Week 1 of OTAs: Defense Steals Show

First a few updates:

1. Sorry about the lack of overall posts this week. It is my senior week here at Muhlenberg, culminating with graduation tomorrow. I’ll be back to full time business here as soon as I receive my diploma.

2. The more I read about Thomas Jones contract situation, the more I side with the Jets. The guy requested his contract be structured the way it currently is, which is frontloaded with a drop off in the third year and is now trying to go back on it. Jones better realize the Jets aren’t going to redo this deal and aren’t going to move him unless a knockout offer comes along, which it probably won’t. Make no mistake the Jets are much better off with Jones as their starting tailback, but they can survive with Leon Washington and Shonn Greene splitting the bulk of carries.

3. According to Leon Washington’s agent’s twitter account (real professional way of doing business), there is progress being made with his contract discussions. You have to hope Washington will find his way back to OTAs this week. He should note the way they took care of Jerricho Cotchery and Kerry Rhodes before they entered their fourth years and expect the same treatment.

4. Jason Taylor is back in the division, signing with the Dolphins. I’d rather have him in Miami than in New England, I know that much.

Week 1 of OTAs: Defense Steals Show

From what the media saw of the Jets practice on Thursday, this is what we know:

1. The defense is ahead of the offense, which is to be expected. Overall, the Jets have more talent on defense and the offense is currently lacking their top two running backs and experience at both receiver and tight end. Apparently the Jets two minute drill was a disaster with numerous interceptions and dropped interceptions, along with plenty of miscommunication on the offensive side of the ball.

2. Don’t want to say too much yet, but apparently defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has been impressed with Vernon Gholston so far. He has been active in the Jets pass rush (although they haven’t been in pads yet) and has bounced back and forth from being at linebacker and in a three point stance. All Jets fans are keeping their fingers crossed that the light will go on for Gholston this year and he will live up to his lofty draft status.

3. Rex Ryan has raved about his defensive backs, in particular Darrelle Revis who appears to somehow continue improving despite already being a top 5 corner in the league. Donald Strickland has played well so far and pulled in a few interceptions, same goes for Drew Coleman who will be fighting for a roster spot.

4. Kellen Clemens was okay during Thursday’s practice, without having to look over his shoulder for Mark Sanchez who is finishing up classes at USC. Let’s see how he handles next week, when he is splitting number one reps with the Jets first overall pick. Rex Ryan continues to imply that he expects Sanchez to win the job, but that is an open competition and if Clemens outperforms him, he will start. In other quarterback news Erik Ainge was awful, throwing interceptions all over the field and showing no control of the offense. It will be a battle for him to win the #3 job this year.

5. Bart Scott continued his habit of constantly trash talking everybody around him and his swagger seems to be spreading around the team. Just from hearing interviews with players and coaches so far this year, you can expect a much different personality for the Jets this year.

6. David Clowney was running as the other starting receiver (besides Jerricho Cotchery) on Thursday. It really appears the Jets are content to let him, Brad Smith, and Chansi Stuckey battle it out for reps. Smith is the kind of the guy who always looks good in practice but rarely has translated his productions to games. Clowney has potential but alot to prove in terms of durability and consistency. Stuckey is better off being a #3/slot receiver.

7. Bubba Franks is recovering from minor knee surgery, leaving converted defensive end Kareem Brown as the #2 tight end for these practices. Danny Woodhead ran as the starting running back since Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, and Shonn Greene all weren’t present. Jehuu Caulcrick also received major work in the backfield, as both a fullback and halfback. The Jets are running an offense right now with Kellen Clemens, Woodhead, Caulcrick, and Brown and none of them will likely be on the field when they play Houston in week one.

Running Backs Absence Cause For Concern

First as usual, a few other updates:

1. The Jets re-signed Bubba Franks to a one year deal. They desperately needed to add more depth to the tight end position, and while Franks didn’t show all that much last year, at least he has some experience at the position and is a better blocker than Dustin Keller. The Jets could still use another player here, because they are crazy if they think they have enough depthwith just Keller, Franks and a bunch of UDFA’s on the roster.

2. Peter King of Sports Illustrated recently did power rankings, and the Jets fell right in the middle at number 16. Overall, it is hard to find a consensus opinion about the Jets this season, as they seem to be a hard team to get a read on. There are obviously alot of variables with a first time head coach and a probable rookie starting quarterback.

3. The Jets are currently taking part in their first set of OTA’s (Organized Team Activities), these non-contact practices are non-mandatory. They will be Monday-Thursday for the next four weeks, with media availbilty on occuring on Thursdays. This phase of the off-season concludes with a mandatory three day mini-camp with full media availbility from June 9th-June 11th.

Running Backs Absence Cause For Concern

We all already know about Thomas Jones and his unhappiness with this current contract. Jones has been skipping all the team’s off-season activities so far in protest, potentially prompting the Jets to draft Shonn Greene in the third round of the NFL Draft. The Jets clearly have the upper hand on Jones, since they gave him a fat new contract just a couple of seasons ago. In his first year with the team, Jones didn’t perform up to that contract and now insanely thinks the Jets are going to re-negotiate with a 31 year old running back after one very good season.

Most observers of the situation believes Jones won’t have a choice but to show up to mandatory practices, and then the team will cut ties with him next year. The Jets aren’t going to give him a new deal, and there isn’t a strong trade market for 31 year old running backs who want brand new contracts. Unless the Jets found some way to creatively re-structure his contract, this will probably be Jones last season in New York, so he needs to get on the field at some point to create a market for himself next year.

More alarming is the recent news that Leon Washington has begun skipping OTA’s. Washington is probably the Jets most underpaid player, since he is still in his rookie contract (he was a fourth round pick) and has been looking for an improved long term deal. The Jets had similar situations with both Jerricho Cotchery and Kerry Rhodes and took care of both of them before their deals expired, and are expected to do the same with Washington. However, Washington and his agent were apparently “insulted” by the Jets first offer which didn’t come close to paying him the type of money guys like Darren Sproles and Maurice Jones-Drew recently received. Washington is only a restriced free agent after this year, which hurts his leverage to skip mandatory workouts and create an extended holdout.

Obviously this isn’t a good situation for the Jets, who are trying to become a smashmouth football team and are currently running practices without their two pro-bowl running backs. Yet, It doesn’t become a major problem until they start skipping mandatory practices, which begin June 9th.

My take on the situation is that the Jets need to do whatever is neccessary to take care of Leon Washington. He is too dynamic of a playmaker on both offense and special teams to carry on without. The Jets would lose what little explosive aspect they had to their offense if Washington wasn’t around. Thomas Jones is defintley a much needed part of the Jets offense but Shonn Greene could do a better job replicating him than anybody could do of replicating what Leon Washington does for the Jets. Beyond that, I think Jones is smart enough to realize his age and current contract situation, and will eventually show up. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Jets re-structured in a similar way to what they did with Chris Baker last year to appease him for one season.

What are Reasonable Expectations for the Jets?

First a few updates:

1. The TOJ Hall of Fame and TOJ Hall of Shame are now fully up and running. Take the time to check out the pages, which are linked across the top of the web-site.

2. For some reason, NFL Films is running a replay of the Jets/Bills regular season game in Buffalo from this past season. A few observations after re-watching the game today: Drew Coleman is awful, Kris Jenkins is unstoppable when he is at his best, Brian Schottenheimer is way too conservative, Calvin Pace doesn’t get enough for credit for how good he is, Jerricho Cotchery has great hands but has a tough time getting separation, Dustin Keller needs to increase his football IQ, and Thomas Jones is quicker than he gets credit for.

3. Pacman Jones to the Jets? I don’t buy this rumor for a second. The Jets have no need for him, as they have good depth at corner and obviously don’t need a guy like that in the locker room.

What are Reasonable Expectations for the Jets?

The Jets were a 9 win team last season who just missed making the playoffs. After this off-season, I believe it is fair to expect them to be a 10+ win team and strongly contend not just for a playoff spot but also for a deep run into January. It may sound like a bold statement, but let me argue why that isn’t necessarily the case.

I look at their defense and see a unit that was very good last season. They have improved at inside linebacker by upgrading from Eric Barton to Bart Scott. Vernon Gholston has nowhere to go but up from last year, and if Rex Ryan can get anything out of him this year, the Jets will be upgraded at outside linebacker also. The Jets other returning outside linebackers, Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas are both former 4-3 defensive ends, which means they have strong pass rushing skills. Rex Ryan’s new defensive scheme is more conducive to their talents, than Eric Mangini’s defense which often asked them to drop into pass coverage. 

In the secondary, the Jets have upgraded at both cornerback and safety. Lito Sheppard is a better starter than Dwight Lowery, and Donald Strickland will provide a veteran nickel-back who will also push Lowery to become better. Basically, last year’s #2 corner (Lowery) is now bumped down to being their #4 corner. Abram Elam wasn’t an awful starter at safety last year but Jim Leonhard’s skill set is a better fit for the defense, and he provides better pass coverage skills along with a similar presence inside the box against the run. 

They are thinner on the defensive line this season. However, Kris Jenkins has recently went on record to say that Rex Ryan’s defense won’t be as physically demanding on his body. If Jenkins can remain fully healthy all season, the Jets will be getting a major improvement at defensive tackle over the last 5 games of the regular season compared to 2008. There is pressure on Marques Douglas and Mike DeVito to match Kenyon Coleman’s production on defense, although the only production he really had was against the run. He only managed 0.5 sacks last year, so it shouldn’t be hard for the two of them to match his pass rushing skills. 

On offense, the Jets improved their depth at running back and added another short yardage/goal-line threat by drafting Shonn Greene. They are returning their entire starting offensive line, and added more depth by drafting Matt Slauson in the 6th round. Their top two backups from last year (Robert Turner and Wayne Hunter) are also returning with more experience under their belt. At quarterback, Mark Sanchez/Kellen Clemens can’t play any worse than Brett Favre did in the last 5 games of the regular season last year. When the Jets were winning last season, Favre was managing the game in a similar way that the Jets quarterback will be asked to this year. Look at Favre’s numbers in the Jets key wins last year:

Week 1 vs Miami: 15/22, 194 yards, 2 TD’s.

Week 6 vs. Cincinnati: 25/33, 189 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT’s

Week 8 vs. Kansas City: 28/40, 290 yards, 2 TD’s, 3 INT’s

Week 9 vs. Buffalo: 19/28, 201 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Week 10 vs. St. Louis: 14/19, 167 yards, 1 TD

Week 12 vs. Tennessee: 25/32, 224 yards, 2 TD’s, 1 INT

Week 15 vs. Buffalo: 17/30, 207 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT’s

The point is outside of two Jets wins (Arizona and New England) Favre never really put up great numbers when the Jets won games. I think Mark Sanchez or Kellen Clemens can handle going 15/21 for 190 yards and that they are going to throw less interceptions. If whomever the Jets quarterback is next year can throw 12 INT’s instead of 22, it is going to make a big difference in a positive way for the team. 

The Jets are weaker at tight end and wide receiver than they were in 2008. They haven’t replaced Chris Baker (a strong blocker and 21 catches) or Laveranues Coles (70 catches, 850 yards, 7 TD’s). However, at tight end Dustin Keller should be improved in his second year and at wide receiver, a guy like David Clowney (pictured to the left) could turn into a big time playmaker now that he is being given an opportunity. Regardless, the Jets still need to add depth at both positions. 

 

The 2009 schedule isn’t a friendly one but it certainly is manageable. Outside of their division, 6 of their 10 games are against teams who didn’t make the playoffs last year. Within the division, New England is always tough, the Bills added TO but beyond that had a weak overall off-season and have major questions at the offensive line and running back. The Dolphins are going to struggle this year. They were the 2006 Jets last year, and are going to be the 2007 Jets this year. I love Chad Pennington but teams are going to be all over their gimmick based offense and their lack of talent on that side of the ball will hurt them this year. 

Right now I’d say the Jets are a 10 win team and if they add another tight end and receiver, they could be a 11-12 win team. Right out of the gate we will find out where they stand since in their first 6 games they play all three divisional opponents and 2 other quality teams (Tennessee and New Orleans).

The Best of the Jets

I’m going to take a break from the more analytical stuff today and commemorate today’s article as a celebration of the beginning of the “Turn on the Jets Hall of Fame” and “Turn on the Jets Hall of Shame.” You can find these two pages across the top of the web site. The Hall of Fame idea was blatantly stolen from The Jets blog (www.thejetsblog.com), and is reserved for the best of the best, in the mind of this site. The Hall of Shame is reserved for the worst kind of people, as you’ll see.

Anyway, on to today’s article which examines the current roster and determines the following:

The Best of the Jets

Most Valuable Offensive Player – Leon Washington – This is a tough call but the Jets have a limited number of playmakers on offense and Leon Washington is a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. Their offense would instantly lose what little big play threat it had, if Washington was gone. He has the ability to score on any given play and the ability to line up all over the formation. Thomas Jones and Nick Mangold were also given consideration.

Best Offensive Player – Nick Mangold – This is different from the Most Valuable Player, because Washington’s value to the Jets is more than Mangold’s to them but as an overall football player, I am giving the nod to Mangold over Washington, Thomas Jones, Alan Faneca and others. Mangold is arguably the best center in the NFL and leads the Jets offensive line, which is probably their strongest overall unit.

Worst Offensive Starter – David Clowney/Brad Smith/Chansi Stuckey – This was a relatively easy call, whomever ends up winning the Jets #2 receiver position has the most to prove on this unit. Chansi Stuckey has been the most productive of this group but only has 32 career catches. All three of these guys are probably better fits as #3 or #4 receivers, than as a full time starter.

Offensive Player who Most Needs to Step Up – Mark Sanchez/Kellen Clemens – It will probably be Sanchez under center when the season starts, but whomever the Jets quarterback ends up being will be facing a ton of pressure to protect the football and lead a passing game to support the Jets already solid running game and defense. Sanchez will face pressure as a first round draft pick and the future franchise quarterback and if Clemens is under center, he will be facing pressure to keep Sanchez off the field.

Offensive Player in Need of Bounce Back Season – Jerricho Cotchery – Cotchery was pretty good last year as the Jets number two receiver, but they need him to meet and exceed his 2007 production (1,130 yards) this year. He is their unquestioned number one wide-out, which means 800 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns isn’t going to cut it.

Most Valuable Defensive Player – Kris Jenkins – The most important thing for any defense to do is stop the run. When Jenkins is healthy he is a force up the middle, which makes it extremely difficult for opposing teams to move the ball on the ground against the Jets. Anybody who doubts his value, only needs to look back to last year and see how much the defense’s production dropped after injuries began to take a toll on Jenkins (starting in the Denver game). The Jets need the big guy healthy for all 16 games if they want to be an elite defense in the NFL this season.

Best Defensive Player – Darrelle Revis – In only two seasons Revis has shown himself to be a legit lock-down cornerback, which is a hard thing to find in the NFL. He is one of the best business right now and I wouldn’t trade him for any corner in the league except for maybe Nnamdi Asomugha.

Worst Defensive Starter – Marques Douglas/Mike DeVito – Neither player has ever shown the ability to be a full time player, but one of the two will be asked to step in for Kenyon Coleman to start at defensive end. Douglas is stout against run but doesn’t present much of a threat rushing the passer, and DeVito only has 0.5 career sacks.

Defensive Player Who Most Needs to Step Up – Bart Scott – The Jets paid Scott a ton of money to come in and lead their defense. He is an experienced pro-bowler in Rex Ryan’s system, and the Jets are expecting him to maintain the level of play he had in Baltimore and help his fellow linebackers adjust to a new scheme. He will also be looked at as the vocal leader of the defensive unit. He isn’t in the shadow of Ray Lewis anymore, Scott needs to be the Jets version of Lewis.

Defensive Player in Need of Bounce Back Season – Kerry Rhodes – Rhodes developed the reputation of a playmaker in 2006 and 2007, but was very quiet last season often overshadowed by his fellow safety, Abram Elam. Rex Ryan has stated his desire to turn Rhodes into his New York version of Ed Reed, and I don’t doubt Rhodes talent to play that role in the Jets defense. He needs to get back to sacking the quarterback, intercepting passes, and forcing fumbles which he made a frequent habit of both in 2006 and 2007.

Don't Doubt It: Sanchez is the Jets Guy for 2009

First a few updates from the Jets Locker Room, which had media availability today:

1. Erik Ainge refused to give the reason why he has been absent from team activities the past few months. He stated the team doesn’t even know the specific reason, but they respected his personal privacy and need to handle the matter. Ainge will be battling UDFA Chris Pizzotti for the #3 spot this season, after originally being mentioned as a contender for the starting job before the Jets drafted Mark Sanchez.

2. When asked about the Jets move to acquire Sanchez, Jerricho Cotchery, Kerry Rhodes, and Darrelle Revis among others all sounded excited about his potential. They understand the implications about trading up to #5 to select somebody, so despite saying the politically correct thing about Kellen Clemens, seem to understand that Sanchez is going to be the guy this year. Rhodes had the funniest line of the day, when he mentioned that Sanchez would now have to battle him for “the best looking guy on the team.”

3. Sanchez has reached out to the wide receivers to set up times to work on throwing the football, which is a move that drew praise from a few veterans in the locker room. The guy has done everything you want a rookie to do so far. Obviously, he needs to produce on the field but still you can’t have any complaints about Sanchez yet.

4. Many Jets were asked about Brett Favre today, a few players anonymously cited him as being selfish and deceitful, while Rhodes refused to comment, although most of them were indifferent about him potentially joining the Vikings and expressed support for him. (It now appears he is going to stay retired, but who ever knows with this guy).

5. According to Dave Hutchinson, the Jets have recently worked out tight end Michael Gaines, who is one of the players I mentioned they should target a few days ago. I’m glad to see they are taking my advice. Gaines is a good blocking tight end, who would go a long to improving the Jets depth at tight end. He caught 23 passes last season for Detroit.

Don’t Doubt It: Sanchez is the Jets Guy for 2009

Kellen Clemens had to face the media today and said just about everything you expected he would. The common theme being that it is still an open competition, he still believes he will be the opening day starter, and that he is just going to keep working to improve. Rich Cimini made a good point however when discussing Clemens demeanor today, stating that he is “beginning to lose his swagger.” Obviously, Clemens is going to be more confident battling a UDFA with zero career NFL passes in Brett Ratliff, than he is battling the highly acclaimed Mark Sanchez.

Part of me feels bad for Clemens who is coming off a strong mini-camp and by all accounts has had a very good off-season. He is in a nearly impossible situation right now. No matter what anybody says, the odds are stacked heavily against him. He doesn’t need to just outplay Sanchez this summer, he needs to blow him away to win the job.

Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Last year Clemens was in the exact same position, except reversed heading into training camp. The coaching staff clearly wanted the younger Clemens, who they spent a 2nd round draft pick on, to beat out Chad Pennington for the job. Pennington needed to clearly out perform Clemens to win the job and through the first few weeks that was exactly what he did. Frustrated by Clemens lack of progress and the prospect of having Pennington be the starter for another season, they made the bold move to acquire Brett Favre.

 

Clemens had his chance to seize the Jets quarterback job last year. I can give him a pass for not seizing the job in 2007 in his eight starts behind a garbage offensive line and with no healthy receivers. Yet, during camp last season he did nothing to show he could be the Jets quarterback of the future. If he had outplayed Pennington and showed substantial progress last summer, the Jets wouldn’t have acquired Favre and Clemens would have started last season. He wouldn’t be in this situation now, where he is at a disadvantaged position battling the #5 overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Unless there is an extended holdout or injury, bank on Mark Sanchez being under center for the Jets when they open up against Houston. I don’t see him bombing out in training camp or Kellen Clemens all of a sudden looking like a franchise quarterback this summer. The Jets drafted Sanchez to be their guy for this year, and for the next ten.

Who are the Jets Top Playmakers?

First a few Monday Updates:

1. The Jets have made a couple of minor moves, signing tryout player tight end Jack Simmons. He made an impression at the recent rookie mini-camp, both with his blocking footwork and his pass catching skills. Simmons was a three year starter at Minnesota. Last season he had 34 catches for 331 yards, with two touchdowns. He obviously has a real shot to make the roster because right now his competition is Kareem Brown and James Dearth. The Jets also added defensive tackle Anthony Harris, who was last in camp with the Carolina Panthers before the 2008 season.

2. Pro Football Talk floated a rumor today out of a Cleveland newspaper that discussed a potential Thomas Jones-Braylon Edwards trade. Unless Jones sits out of mandatory mini-camp on June 9th-June 11th and then misses the beginning of training camp, the Jets aren’t moving the AFC’s leading rusher from last year. Rex Ryan wants to run the ball next year, which means it doesn’t make sense to trade your best running back. The plan is for Jones to finish out his contract and hope that Shonn Greene can develop enough this year to take over for him in 2010. 

3. Rutgers defensive end Jamaal Westerman could be a player to keep an eye on. Rex Ryan had him switch out to strong side linebacker during mini-camp and he impressed the coach with his smooth transition. The Jets pursued him heavily after the draft, and he accepted less money as an undrafted free agent to join the Jets. There are definitely back up spots to be won in the Jets linebacking core, so Westerman has a shot.

Who are the Jets Top Playmakers?

We spend alot of time talking about who the Jets still need to improve their offense, but lets take a look at who on the current roster the Jets will look at to create points:

1. Leon Washington – The Jets most versatile and dynamic playmaker. Washington can score on any given play as a runner, kick returner, wide receiver, and any other place he can get the ball. The biggest problem  has been getting him enough touches. Brian Schottenheimer must find a way to get him the ball at least 12-15 times a game on offense. He probably won’t return punts anymore, which should keep him more fresh for offense and let him focus on kick returns, where he truly excels. Washington had half as many rushing touchdowns as Thomas Jones, on 1/4 of the carries last year, and also added 2 receiving TD’s and a kick return TD. He has the ability to play the traditional half-back position (as he showed in 2006), fullback (for pass plays and misdirection handoffs) slot receiver, split end, and be used on a variety of trick plays. The bottom line is that Schottenheimer’s play sheet should have “GET 29 THE BALL” written on it across the top.

2. Thomas Jones – Jones is a great north/south runner who can excel behind a very good offensive line. He is a one-cut back, who isn’t going to rip off many long runs but can wear on a defense, especially in the fourth quarter. Beyond that, Jones also showed his receiving ability last year by catching 36 passes and 2 touchdowns. After being an awful goal-line/short yardage back in 2007, Jones came back in a big way with 13 rushing touchdowns last year (plenty of credit goes to Tony Richardson and the new offensive line however). Hopefully, the Jets can settle his contract issue for this upcoming season because Jones remains a very good back who can carry the ball 20-25 times a game.

3. Dustin Keller – Outside of Leon Washington, the Jets most difficult player to match-up with. He gashed the Patriots and Titans during the Jets mid-season run last year before fading slightly down the stretch (thanks in part to being in Eric Mangini’s doghouse). Overall he had 48 catches for 535 yards, with 3 touchdowns last season. Keller is too fast for most linebackers to cover, and has a size advantage on cornerbacks and safeties. With Chris Baker in New England and Laveranues Coles in Cincinnati, Keller should be on the field even more this year and be the Jets #2 receiving option behind Jerricho Cotchery. The Jets will especially look to him on third downs and in the red-zone.

4. Jerricho Cotchery – The Jets unquestioned number one wide receiver. Cotchery is probably better suited to be a #2 but still is a very good all around football player. He has great hands and is a strong runner after the catch. However, he lacks deep speed and has never faced the attention that comes with being a #1 receiver for a full season. The Jets are going to need more than 71 catches for 858 yards, with 5 touchdowns from him this year. 

5. Chansi Stuckey/David Clowney/Brad Smith – Who is going to step up from this group? Stuckey was a good #3 receiver for the Jets last year and should keep improving. He is good option on third downs and a tough cover in the slot. Clowney is a burner, who has the potential to be the home run threat the Jets have lacked since Santana Moss. Smith has the speed, height, and versatility to be a major playmaker for this offense but he hasn’t put it all together yet.