Swaggalicious: Jets Defense Must Lead Way in 2009

First a few updates about the site:

1. Across the top of the site, you’ll notice I have a 2009 depth chart, which I will try to keep as updated as possible. I last updated it yesterday with where the Jets stand coming out of their rookie mini-camp. You’ll also notice that whomever is at the top of the depth chart at their respective position has the distinct honor of having their picture up under their position name.

2. I also have the 2009 schedule, with one of my favorite pictures of all time on top. Hopefully, we will be seeing something similar against New England both times this year.

3. There is an off-season additions page, with a listing and photos of all the major players the Jets acquired this off-season through free agency, trades, and the draft.

4. Finally, there is an About the Author Page, which just has a little more information about myself, nothing too exciting.

Swaggalicious: Jets Defense Must Lead Way in 2009

When being interviewed at the Jets recent non mandatory mini-camp, “Swaggalicious” was the word Bart Scott used to describe the way he envisions his defense playing this year. Scott knows that Head Coach Rex Ryan wants to win with an aggressive, stingy defense leading the way, supported by a solid running game and a quarterback who protects the football. The Jets were already a very good defensive team in 2008, but a few off-season additions have many thinking they could have one of the top units in the NFL this upcoming year.

Starting at the top, Rex Ryan and newly hired defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will advocate more of an attacking scheme that puts more people in the box and more pressure on the quarterback. Too many times last year, the Jets were a “reactive” defense, sitting back and waiting to adjust to whatever game-plan the offense came out with. Ryan isn’t going to do that, he is going to force offenses to adjust to a wide variety of looks and blitzes, and also hopefully be better at in-game adjustments than his predecessor.

The Jets defensive line is probably their weakest unit on this side of the ball. Kris Jenkins is a beast at nose tackle but needs to be properly rested or he will wear down at the end of the year. Sione Pouha and Howard Green need to step up and provide quality reps off the bench or Jenkins is going to fade during the stretch  run. At defensive end, Shaun Ellis is a solid veteran who should be good for 7-9 sacks. On the other side, Marques Douglas and Mike DeVito will be asked to split reps. Neither is really built to be a full time player, but hopefully they can combine to form a decent duo opposite Ellis. Kareem Brown is a decent depth player, but the Jets could really use another player in their d-line rotation.

The Jets should be rock solid at inside linebacker with Bart Scott and David Harris. Scott will be looked on to be the vocal leader of the defense, as an experienced pro-bowler in Ryan’s scheme. Harris is coming off an injury plagued year, but if he can return to his rookie form from 2007, he has the potential to be a pro-bowler himself. At outside linebacker, Calvin Pace is a very good all around player who will hopefully be given more of a chance to rush the passer this year. Eric Mangini had Pace dropping into coverage way too often last year, when his real strength is going after the quarterback. Bryan Thomas will start out at the other spot, but all eyes will be on 2008 first round pick Vernon Gholston, who was a complete bust in his rookie year. If Ryan can get Gholston to reach his potential, the Jets will gaining a valuable pass rushing weapon. The back-up spots at both inside and outside are wide open, although Marques Murrell and Jason Trunsick have shown potential and should get roster spots. Larry Izzo will make the roster as a special teamer and provide depth at the inside position.

The Jets secondary made a habit of getting beat like a drum last season. They addressed this weakness by trading for former pro-bowler Lito Sheppard at cornerback, signing Jim Leonhard to play safety, and adding Donald Strickland to play nickel-back. Darrelle Revis is one of the best corners in the league, and if Sheppard can stay healthy opposite him, the Jets will have one of the best duos in the NFL. Kerry Rhodes is coming off a down year, but many blame Eric Mangini’s scheme for his lack of big plays in 2008. Leonhard should provide a good complement to him, and help the adjustment to Ryan’s scheme as one of his former players. Strickland and second year player Dwight Lowery will battle for reps at corner behind Revis and Sheppard, Lowery showed great potential last year but struggled down the stretch. Strickland is a solid veteran, who is expected to get most of the reps as the #3 corner. Cornerback Ahmad Carroll was re-signed for special teams purposes, but is a former first round pick who may be able to find some reps on defense. Eric Smith is the top backup at safety and does have starting experience from last year.

On paper, the Jets have the ability to have one of the league’s best defenses. Jenkins, Revis, Ellis, Sheppard, and Scott are all former pro-bowlers and Ryan is considered one of the NFL’s brightest defensive minds. There are obviously a few variables that need to break the Jets way for them to reach their full defensive potential but we will look at those tomorrow.

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.