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.

5 Questions the Jets Defense Must Answer in 2009

First a few things:

1. Congratulations to Erik Boland of Newsday who recently got moved over to the Yankees beat. Boland ran a great Jets blog “E-Boland & Gang Green,” which was always a daily stop for me and countless other Jets fans to read up on the team. He also took the time to reach out and complement my work over at MVN, which was much appreciated. Good luck with the Yankees, Erik.

2. Brett Favre and Brad Childress are meeting to discuss Favre’s potential comeback to football, this time for the Vikings. Honestly, I am so sick of Favre, reading about him, talking about him, and basically everything about him. Have fun with him Minnesota and yes I will be rooting my ass off against him this year. The guy never wanted to be on the Jets and killed our playoff run last year. He has an obsession with Minnesota to have the chance to play against the Packers, well it looks like he is finally going to get his wish. I hope he goes 10/26 with 4 INTs in Lambeau this year, stay retired Brett and learn how to tell truth for once in your life.

3. A quick run-down of the Jets with different numbers this year – Erik Ainge (#10), David Clowney (#87), Mark Sanchez (#6), Marques Douglas (#71), Vernon Gholston (#50), Howard Green (#95), Larry Izzo (#53), Jim Leonhard (#36), Dwight Lowery (#21), Lito Sheppard (#26), Donald Stickland (#34).

4. Some belated second round NBA Playoffs picks: Magic in 7, Cavs in 5, Lakers in 7, and Denver in 6. Also while we are talking about other sports, am I the only one who hates the new Yankees Stadium and are we ever going to beat Boston this year?

5 Questions the Jets Defense Must Answer in 2009

Yesterday I talked about how good the Jets defense has the potential to be in 2009. However, there are a number of variables or questions that need to be answered which will determine how productive the unit will actually be this year. Here is a look at the five most pressing questions the defense has to answer in 2009:

1. Can Kris Jenkins Stay Healthy? – It all starts up front. If the Jets want to stop the run they need a healthy Kris Jenkins plugging up the middle and keeping blockers off Bart Scott and David Harris. Jenkins faded down the stretch last year with hip problems. The Jets must find a way to rest him during early parts of the season, which means players like Sione Pouha and Howard Green (pictured above) need to step up. Pouha didn’t do much last year and Green has never been more than a role player, but for Jenkins to be fresh in the fourth quarter of both games and the season, the two of them need to improve.

2. Are Marques Douglas/Mike DeVito NFL Starters? – Douglas was signed to provide depth and DeVito (pictured above) has made a minimal impact in the NFL during his three years. Yet, with Kenyon Coleman being traded to the Browns in the Mark Sanchez deal, one of these two will be asked to start at defensive end, with other receiving extended time off the bench. Apparently, Rex Ryan thinks DeVito can be a strong pass rusher in his system but it remains to be seen, since he currently has 0.5 career sacks. Douglas is good against the run and has been a productive role player throughout his career but he has never been asked to be a full time player.

 

3. Can Lito Sheppard Stay Healthy and Reclaim his Pro-Bowl Form? – Sheppard has battled injuries the past few years and lost his starting job to Asante Samuel in Philly last season. Yet, he is only a few years removed from being a pro-bowler and a guy who was considered one of the elite corners in the NFL. At his best, Sheppard can match up with the NFL’s top receivers. He won’t be asked to do that for the Jets because we have Darrelle Revis, but the defense needs him to stay healthy, face a ton of balls thrown his way as teams avoid Revis, and provide some stability to the #2 corner spot. Donald Strickland and Dwight Lowery are better suited to be nickel-backs or back-ups than full time players and the Jets could be in trouble if they are asked to be full time players because Sheppard is hurt.

4. Can Vernon Gholston Reach his Potential? – Vernon Gholston did nothing for the Jets last year despite being the #6 overall pick in the draft. One of Rex Ryan’s biggest tasks is going to be pushing Gholston to reach his potential. Gholston has the talent to be a Terrell Suggs type player, but at this point the Jets would be happy if he could just lock down a starting outside linebacker spot and provide a consistent pass rush. The Jets defense could go from good to great if Gholston develops into the double-digit sack guy the Jets drafted him to be.

5. Depth? – The Jets need somebody to step up as their number four safety and number five corner. I am holding out hope Ryan’s scheme will help Ahmad Carroll reach his first round potential, as either a corner or safety. Drew Coleman was an Eric Mangini guy and probably won’t make it through camp. James Ihedigbo is only known for a holding penalty that negated a Leon Washington kick return touchdown last year. At linebacker, there is high hopes for undrafted free agent Jamaal Westerman who looked great in the Jets rookie mini-camp. Marques Murrell, Jason Trunsick, and Kenwin Cummings will battle it out for the key back up spots at both inside and outside linebacker. On the defensive line, the Jets better sign a veteran or pray one of their UDFAs is ready to contribute this year.

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.