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.

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.