draft.

Jets Positional Analysis: Quarterback:

Over the next 6 weeks, I am going to go through all of the Jets positions and assess each player, starting today with the quarterback position:

1. Kellen Clemens #11, 4 years in NFL, Career Stats: 1,555 yards passing, 5 TD’s, 11 INT’s

History: Last year, he didn’t play a meaningful snap as Brett Favre’s backup. In training camp he was competing for the starting quarterback position but was being handily outplayed by Chad Pennington before the Jets traded for Favre. The year before he flashed some potential despite playing behind a terrible offensive line and having a weak, injured receiving core.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: For Clemens? It is shocking the world and beating out prized rookie Mark Sanchez for the Jets starting quarterback job and giving the Jets a Drew Brees/Philip Rivers scenario. The Jets organization would like to see Sanchez start but if Clemens can get the job done, they will take who can get them wins. The best thing for the Jets would be for Clemens to push Sanchez to the limit all summer, and eventually lose a close battle before becoming a capable number two for them in 2009.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: Clemens struggles heavily in training camp, failing to push Sanchez and inspire confidence as even a #2 quarterback.

Prediction: He gives Sanchez a run for his money, but is eventually named the backup before the third pre-season game. Clemens spends the year as the #2 again and leaves in free agency after the season.

2. Mark Sanchez #6, Rookie, No Career Stats

History: The Jets showed their faith in Sanchez by trading up to select him with the number 5 pick in the NFL Draft and signing him to a 60 million dollar contract. Sanchez is coming off a brilliant year at USC but questions remain about his lack of experience as a starting quarterback. After some initial struggles in OTAs, Sanchez progressed nicely and finished on a high note.

Chance of Making Roster: 110%…C’mon Now.

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Joe Flacco/Matt Ryan…Sanchez leads the Jets into the playoffs as a rookie by protecting the football, learning on the job and occasionally hitting the big play down the field. He makes the front office look great for trading up for him and looks the part of a franchise quarterback from the time he steps on the field in week one.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: Matt Leinart…Sanchez can’t even come close to beating out Clemens this year or even next year for that matter. He becomes a 60 million dollar insurance policy and eventually is photographed holding beer bongs for 20 year old girls in Morristown, New Jersey.

Prediction: Sanchez wins the starting job and takes the expected rookie lumps in year one. The Jets are able to win because of their running game and defense but Sanchez progresses as the year goes on. He leads them into playing meaningful games in late December.

3. Erik Ainge, #10, 2nd year, No Career Stats

History: Yikes…was the Jets 5throunnd pick last year but was inactive all season. He was also suspended four games for a substance abuse violation. Ainge also missed most of the off-season workouts for personal reasons and went from being mentioned as a contender for the starting job to battling for the #3 spot.

Chance of Making Roster: 50%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Ainge shows growth in the pre-season and locks down the number three job. He has such a strong pre-season and overall year as the look squad quarterback, the Jets feel comfortable making him their number two behind Sanchez in 2010.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He is cut during the pre-season and the Jets look elsewhere for their #3 quarterback.

Prediction: He shows some measure of progress, at least enough to be the Jets number three quarterback for another year but not enough to be their number two next year.

4. Chris Pizzotti, #19, Rookie, No Career Stats

History: The Jets signed him as an undrafted free agent. He was a very successful college quarterback at Harvard. Pizzotti has good size (6’5, 225 lbs) and apparently a strong arm.

Chance of Making Roster: 25%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: He beats out Erik Ainge for the #3 spot and becomes Brett Ratliff 2.0.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He gets cut, sooner rather than later.

Prediction: He makes the practice squad.

Overall Position Analysis: There is almost no experience to speak of in this group. All eyes will be on the Sanchez/Clemens battle in training camp. Hopefully, they will bring the best out of each other and one of them can step up to be playoff caliber quarterback this year.

Three Moves the Jets Need to Make & A Rant on Mike Freeman

First a quick rebuttal to Mike Freeman of CBS Sports:

Mike Freeman of CBS Sports wrote an article (http://www.cbssports.com/columns/story/11849129) the other day where he pours it on Rex Ryan and the Jets organization as a whole. While I can understand a little bit of where he is coming from, he goes way overboard and makes a few questionable statements.

Yes, I understand Rex Ryan is a rookie head coach and may be doing a little too much talking for his own good. Yet, he didn’t say anything that outlandish or out of line. He is an accomplished defensive coordinator in this league and there is no reason he can’t have confidence in his group of guys or not stand in awe of New England’s past success. The guy never guaranteed anything or disrespected any of the Jets opponents.

Here are a few of Freeman’s excerpts, with my responses:

“Typical Jets: patting themselves on the back even before the season begins. The New York Jets — kings of June wind sprints.”  — Typical? When is the last time the Jets have patted themselves on the back before the season begins? I don’t remember many Junes where the Jets have been made any kind of bold proclamations about the upcoming season.

“Not certain about the rest of you, but I would love to see an organization with the sort of losing and embarrassing history of the Jets, oh, you know, win before the head coach starts beating his chest and running his mouth like he’s Big Pussy from The Sopranos.”  — Yes, the Jets don’t have one of the most illustrious histories in sports. However, the past decade they have been one of the better franchises in the NFL, with playoff appearances in 1998, 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2006 along with a .500 or better record in 1999, 2000, and 2008. Big Pussy from the Sopranos? Oh yes, clever reference since the Jets play in New Jersey but why Big Pussy, why not Paulie or Tony?

“Remember these are the Jets. It was this team that made one of the worst acquisitions in recent history with Brett “The Vikings love me/they love me not” Favre.” — Of course it is easy to say acquiring Brett Favre was stupid now, but at the time the Jets were universally praised for acquiring a hall of famer to fill the one glaring hole on their roster. Nobody was thought it was a bad acquisition when the Jets were 8-3 and had just blown out the undefeated Titans in their building. Yes, Favre and the Jets melted down the stretch but if it is another team that Freeman doesn’t hate, that’s on Favre not the organization for taking a chance by bringing him in.

“Ocho Rexo sounds just as silly as pops. He’s the guy with a larynx larger than his biceps who has had a few too many beers taking on the biggest, meanest guy in the bar. Challenging New England the way he has without a win under his belt puts Ocho Rexo in the same category as Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. Rex has failed to also show the current division champions, the Miami Dolphins, a modicum of respect”— Did he challenge New England or did he just say he wasn’t going to “kiss their rings?” Should he kiss Bellicheck’s rings? Should the Jets play scared of New England because they won a few Super Bowls a few years ago? The Giants weren’t scared of the undefeated Patriots and they beat them up. Ryan also never disrespected the Dolphins (unless you consider his what his defense did to the wildcat last year as disrespect) he only talked trash to one of their average players, who came at him first.

“This season, after the Jets win five games and Mark Sanchez is a bloodied mess, Ryan’s faux bravado and words will haunt him.”— So now because Ryan is a confident guy the Jets are going to be a 5 win team? It sounds like some wishful thinking by Freeman, but why would a team that won 9 games last year and added Bart Scott, Lito Sheppard, Jim Leonhard, Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Donald Strickland, and Marques Douglas become 4 games worse? Also, why will Mark Sanchez be a bloodied mess, because he is playing behind one of the top five offensive lines in the league? An offensive line that is returning all 5 starters and their top two backups, all of whom played together in every single game last year. An offensive line that has pro-bowlers Alan Faneca and Nick Mangold on it…yea, I think Sanchez will make it through the year in one piece.

Three Moves the Jets Need to Make

1. Don’t Trade Thomas Jones –  This is more in the “non-move” category but the Jets need to find a way to make Jones happy for this upcoming season. It would be foolish to trade away a workhorse pro-bowl running back when you are going to start an inexperienced quarterback. I know they like Shonn Greene but give the rookie a year to develop behind Jones and Leon Washington before you start giving 15-20 carries a game. I am not saying the Jets have to give him a long term contract, but they could advance him his signing bonus from next year or reach some kind of compromise.

2. Keep Monitoring the Plaxico Burress Situation – If Burress is going to be able to play football this season, the Jets should take a chance and sign him, even if they only get him for 12 games. Burress is a legit number one receiver who would provide a huge security blanket to either Mark Sanchez or Kellen Clemens. He would also allow Jerricho Cotchery to go back into his more natural #2 role. The Jets offense would be pretty difficult to stop with Burress and Cotchery split out, Keller at tight end and Jones and Leon Washington in the backfield.

3. Sign Another Veteran Tight End – I am still not comfortable with an aged and banged up Bubba Franks or a converted defensive lineman, Kareem Brown as the #2 tight end. The Jets are in major trouble if Dustin Keller gets hurt. There are still veterans on the market who could provide 20 snaps a game as a blocker.

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.

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.