Lockout Off-Season: Rounding Up Top Jets Offensive Storylines

Despite the lack of formal workouts and traditional media access, there has still been plenty of storylines that have grown out of this New York Jets lockout infected off-season. Here is a round-up of them, check back later in the day for the top defensive storylines —

Quarterback

  • The continued development of Mark Sanchez’s leadership

Sanchez has further asserted himself as one of the leaders of the team by putting together both “Jets West” and “Jets Lockout Camp.” From what the other players have said this season, it is clear the amount of respect they have for Sanchez and the way he carries himself. One of his best traits is his work ethic and dedication to all things football, regardless of what else he has going on in his life, and his teammates clearly recognize that.

Running Back

  • Shonn Greene moving into the lead back role

Brian Schottenheimer, Rex Ryan, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Shonn Greene all agree that Greene is going to take over as the number one back this year and he is ready for the challenge. It remains to be seen how he can handle 18+ carries on a weekly basis but the only way to find out if you have a lead back is to give him the chance to be one.

  • LaDainian Tomlinson embracing the third down role

As he said in many interviews, including one right here with TOJ…Tomlinson has accepted and embraced the idea of being a third down back this year in the Jets offense. Considering his age and how he wore down at the end of last season, Tomlinson should maximize his effectiveness by being limited to this role.

  • John Conner announced as starting fullback

Nobody expected Tony Richardson back for another year, but this clinched that the fullback job would be handed off to Conner.

Wide Receiver

  • Free Agent Decisions

The endless debate over who the Jets should prioritize bringing back, Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards, has arguably been their biggest off-season storyline. Holmes has said he won’t sign a restricted free agent tender and would basically be looking for the most money possible. Edwards has been more diplomatic and discussed the potential of taking a hometown discount. Brad Smith is also a free agent and unless he agrees to come back for less than another team offers, probably won’t be back.

Offensive Line

  • Right Tackle

Damien Woody was released early in the off-season but there is now speculation he could return because of concern about Vladimir Ducasse being ready to step in as a starter. Considering that Ducasse didn’t play a meaningful snap last year, I would think that is a reasonable concern.

TOJ Top Five: Brad Smith Plays

Since New York Jets wide receiver, Brad Smith, has recently created a Twitter account (@ReadBradSmith) and unfortunately there is a good chance he won’t be back next year, let’s look at his top five plays as a Jet…

5. Fifth Gear

This past Thanksgiving, Brad Smith torched the Cincinnati Bengals for the second year in a row. His first touchdown came on a 53 yard reverse, which really demonstrated his downhill speed as he kicks it into fifth gear and is off to the races.

4. Wildcatting Into The Playoffs

With a wild-card spot on the line in the final week of the 2009 season, the Jets beat up on the Bengals led by Smith who got things going with a huge run out of the Wildcat and then later blew the game open with a touchdown run out of the same formation.

3. One Last Bengals Highlight

The shoeless kick return…one shoe and still the fastest guy on the field.

2. Start It Off

Heading into their December match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Jets were riding an ugly two game losing streak and staring another later season meltdown in the face. Fortunately, Smith started off the game with a kick return for a touchdown which provided a much needed boost that would ultimately lead to a Jets victory.

1. Finally, A Pass

The one and only big pass Brad Smith ever completed for the New York Jets was against the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, when he surprised everybody in the stadium by rolling out and hitting Jerricho Cotchery on a bomb that would set up a big first half touchdown for the Jets.

New York Jets Free Agency Rumor Round-Up

Track all of the latest New York Jets free agency updates on TOJ’s stream at SB Nation NY

A few comments on how the New York Jets will approach free agency…

1. Nnamdi Asomugha isn’t going to happen…so get the dreams of the two best corners in the NFL being on a single team out of your head. The Jets aren’t going to break the bank for him with so many free agents of their own, including a cheaper option than Asomugha at corner in Antonio Cromartie.

2. Regardless of Asomugha not happening, the Jets still need to address their cornerback position either by bringing back Cromartie or by signing somebody else like Ike Taylor or Jonathan Joseph. They didn’t draft a pass rusher and it is doubtful they will find a high impact player in free agency, hence they need as much coverage as they can get. Other corners they could look at include Carlos Rogers, Richard Marshall, Chris Carr, and Fabian Washington.

3. If I had to guess today, I would still say it is more likely that Santonio Holmes comes back before Braylon Edwards. However, I am more confident today than I was when the season ended about both of them coming back. Edwards has already gone on record saying he would offer some type of a hometown discount and if Holmes does the same, you never know what could happen. I don’t see any way Brad Smith ends up coming back. Another team will give him more money than the Jets will be willing to offer along with a bigger role on offense.

4. If the Jets lose Braylon Edwards, I am not against giving Randy Moss or Plaxico Burress a shot (no pun intended). Chad Ochocinco or Steve Smith is going to command too much money, yet the Jets should be able to get Moss or Burress on a cheap, short-term deal. The recent talk makes Moss sound like more of a possibility and I might be crazy but I think he could be productive for the Jets on the outside, especially with the attention Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, and Jerricho Cotchery need to receive in the slot.

5. In the less likely case that Edwards returns and Santonio Holmes leaves. I think the team should focus on signing Green Bay’s James Jones. Edwards is going to cost less money than Holmes so if he leaves, the Jets would have more money to invest in a longer contract to a younger player with more upside, like Jones.

6. Outside of Croamrtie in the secondary, I think the Jets will focus on getting Brodney Pool back to start at safety and then work towards getting either Eric Smith or James Ihedigbo back as a reserve. Drew Coleman is very up in the air. It depends on how they decide to handle Cromartie.

One-Third Of The Game: Jets Special Teams In 2011

I realized today that Mike Westhoff would probably curse TOJ out for the lack of time we have spent on the Jets special teams in the previous few months. Beyond that, I saw that Jets punter Steve Weatherford got an endorsement deal with 2XU compression apparel. That is right, this team’s punter even has enough swag to get an endorsement deal (could also be his career 16 yards per carry or shake weight enthusiasm from Hard Knocks). Anyway, let’s get on to that too often neglected third of the game —

Right now, both the Jets punter and kicker from last year are free agents. The Jets didn’t extend a tender to Steve Weatherford and haven’t come up with a new deal for Nick Folk either. UFL special teams MVP Nick Novak was signed this off-season, along with punter TJ Conley who has been in camp with the Jets the past two years. As of now, I’d say it is a safe bet that the Jets will find a way to bring back both Weatherford and Folk, and have them compete with Conley and Novak in the summer.

Weatherford was very good last year, especially at pinning teams inside the 20. Despite a shaky post-season, the coaching staff seems comfortable with him. In 2010, he provided stability to very unstable position the past few years for the Jets. Nick Folk was up and down throughout the season and should be given a good run by Novak in the summer.

On their coverage units, the Jets didn’t extend a tender to linebacker Lance Laury who was a core special teams player in 2010 but was a bit of a disappointment. It is likely he won’t be back, with somebody like Josh Mauga taking over the bulk of his reps. Many of the Jets other key special teams players are free agents including Brad Smith, Eric Smith, James Ihedigbo, Drew Coleman, and Robert Turner, so many of their units could have a very different look in 2011.

The kick return job should be wide open if Brad Smith doesn’t return. Joe McKnight, Kyle Wilson, Antonio Cromartie (if he his back) will get the first crack at taking over. On punt return, rookie Jeremy Kerley will probably be mixed in with Jerricho Cotchery and maybe Wilson.

Regardless of who is manning the Jets coverage and return units, they should be productive again under the guidance of Westhoff, who remains arguably the best (and most entertaining) special teams coach in the NFL.

12 Pack Of Jets Off-Season Thoughts – Edition #13

Our last pre-draft edition of the 12 pack, which keeps chugging along, lockout or no lockout. Read on for thoughts on the Jets draft plans, schedule, a few other random observations, and plenty more. Get your weekend started off right with the TOJ 12 pack —

1. The more I think about Mike Tannenbaum’s unnecessary praise of Marcus Dixon, the more think there is no way Shaun Ellis is coming back next year. If that is the case, the Jets better draft two defensive lineman next week because they will be beyond thin at the position, especially if Trevor Pryce decides to stay retired. Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha are steady, solid players but the Jets badly need an infusion of youth and pass rush ability from their down lineman.

2. I think the best case for the Jets at #30 is Muhammad Wilkerson falling to them. Out of all the players who might be available, he has the best chance to be an absolute force on Rex Ryan’s defense. Phil Taylor is a good fallback option but the latest reports about a chronic condition in his food are concerning. I am thinking Cameron Heyward is a safer bet for the defensive line if Wilkerson is off the board at #30.

3. I doubt Jimmy Smith’s character concerns are high enough to merit him falling anywhere near #30 but if he does, you know Rex Ryan is going to be pushing hard for him. Smith has top 10-15 talent and pairing him with Darrelle Revis would make parting with Antonio Cromartie easier to digest, so the Jets can turn their financial focus to the offensive side of the football where Tannenbaum will somehow try to get both Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards back.

4. I am still not sure why the NFL decided to put Jets vs. Giants on Christmas Eve, instead of the season opener on 9/11. I am also not sure if it is worth worrying about the NFL schedule at this point, considering we could be missing a chunk of games…a thought which is so infuriating that I need to stop writing this paragraph before I start hurling expletives.

5. Considering how up in the air the Jets wide receiver position currently is, I’d be shocked if they didn’t spend one of their middle round picks on one. I don’t think Brad Smith will be back. Santonio Holmes status is suddenly more up in the air than expected and Braylon Edwards won’t be easy to bring back either.

6. The NFL can spin it however they want but the draft has lost some of it’s buzz because of the lockout. Maybe it is because we know we are headed back into the off-season silence after next weekend passes but summer is starting to inch closer and it appears the two sides remain as far apart as ever.

7. The Jets badly to improve their overall depth at the linebacker position. Right now their top backups are Jamaal Westerman, Josh Mauga, and Lance Laury. They have been fortunate on the whole with injuries the past few years, but they are leaving themselves perilously thin if something happens to one of their starters.

8. The Jets schedule is certainly no cakewalk but I am not sure if it as hard as some people are making it out to be. There is no reason they shouldn’t be able to start 3-0, which gives them a cushion to work with during the middle part of the schedule. The only gripe I have is flying them across the country for a Thursday night game in Denver after playing a Sunday night game against New England. Who knows if Renaldo Hill will be able to help us out again this time?

9. I am really thinking there is a very good chance the Jets will trade down, which will make for many unhappy fans in attendance Thursday night but if nobody is jumping off the board at 30, it is the right move.

10. I doubt the New York Knicks can come back and win their series, especially with how banged up Amare Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups are. However, I expect them to take game three tonight because of the environment at Madison Square Garden and because of how Carmelo Anthony played in game two.

11. How I think the rest of the NBA first round will play out — Bulls and Heat will finish off their sweeps. The Hawks edge out the Magic in seven. The Grizzlies shock the Spurs in seven. Lakers win in a tough six. Blazers come back to win in seven and Thunder take it in five.

12. Weekend video clips, draft edition —

Brad Smith: Odd Man Out?

Not surprisingly, Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes have been dominating the free agency discussion surrounding the New York Jets this off-season. Mike Tannenbaum will have his hands full attempting to bring back both his receivers. However, the Jets have a third free agent wide receiver, who is appearing less and less likely to return, Brad Smith.

Smith doesn’t have the numbers or name recognition of players like Edwards, Holmes, or Antonio Cromartie, yet was still one of the most valuable members of the team last season. Despite not fitting into a conventional position, Smith racked up 299 rushing yards out of the Jets “Tiger” formation, returned two kicks for touchdowns, threw a touchdown, and had 44 receiving yards.

Most people are assuming his production as a returner will decline because of the new kickoff rules and while he is valuable on offense, is he worth Josh Cribbs type money, especially with Holmes and Edwards vying for big paydays?

The short answer is no. If the Jets can get Smith back on a relatively cap friendly deal after Holmes or Edwards walks, than more power to Mike Tannenabaum but the Jets can’t break the bank for a player like Smith with all their other free agents this off-season.

Smith basically functions as the team’s number three running back, even though his carries come mostly on direct snaps. Hopefully, Joe McKnight can develop into a big enough part of the offense to give them the 299 rushing yards, Smith had last season. In terms of the direct snaps, the Jets can work their other running backs into their version of the Wildcat. No, they aren’t the same threat to throw that Smith was but let’s be honest here, Smith completed 2 passes for 6 yards in 2010. The Jets can compensate for that.

As Mark Sanchez continues to develop and the Jets open up their passing attack more, there is going to be less of a need for gimmick plays on offense that put him on the side-line.

Brad Smith is a nice player but the Jets should be able to fill the void left by him this off-season if they can’t work out a new contract for him.

12 Pack Of Jets Off-Season Thoughts – Edition #12

 weekly 12 pack is back, with no specific theme…just a bunch of random thoughts, links, and videos…enjoy it, you jabronis

1. If you aren’t excited about the NBA Playoffs, you should be. I can’t think of a better way to get through your NFL Lockout frustation then by enjoying the next couple of months of basketball. Yes, the draft will be fun but we have the 30th overall pick in the first round and no second round pick. Am I excited about improving our defensive line depth? Absolutely, but the only downfall of being a consistently very good team is that you don’t have much draft day drama.

2. How much does the lockout suck by the way? Do you know at this time last year, the Jets had already signed LaDainian Tomlinson, Brodney Pool, traded Kerry Rhodes, released Thomas Jones, signed Nick Folk, and traded for Antonio Cromartie?

3. If I had to guess today, the Jets will take Phil Taylor in the first round, draft a safety in third round, and in rounds 4 through 7, add a corner, receiver, offensive lineman, and outside linebacker

4. Get excited for New York City playoff basketball returning

5. If I was Braylon Edwards publicist, I certainly wouldn’t want him calling his DUI “BS” …doesn’t exactly sound like he learned much from the incident. Regardless, he does sound much more interested in returning to the team than Santonio Holmes does. When the new CBA is finalized, I am fascinated to see how Mike Tannenbaum approaches re-signing these two, never mind Antonio Cromartie and Brad Smith.

6. Interesting that the Jets decided to work out TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, who some people think could sneak into the first round. Clearly the Jets front office is trying to create more interest in acquiring their 30th overall pick, although I don’t know who is going to buy it. Again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Jets trade down, which will be sure to piss off all those Jets fans who attend the Draft on Thursday night.

7. Over the past two days, I have written pieces on three of the Jets four draft picks last year, Vladimir Ducasse, Joe McKnight, and Kyle Wilson. It is essential to the Jets 2011 success that these players begin to reach the potential the team drafted them for. Ducasse needs to develop into the starting right tackle, McKnight needs to become a contributor on offense and special teams as a returner, and Wilson needs to rise up to the challenge of being a starting corner if Antonio Cromartie doesn’t come back.

8. Sounds like all that Randy Moss talk was just a smokescreen to piss off Santonio Holmes…I wonder if Bart Scott talking about how the Jets would welcome Chad Ochocino was to…

9. Did I tell you how excited I was for Knicks playoff basketball?

10. Follow TOJ’s ongoing draft preview at SB Nation…

11. Very interested to see how New England handles their 120 draft picks this year, their defense, offensive line, and receiving core could all use a boost. I also wonder if Miami will officially throw in the towel on Chad Henne by drafting Ryan Mallett.

12. Enjoy your weekend…go New York, go New York, go…

Reviewing Mike Tannenbaum’s Draft Picks

Most New York Jets fans are appropriately big supporters of General Manager Mike Tannenbaum, his aggressive nature has kept off-seasons entertaining and helped shape the Jets into one of the league’s best teams. With the NFL Draft rapidly approaching, let’s take a look at every selection Tannenbaum has made since taking over as GM in 2006 —

2006

  • Round 1, Pick 4 – D’Brickashaw Ferguson
  • Round 1, Pick 29 – Nick Mangold
  • Round 2, Pick 49 – Kellen Clemens
  • Round 3, Pick 76 – Anthony Schlegel
  • Round 3, Pick 97 – Eric Smith
  • Round 4, Pick 103 – Brad Smith
  • Round 4, Pick 117 – Leon Washington
  • Round 5, Pick 150 – Jason Pociask
  • Round 6, Pick 189 – Drew Coleman
  • Round 7, Pick 220 – Titus Adams

This was one hell of a draft for Tannenbaum to start his career with. It was a bold move to take two offensive lineman in the first round for a first-time GM, especially deciding to pass on quarterback Matt Leinart, who would have been an extremely popular (but in hindsight an extremely stupid) selection. Ferguson and Mangold have developed into the foundation of the Jets offensive line and are both Pro-Bowl caliber players.

Yes, Kellen Clemens never panned out and the highlight of Anthony Schlegel’s career was muffing an onside kick, but he compensated for it by getting Eric Smith, Brad Smith, Leon Washington, and Drew Coleman in later rounds, who all turned into major contributors on playoff teams.

2007

  • Round 1, Pick 14 – Darrelle Revis
  • Round 2, Pick 47 – David Harris
  • Round 6, Pick 177 – Jacob Bender
  • Round 7, Pick 235 – Chansi Stuckey

Another terrific draft for Tannenbaum who traded up to get Darrelle Revis, who is now the consensus best corner in football and David Harris who is a Pro-Bowl caliber inside linebacker. Bender never amounted to anything but Stuckey turned into a quality player who was an important part of the Braylon Edwards trade.

2008

  • Round 1, Pick 6 – Vernon Gholston
  • Round 1, Pick 30 – Dustin Keller
  • Round 4, Pick 113 – Dwight Lowery
  • Round 5, Pick 162 – Erik Ainge
  • Round 6, Pick 171 – Marcus Henry
  • Round 7, Pick 211 – Nate Garner

Without question Tannenbaum’s worst draft and probably worst overall few days as the Jets GM. Gholston was a complete bust, Ainge had serious drug problems and was suspended multiple times, Henry and Garner never played a regular season snap for the team. Dustin Keller has obviously been an important part of the offense and Lowery has been a serviceable role player but the Gholston pick hurts.

2009

  • Round 1, Pick 5 – Mark Sanchez
  • Round 3, Pick 65 – Shonn Greene
  • Round 6, Pick 193 – Matt Slauson

Two more trade ups that have paid early dividends for the Jets. Say what you want about Mark Sanchez, he certainly has looked the part of the franchise quarterback the Jets drafted him to be by winning four road playoff games in his first two years. Greene was a disappointment in year two but his terrific playoff stretch in his rookie year helped carry the Jets to the AFC Championship Game. Matt Slauson is now the starting left guard and was steady in that role last year.

2010

  • Round 1, Pick 29 – Kyle Wilson
  • Round 2, Pick 61 – Vladimir Ducasse
  • Round 4, Pick 112 – Joe McKnight
  • Round 5, Pick 139 – John Conner

The jury is still very much out on this draft class but the early returns weren’t very good. Wilson struggled heavily his rookie year and barely contributed. Ducasse was beat out by Matt Slauson for the left guard spot and will now compete to be the starting right tackle. McKnight showed up to camp out of shape and didn’t give any meaningful reps all season. Conner showed potential and will be the starting fullback this season.

Turn On The Jets 2010/2011 Report Card – Brad Smith

Today we continue our series of evaluating how each player on the Jets performed this past season, along with looking forward to what their role on the team will be next year…up today, Mr. Do everything, Brad Smith

Stat Line – 38 carries, 299 yards, 1 rushing touchdown, 1 passing touchdown, 7 receptions, 44 yards, 28.6 per kick return, 2 touchdowns.

Playoff Stat Line – 2 receptions, 25 yards, 2 carries, 11 yards

Best Moment – I couldn’t choose between his two kick returns for a touchdown this season. The one against Pittsburgh to start the game was a huge play that helped the Jets end an ugly two game losing streak, but how could you ignore the shoeless touchdown? Run them both back…

Best Game – Smith scored a pair of touchdowns in the Jets Thanksgiving night victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, including the above kick return and one on a 53 yard reverse.

Overall Evaluation – Smith continued to further his reputation as one of the most versatile players in the NFL, providing the Jets a valuable weapon on both offense and special teams. He routinely provided big plays out of their “Tiger” formation and has turned into one of the best kick returners in the league. The only disappointing aspect of Smith’s game is how he has never really developed as a wide receiver. (A-)

Future – Smith is a restricted free agent in this hazy off-season. The Jets placed a second round tender on him. If the rules stay similar to what they were previously, I have a hard time seeing the Jets matching an offer if somebody wants to give him Josh Cribbs type money. However, if the Jets can get him back at a reasonable price I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return.

Antonio Cromartie Not Coming Back in 2011?

Mike Lombardi of the NFL Network reported last night the New York Jets are planning to not resign cornerback Antonio Cromartie and will instead focus on bringing back both Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. This report hasn’t been contradicted strongly by any of the beat writers, with ESPN’s Rich Cimini saying by reading the “tea leaves” of Mike Tannenbaum’s end of the year press conference, it makes sense. Manish Mehta of the Daily News said a decision hasn’t been reached yet/ Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post wrote today Cromartie returning is still an option but the Jets will focus on getting their three wide receivers back first.

Personally, I would think Santonio Holmes would be the top priority now after taking care of David Harris with the franchise tag. After him, Cromartie should be the next priority and I still have a hard time believing the Jets are going to focus on Braylon Edwards or Brad Smith before him.

Why?

Nobody is saying Braylon Edwards wasn’t very good for the Jets last year and that Smith isn’t a valuable weapon. However, it isn’t a question of those players. It is a question of who is going to have an increased role if they leave via free agency.

The Jets can survive on offense without Edwards and Smith. Jerricho Cotchery is capable of being a starting receiver and Dustin Keller can be very productive with an enhanced role, as we saw last year before Santonio Holmes returned from suspension. Smith is a nice gadget player, who the Jets should still be able to bring back with Cromartie if Edwards leaves but either way their offense can survive without him and yes, so could their special teams.

If Cromartie leaves, are the Jets really prepared to hand the starting cornerback job to Kyle Wilson? Did he do anything last year to make you believe he can handle that role? Rex Ryan has consistently and profusely expressed his love for cornerbacks and considering the Jets aggressive man to man scheme, I can’t see them putting Wilson and Drew Coleman opposite Darrelle Revis and hoping for the best.

The decision to bring Edwards and Smith back before worrying about Cromartie or potentially letting him walk would signal a shift in the Jets philosophy. It would indicate they are embracing a more offensive approach and that they are going to rely more on their passing attack in 2011. If you are going to spend that type of money at receiver, it means you are expecting Mark Sanchez to be able to lead a more wide open, aggressive offense. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing because look at the last two Super Bowl champions and how they won. However, the Jets defense is going to suffer. They still lack a pass rush to compensate for weaknesses at the number two and three corner spot.

I will believe a Rex Ryan led team bringing back three receivers before one cornerback, when I see it.