TOJ 12 Pack: Under The Radar New York Jets

TOJ with a look at 12 critical players to the New York Jets upcoming season who aren’t receiving much press

A quick hitting 12 pack for your Friday afternoon, focusing on twelve New York Jets who will be critical to the team’s success in 2012 but aren’t receiving the same media adoration of Tim Tebow or media scorn of Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes.

1. Muhammad Wilkerson – Last year’s first round pick, who had a good not great rookie season. Wilkerson is steady against the run and showed flashes of being able to get after the passer. If he takes advantage of his first full off-season, the Jets pass rush will receive a needed boost in 2012.

2. Joe McKnight – A player who could be a huge factor on offense if used properly. We saw Reggie Bush flourish last year in Miami under Tony Sparano and McKnight has a similar skill set. He could also take advantage of the Jets using the Wildcat with Tim Tebow by having the speed to make plays on the edge of the defense.

3. Jeremy Kerley – Should be given the opportunity to flourish as the team’s slot receiver. Kerley has excellent quickness and began to come on strong at the end of his rookie season.

4. Austin Howard – Who? A guy who could be given the opportunity to become the starting right tackle if Wayne Hunter and Vladimir Ducasse play like they did last season.

5. Bilal Powell – If the Jets are going to be as run heavy as they indicate, there should be a role for Powell. The Jets spent a 4th round pick on him last season, so they might as well give him a chance. He didn’t look impressive at all when given a chance last season but maybe with a full off-season under his belt he could improve.

6. Josh Mauga – Even if Bart Scott hangs on to the starting inside linebacker job, Mauga will likely see time on passing downs. The Jets need to find a long term answer opposite David Harris. Can Mauga give any indications this year that he could be that guy?

7. Kenrick Ellis – He basically had a red shirt rookie season, if he can’t become a part of the regular defensive line rotation in 2012, it is certainly going to look like he was a wasted third round pick.

8. John Conner – You don’t hear much about The Terminator these days. It would be nice to see him become a consistent short yardage threat and a more reliable receiver out of the backfield.

9. Ellis Lankster – Somebody has to fill Marquice Cole’s role on all the special teams.

10. Jeff Cumberland – Showed flashes of being a valuable weapon in the passing game last year. Problem is, how many pass catching tight ends does Tony Sparano have use for?

11. Caleb Schlauderaff – If Matt Slauson isn’t ready for the season because of off-season surgery, Schlauderaff would step in as the starter.

12. Kyle Wilson – His role should continue to grow on Rex Ryan’s defense. Could we see him line up at free safety in a few looks?

Young Pups Could Lead To Big Second Half For New York Jets Defense

TOJ on the development of the younger players on the New York Jets defense and how it could lead to a second half improvement

The New York Jets defense has problems and shortcomings, as any unit in the NFL does. However, thanks to Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine’s ability to gameplan on a weekly basis they can still come up with big time performances, which will allow the Jets to remain a playoff contender throughout the rest of the year.

One of the other reasons for optimism with the Jets defense in their final nine games is the development of their young players.

Let’s start with the defensive line, which has quickly been rebuilt for the long haul. First round draft pick Muhammad Wilkerson has put together a strong start to the year, particularly with his showings against Jacksonville, Baltimore, and San Diego. Third round pick Kenrick Ellis has shown potential in his limited role and should get more reps as the season moves on. Beyond that both Ropati Pitoitua and Marcus Dixon are quality rotational players to support Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito, who should still have their best years in front of them.

At linebacker, the Jets are sorely lacking speed. Josh Mauga and Jamaal Westerman are platooning as replacements for Bryan Thomas at outside linebacker and both have taken their lumps. Yet, Westerman has shown some of the pass rush ability the coaching staff has talked up with 2.5 sacks and Mauga should get better as the season progresses. Beyond that, Aaron Maybin has been a revelation with 3 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in only four games with very limited reps. His role will continue grow and he just may be the double digit sack guy the Jets have been looking for.

In the secondary, outside of Darrelle Revis putting together another monster season the most encouraging thing has been the growth of Kyle Wilson. The Jets 2010 first round pick is substantially improved in his second year and is turning into a very good nickel back, which is a key spot in Ryan’s defense.

In the long term, the Jets will need more young talent, particularly at safety and linebacker. However, they do have enough this year to make that run Rex Ryan talked about in his most recent press conference.

Initial Reaction: Brutal Beatdown – Jets Roll 32-3

They won’t use this game film to teach offensive football, especially on the Jacksonville side but the Jets beat up on a severely inferior Jaguars team today, winning 32-3. The primary story of the day was quarterback Luke McCown’s general awfulness, along with the domination from the Jets defense, who recorded four interceptions, a safety, and two sacks. Antonio Cromartie had a hell of a bounce-back performance with two interceptions and two big kick returns. Muhammad Wilkerson recorded the safety on his first ever NFL sack.

You never felt for a second that Jacksonville had a chance in this game, despite the Jets offense being frustratingly inconsistent. After a brilliant first drive that ended in a Santonio Holmes touchdown, Mark Sanchez struggled throwing two interceptions. He did put together a nice second half drive ending in a Dustin Keller touchdown, as the Jets tight end finished with 101 yards receiving. However, you would like to see better than 17/24, 182 yards, with the 2 interceptions.

The main negative story out of this game was the Jets offensive line. Nick Mangold left in the first half with what is currently being reported as a high ankle sprain. He is expected to miss at least a few weeks. Undrafted rookie Colin Baxter came off the bench and struggled as anyone would expect him to. What was even more disconcerting, was how bad Wayne Hunter was for the second straight week. The running stats weren’t pretty again. Shonn Greene finished with 16 carries for 49 yards with a touchdown.

The Jets will now gear up for a rough three game road trip, starting in Oakland this week. Let’s hope for a speedy recovery from Nick Mangold and that the Jets front office still has Damien Woody’s number.

Jets vs. Jaguars: Game Breakdown

Offense: For the second week in a row the Jets are facing a defense that will be more susceptible to the pass than the run. Jacksonville is solid up front and won’t be easy to run the football on. However, that doesn’t mean the Jets need to be dropping Mark Sanchez back 44 times in this game. You would like to see them try to establish some type of balance and get Shonn Greene rolling with some type of confidence. The Jets are going to have favorable match-ups in the passing game that will be there to exploit, but being able to create the threat of the run will only open that up more.

Sanchez needs to do a better job of protecting the football this week and getting the offense off to a quick start. He can contribute to that by getting Plaxico Burress and Dustin Keller involved early.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joe McKnight get a few reps on offense this week, along with Jeremy Kerley maybe getting a longer look. The Jets are going to show the Wildcat at some point and using Kerley and McKnight in the backfield together could be a good way to break through against the Jaguars tough front seven.

Also keep an eye out for former Jets defensive backs Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman, who both have quickly picked up large roles on the Jacksonville defense. Coleman had a sack last week and Lowery recorded an interception.

Defense: Jacksonville is lacking on major offensive threats in a big way. Maurice Jones-Drew is a beast but if the Jets can contain him, which they are equipped to do, Jacksonville doesn’t have many options to turn to. Mercedes Lewis is a very good tight end who would have the ability to gash a Jets defense that struggles to stop his position but he isn’t expected to play on Sunday. Their top two receivers, Mike Thomas and Jason Hill, shouldn’t be able to get free on Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. Yet, let’s hope Cromartie is motivated to return with a strong game after a weak opening performance.

The Jets took the time to look at multiple pass rushers on the free agent market this week, including Tully Banta-Cain. It Is time for Jamaal Westerman to break through and make a statement if he wants to be a major part of this defense moving forward. I would also like to see Muhammad Wilkerson come up with an impact play or two. Jacksonville will be running right into the teeth of the Jets defense early and often, so Wilkerson should be able to fill up the stat sheet a little bit.

Luke McCown is going to be asked to manage the game and not make any turnovers. If the Jets can establish an early lead, they should tee off on McCown who is lacking in experience. I simply can’t see him being able to find open receivers down the field with a myriad of Jets blitzes coming at him.

Special Teams: It was hard not to be very impressed with both Nick Folk and TJ Conley last week. Let’s hope they can keep it up and maintain some degree of consistency. Mike Westhoff said this week Antonio Cromartie is going to handle the majority of kick return duties, with Joe McKnight occasionally spelling him. Cromartie has the natural ability to be one of the league’s best returners but he needs to refrain from trying those 109 yard returns. Jeremy Kerley will continue to handle punt return duties and did a nice job fielding the ball last week.

Five New York Jets In Need Of A Big Game

In some situations it isn’t a big deal for a player to have a quiet pre-season but for the following players, it is time to put together a big performance to assert themselves as key parts of the team in 2011 –

5. Scotty McKnight – He is looking more and more like a practice squad player. The bottom line is that Patrick Turner offers more as a receiver and Logan Payne offers more on special teams. McKnight is going to need a big night on both offense and specials the next two pre-season games to have a chance at making the final roster.

4. Vladimir Ducasse – He is another poor performance away from the Jets signing a veteran offensive lineman and burying him on the depth chart. The 6th lineman on the Jets roster gets a decent amount of action as an extra tight end or tackle in certain running packages. Saturday is the time for Ducasse to show the coaching staff he can at least handle being the top backup for now.

3. Muhammad Wilkerson – The Jets first round pick has put together a solid overall camp. Yet, heading into the year as a full time starter it would be good for his confidence to come up with a tackle for a loss, a sack, or even just a couple of quarterback pressures. The more confident he goes into the season, the better, because he will be playing major reps right from the get go.

2. Shonn Greene – Despite looking good in his only pre-season game so far against the Texans, Greene could use a quality 8-12 carries with a good average behind his starting offensive line to head into the season with the proper momentum. There is no reason he can’t be a 1,200 yard back in this offense.

1. Jamaal Westerman – Rex Ryan called him his “designated pass rusher” early in training camp. Yet, how does a designated pass rusher in a Ryan defense not get near the quarterback in two straight pre-season games? I do think Westerman has the potential to be a big factor on this defense but he needs to come up with a play or two Saturday afternoon. If Aaron Maybin makes an impact against the Giants, he could begin pushing Westerman for reps.

What We Need To See From New York Jets Starters On Saturday

The New York Jets starters are going to play into the third quarter this Saturday night against the Giants. Considering that this will be their last major tune-up before the regular season opener against the Dallas Cowboys, what are a few things we should to hope to see from the starters and top reserves?

Offensively, the consistency needs to improve, particularly in the red-zone and on third downs. Mark Sanchez has looked very good this pre-season but I’d like to see him be more accurate on third down situations and also take a few more shots down the field. Shonn Greene missed last week, so it is important for him to get 8-12 carries and put a solid performance under his belt. This is also the first time the entire starting offensive line will play together, so even though they are experienced , they will need to work out any kinks since they won’t see any kind of extended action again before the opener.

On defense, the pass rush still needs to kick into gear. Muhammad Wilkerson, Calvin Pace, and Jamaal Westerman in particular need to get after Eli Manning. In the secondary, Kyle Wilson needs to be able to handle either Domenick Hixon or Victor Cruz in the slot, while Darrelle Revis should get a good test against Hakeem Nicks. Bart Scott will be back on the field after missing last week and I can already see him and Brandon Jacobs yapping at each other.

On special teams, it will be interesting to see if one of the kickers can finally pull ahead. It has been a back and forth battle so far between Nick Folk and Nick Novak. It looks like TJ Conley will probably end up being the punter and Jeremy Kerley will be the primary kick and punt returner.

Most importantly, the Jets need to leave this game healthy. All you have to do is look at how banged up the Giants have gotten this pre-season to be grateful that the Jets haven’t suffered any major injuries.

Of course, it would also be nice to see Plaxico Burress score a touchdown and 75,000 Giants fans throwing up simultaneously as he does the Flight Boys celebration in the end-zone…

New York Jets: Pre-Season Week 2 Rookie Report

A week by week look throughout the pre-season at how the New York Jets rookies are performing

Muhammad Wilkerson – (1 tackle) – Another relatively nondescript performance from the Jets first round pick. However, Wilkerson did look a little more comfortable at the point of attack and seems to be holding his own out there. He has looked solid against the run but it would be nice to see break through one of these weeks and get after the quarterback a little.

Kenrick Ellis – (1 tackle, 1 tackle for loss) – Ellis surprisingly didn’t get the start for an injured Sione Pouha, with Martin Tevaseu stepping in instead. Yet, Ellis was still productive during his reps, even though the bulk of them came against the Bengals backups. He certainly has the look of somebody who should be a contributor in the Jets defensive line rotation.

Bilal Powell – (9 carries, 22 yards, 1 reception, 2 yards) – A bit of a let down after an encouraging debut. Joe McKnight took a big step towards locking down the number three running back job by outplaying Powell against the Bengals. Powell had a couple of chances to pound the ball in after Brashton Satele’s interception but couldn’t get in the end-zone.

Jeremy Kerley – (1 reception, 5 yards) – Kerley hasn’t translated a big training camp into a big pre-season yet. He had difficulty handling a punt and only managed 1 reception for 5 yards, despite getting extended work with the first offense. He does still look dangerous in the open field and was a tackle away from breaking a big kick return.

Greg McElroy – (6/9, 52 yards, 1 TD) – McElroy was again impressive as Mark Sanchez’s top backup. Despite lacking big time physical tools, he does play confident and seems to have a good grasp of the offense. He did a nice job executing a play action fake down by the red-zone, which led to a short touchdown pass to Joe McKnight.

Scotty McKnight – Another night without a recorded stat for McKnight, who is starting to look more like a practice squad player. Patrick Turner has looked better at receiver and Logan Payne has more value on special teams, while also getting an occasional rep with the starting offense.

Out of the undrafted free agents, Garret McIntyre and Nick Bellore both recorded two tackles each at linebacker. Receivers Dan DePalma and Mike Campbell didn’t pull in any receptions.

New York Jets: Pre-Season Week 1 Rookie Report

A week by week look throughout the pre-season on how the New York Jets rookies are performing

Muhammad Wilkerson(2 tackles, 1 solo) – Wilkerson’s most notable play of the night was an offsides penalty but it is hard to expect too much on the stat sheet out of a rookie 3-4 defensive end going as a starter in his first action. He generally held his own up front, wasn’t pushed around and did get a decent push of his own on a few plays. Wilkerson certainly looked like he belonged out there and by the time September 11th comes around, he should be ready to be a solid contributor up front.

Kenrick Ellis(2 tackles, 1 solo) – Going against the backups, Ellis was more active around the football than Wilkerson despite having an identical stat sheet. He also batted a pass up in the air, which was intercepted by linebacker Josh Mauga.

Bilal Powell(9 carries 25 yards, 3 receptions 27 yards) – His yards per carry don’t indicate it but Powell showed good burst and vision in his performance, and now with Joe McKnight dealing with a concussion could have a chance to seize the #3 running back job. Powell was particularly impressive catching the ball out of the backfield, and nearly scored on a screen pass from Greg McElroy.

Jeremy Kerley – (3 receptions, 20 yards) – Kerley had such massive expectations coming in after impressing at camp, that any thing short of 150 yards receiving and two touchdowns could feel like a disappointment. Yet, the rookie wide receiver looked good on both offense and special teams as a returner. He is difficult to bring down and has good vision.

Greg McElroy (23/39, 208 yards, 1 touchdown) – McElroy was very impressive his debut last night. He took every rep after Mark Sanchez left, was beat up behind a makeshift offensive line, and rebounded from a shaky start. McElroy clearly lacks arm strength but showed accuracy on the intermediate routes and plenty of toughness. The Jets just may have found their long term backup for Sanchez.

Scotty McKnight – A night without any recorded stats for a rookie wide receiver isn’t a good thing. McKnight didn’t record a reception or make any tackles on special teams. He has an uphill battle to make the team following a strong offensive performance by Patrick Turner and a quality special teams effort from Logan Payne. Undrafted free agent  wide receiver Dan DePalma also had a good showing as a punt returner and on the coverage units.

Out of the undrafted free agents, outside linebacker Garrett McIntyre recorded two sacks and has a decent shot to stick on the final 53 man roster considering the Jets depth chart at linebacker. Tight end Josh Baker flashed very good hands and finished with 3 receptions for 45 yards. Undrafted free agent wide receiver Michael Campbell had a killer drop late in the game, which drew a few expletives out of Rex Ryan.

TOJ Roundtable: Strongest and Weakest Position?

Welcome to the TOJ Roundtable, where a collection of our writers debate a pressing Jets question of the day –

What is the strongest position on the Jets current roster? The weakest?

Joe Caporoso: The strongest position on the Jets roster is cornerback. I would go with offensive line but I am little concerned about Brandon Moore missing so much time this pre-season, while they are breaking in a new full time right tackle in Wayne Hunter. The offensive line is still strong and if Hunter is anywhere near what Damien Woody was the past few years and Matt Slauson continues to improve, this will be their strongest unit. Yet, their corners led by Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, the league’s top starting duo in my mind, takes my vote at the moment. Let’s not forget nickel back Kyle Wilson was a first round pick last year for a reason and veteran Donald Strickland provides excellent depth if Wilson struggles. Marquice Cole has also shown flashes on defense and is more than capable of stepping into the nickel role for a few weeks if necessary.

Backup quarterback is the weakest spot on the Jets roster. If Mark Sanchez misses an extended period of time, you are kidding yourself if you think Mark Brunell is capable of taking over. He hasn’t played a meaningful snap since NFL Quarterback Club was the video game of choice. Greg McElroy is only a rookie and would be in over his head if pressed into immediate action.

TJ Rosenthal: Strongest Position: The offensive line. It contains two All-Pros in D’Brickshaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. The entire unit is intact from the 2010 playoff run. Few teams can boast of that continuity. No unit is as essential to the success of what the Jets want to do offensively as the guys in the trenches are.

Weakest Position: The backup quarterback position. If Mark Sanchez goes down for any extended time, we can’t say that we are comfortable with Mark Brunell, in his 19th season, running the show for any EXTENDED period of time. The backup quarterback should be a capable functional player with some NFL experience, especially given how physical the AFC East may be up front this year with the addition of Marcell Dareus to Buffalo and the new parts of the Patriots defensive line. The Jets are skating on thin ice at the ultimate security position.

Rob Celletti: The strongest position on the Jets’ roster in my opinion is cornerback.  Anchored by one of the best players in the entire league in Darelle Revis, it is an all-around solid unit.  With Antonio Cromartie out to prove something this year, and the ever-improving, aspiring Revis-clone Kyle Wilson at third on the depth chart, it is safe to say the Jets are going to be very difficult to throw on this season, at least to wide receivers.

The weakest position, and really the key to the season, is the defensive line.  The Jets will have a serviceable line under Rex Ryan’s tutelage, no question, but it is a point every fan and journalist has been harping on since the start of training camp: are the Jets relying too heavily on unproven commodities (Mo Wilkerson and Kendrick Ellis) alongside solid role players (DeVito and Pouha) without any real dominant force?  It is hard to call the position “weak”, but it definitely raises the most questions.

TOJ Roundtable: This Year’s Breakout Player?

TOJ Roundtable: where a collection of our writers offer a quick opinion on a pressing Jets question of the day.

Who will be this year’s breakout player on the New York Jets?

Joe Caporoso: I have faith in Rex Ryan finding ways to get after the quarterback so when he names a player his “Designated Pass Rusher” as he did yesterday with Jamaal Westerman, I tend think we could see a major leap in production from him this year. The Jets need Westerman to fill Jason Taylor’s role from last year and hopefully at least give them 5-7 sacks and create a few big plays. I think he steps up and becomes a valuable part of their defense after being a special teams player the past two seasons.

Rob Celletti: I don’t want to jinx him, but I’m going to go ahead and say Muhammad Wilkerson.  After the abject failure that was Vernon Gholston, I think the Jets would be very, very careful about speaking too highly of rookie front-7 players.  Considering the heaps of praise from Rex Ryan as well as the New York media in the first few days of camp, early returns on Wilkerson seem to be very good.  The Jets need to find ways other than all-out blitzes to generate a pass rush, so maybe Wilkerson will be the guy to help them achieve that.

TJ Rosenthal: Joe McKnight. We see him as the a Jamaal Charles type. If a game presents itself where there is ground to gain outside, he may break out and become a serious part of the rotation. Another breakout player, Calvin Pace, It’s time. The Jets have waited since he arrived to take over as a pass rushing threat. Now more than ever, the Jets could use one as the defense inches closer towards completion. Pace CAN have that breakout year, provided that he finally can stay healthy over a full season.

Chris Celletti: Is it possible to be one of the highest paid players in the league at your position and be eligible as a breakout player? Well, for Calvin Pace, it is now or never. He’s never had double digits in sacks in his career, and the only area the Jets are really lacking is consistently pressuring the quarterback. Pace needs to be the one doing so and I think (and hope) he will this year. I think in 2011 he finally reaches the double-digit sack plateau.