Jets Need Big Season From #25

First a few updates:

1. A shorter Saturday post today since news is a little slow until practices pick up again this week and the Thomas Jones/Leon Washington watch can begin. Mark Sanchez should also be feeling a little pressure this week to improve on his first week struggles, and by a little, i mean only a little…it’s just OTAs.

2. How about LeBron last night?

3. A few things to think about when you are wondering why the Jets have issues with depth and may have struggled in recent years, since 2004 they have: traded a first round pick for Doug Jolley, traded a second round pick for Justin McCariens, spent a second round pick on Mike Nugent, and spent a second round pick on Justin Miller…owch.

Jets Need Big Season From #25

Arguably the most important part of Rex Ryan’s defense the past few years in Baltimore has been the Hall of Fame level play of safety Ed Reed. Reed is a one of a kind player and it isn’t fair to expect anybody on the Jets to match his level of play, but the Jets do have one of the highest paid safeties in the league who Ryan has expressed a desire to turn into “a New York version of #20 (Reed).” Kerry Rhodes had a monster year in 2006, followed by another strong season in 2007, prompting the Jets to give him a huge contract since he appeared to be on the path of being a perennial pro-bowler. Yet, last season was a disappointing one for Rhodes, who struggled to make an impact in Eric Mangini’s increasingly conservative system.

It is hard to assign too much blame to Mangini because he was in charge of the team in 2006, which was Rhodes’ break out year. Bob Sutton was also the defensive coordinator for the past three years, so if you want to blame those two coaches for Rhodes struggles in 2008, they deserve at least some credit for his success in 2006-2007.

During the 2006 season, Rhodes was robbed of pro-bowl and all-pro recognition. He finished the season with 98 tackles, 13 passes defensed, 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions for the 10-6 playoff-bound Jets. Rhodes was constantly making game changing plays, especially in the opposing team’s backfield. In 2007, Rhodes dropped off slightly but still had a productive season. He finished with 67 tackles, 10 passes defensed, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 touchdown, and 5 interceptions. The decline in his production didn’t really get noticed since the Jets tanked to a 4-12 record, thanks mostly to a weak offensive line and inconsistent quarterback play.

In 2008, Rhodes level of play decreased even further. He did jump up to 84 tackles but only had 5 passes defensed, 1 sack, 0 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. Many people believed Eric Mangini/Bob Sutton weren’t being aggressive enough with him, but regardless some of the blame must still fall on Rhodes for having a such a major drop off in production the past two years from his 2006 season.

The Jets signed Jim Leonhard from Baltimore to give Rhodes a partner at safety who is comfortable with Rex Ryan’s system and who excelled at playing alongside Ed Reed last year. Ryan is going to let Rhodes be aggressive and be in a position to make plays, similar to Reed. Nobody expects Rhodes to match Reed’s overall production but if he can get somewhat near his 2006 numbers, the Jets defense is going to be that much better.

Can Jerricho Cotchery Be a #1 Receiver?

First a few updates:

1. Kerry Rhodes made the media rounds today, appearing on ESPN Radio and First Take. He spent most of the time talking about the hard time everybody is giving Mark Sanchez over his GQ photo shoot. Rhodes also said the Jets “will go as far as their defense takes them” and that their defense is currently ahead of their offense (I’m sure Brian Schottenheimer was thrilled to hear that).

2. There are no updates on the Thomas Jones/Leon Washington contract disputes. You would hope that both players will be at practice by next Thursday, which is the next time the media has availibility for an OTA practice.

3. Some more numbers out of yesterday’s practice: Sanchez was 1-9 during 11 on 11 drills…yikes. Kellen Clemens was 5-13 but victimized by a few drops.

4. Pro Football Talk recently did an over/under for Jets wins this season and set their line at 7…fair enough without a proven quarterback. Tim Graham of ESPN.com also ranked the Jets wide receivers, as the worst group in the AFC East, which is hard to argue with although I may put them in front of Miami.

Can Jerricho Cotchery Be a #1 Receiver?

For the first time in his career, Jerricho Cotchery will be asked to be the Jets unquestioned go-to wide receiver. Since 2006, he has been in a 1-A/1-B type role with Laveranues Coles but with Coles now in Cincinnati and no replacement brought in via the draft or free agency, Cotchery is the Jets #1. Can he handle the increased responsibility and attention that comes with being a #1? The Jets are counting on Cotchery to take the next step as a player, and move beyond his production from the previous three years.

In 2006, Cotchery had a breakout year with 82 catches for 961 yards and 6 touchdowns. He displayed an impressive ability to run after the catch and made numerous clutch receptions, especially in the red-zone. In 2007, most people believed he would surpass Coles as the Jets clear number one receiver and potentially jump up to a pro-bowl level. He moved up from 961 yards to 1130, despite having the same amount of receptions but had a disappointing 2 touchdowns (including a garbage time hail mary against Cincinnati).

Coles spent large parts of the 2007 injured (Cotchery also missed one game), giving Cotchery the opportunity to be the Jets unquestioned #1 guy. Here is Cotchery’s production in games without Coles during 2007:

Week 9 vs. Washington: 5 Receptions, 90 Yards, 1 Lost Fumble.

Week 11 vs. Pittsburgh (Coles only played the opening series): 1 Reception, 5 Yards.

Week 12 at Dallas: 2 Receptions, 43 Yards.

Week 15 at New England: 6 Receptions, 53 Yards.

Week 16 at Tennessee: 8 Receptions, 152 Yards, 1 Touchdown.

Week 17 vs. Kansas City: 8 Receptions, 76 Yards.

In 2008, Cotchery was a mild disappointment. Most people expected a huge year from him with Brett Favre behind center, but Cotchery never could string together a few big games. He finished with 71 catches for 858 yards and 5 touchdowns, regressing to below his 2006 production. Some of the blame belongs on Brett Favre for being innaccurate and turning the ball over, and some goes on Brian Schottenheimer for being so consevative, but regardless Cotchery should have produced more last year.

There are defintley encouraging trends from 2007 for Cotchery being a number one receiver. In those games without Coles, he was paired with Brad Smith and Justin McCariens. For 2009, Smith is somewhat improved since then and I’d take Chansi Stuckey over McCariens in a heartbeat, and David Clowney is also now in the mix. Cotchery struggled initially with the increased attention, especially against Dallas and Pittsburgh but finished the year strong as a #1 receiver. He had a monster game in Tennessee, and had good overall efforts against New England and Kansas City.

The Jets are going to need Cotchery to be a 90 catch/1200 yard/6-8 touchdown guy for them this season. He has shown flashes of being that type of receiver, most notably in 2006 in all three games against the Patriots, in 2007 against Baltimore (7 rec/165 yds) and Tennessee, and last year against New England (5 Rec/87 yds/1TD) and Kansas City (9 rec/102 yds). Somebody does need to step up to take some pressure off him, but defenses will have to pay attention to Dustin Keller and Leon Washington, which should give Cotchery enough 1 on 1 match-ups to make big plays.

Ten Reasons the Jets Will Make the Playoffs

First some updates from OTA’s today, which were open to the media:

1. Mark Sanchez had a rough day. Rex Ryan characterized his first week as being good (Tuesday), bad (Monday), and ugly (today). He struggled in the two minute drill, only going 1-4 and getting sacked once. Despite looking sharp in individual drills, his 7 on 7’s and team drills were filled with mostly incompletions and interceptions. The defense was all over him, often taunting him about holding the ball too long and hanging his receivers out to dry. He also apparently has been hearing plenty about his GQ photo spread. I wouldn’t panic too much about a rough practice in May, Sanchez is a rookie going against a very talented defense that is running a complex scheme, the guy will be fine.

2. Kellen Clemens had a decent day and a good overall week. He dropped in a 25 yard touchdown pass to Brad Smith during redzone drills and led the first offense to a field goal during their two minute drill. Clemens isn’t going down without a fight and to his credit has remained helpful and supportive towards Sanchez despite their competition.

3. Rex Ryan was angered by the high amount of dropped passes by his receivers today. Somebody needs to step up and fill Laveranues Coles’ shoes. Jerricho Cotchery has been good, as expected but another receiver is going to need to step up, so far Chansi Stuckey appears to be leading the pack as the #2 receiver. The defensive backs were the most impressive position group today, with Darrelle Revis standing out as usual and Ahmad Carroll having a strong day.

4. The ongoing theme of these OTAs has been how the defense has been ahead of the offense. You have to expect this with a young quarterback and Thomas Jones/Leon Washington MIA. Danny Woodhead ran with the first team again, since Shonn Greene sat out today with a minor hamstring injury.

5. Ryan praised the progress of Vernon Gholston, Jamaal Westerman, and Kareem Brown. Gholston is taking advantage of participating in these OTAs, which he missed last year. Westerman was a college defensive end who has already worked at both inside and outside linebacker for the Jets and Brown is apparently making strong progress at tight end, despite a drop today.

Ten Reasons the Jets Will Make the Playoffs

After yesterday’s negative article, let’s take a more positive look at next season:

1. Defense Wins – Everybody knows you need a good defense to play into January. The Jets already had a very good defense last season and only got better with the addition of Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, and Lito Sheppard. Rex Ryan will put a more aggressive scheme in place that will take advantage of the Jets personnel, notably Calvin Pace, Kerry Rhodes, and Vernon Gholston who excel attacking the quarterback.

2. Running Wins – Let’s assume everything gets settled with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington in the next few weeks. The Jets have the potential to have the best rushing attack in the AFC, with two pro-bowl RBs, and rookie Shonn Greene. Beyond that, they have a very good fullback in Tony Richardson and one of the better offensive lines in the league. The Jets should be able to hand the ball off 35 times a game and be able to wear out opposing defenses.

3. Winning Attitude – Rex Ryan has changed the culture around this team. They are no longer a passive, reactive team with no notable emotions or personality. Ryan is encouraging a confident, talkative team that will play with some swagger on the field. The Jets won’t be a team that sits back and lets the other team dictate to them anymore.

4. Match-Up Problems – Despite how thin they are wide receiver and tight end, the Jets have two match-up nightmares on offense with Dustin Keller and Leon Washington. Keller shredded up the Patriots and Titans last year because they simply had nobody who could cover him, and Washington is a threat to score a touchdown anytime he touches the ball. He has the ability to play running back, fullback, split end, and in the slot.

5. No More Brett – The Jets will be better off without Brett Favre’s 22 INT’s and the constant side-show that he brought to the team. Yes, Sanchez and Clemens are inexperienced but they won’t throw 20+ interceptions this season, which will improve the Jets overall turnover ratio.

6. Mad Backers – Bart Scott leads a deep and talented group of linebackers who should anchor the Jets defense. He should also help the learning curve for David Harris, Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, and Vernon Gholston because of how familiar he is with the system. Scott and Harris should feed off of each other and Kris Jenkins in front of them, making it difficult for teams to run the ball.

7. Schedule Is Manageable – The Jets schedule isn’t as easy as last season but it isn’t as hard as everyone is making it out to be. Houston, New Orleans, Oakland, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay all missed the playoffs last season. The Jets should be able to manage a 4-2 record in their division, because I believe Miami will be down from last year and that the Jets match-up well against New England and Buffalo.

8. Big Man – Rex Ryan’s defense should be easier on Kris Jenkins, allowing him to two-gap less and showing more 4-3 looks. If Jenkins could be healthy down the stretch, it will make a huge difference for the Jets run defense.

9. Opportunities – David Clowney never got a chance last season to build on a monster pre-season, but with Laveranues Coles now in Cincy he should receive plenty of reps to flash his deep speed and big play ability. Dustin Keller should also get more chances with Chris Baker in New England. Hopefully, Brian Schottenheimer will exercise some common sense and give Leon Washington more touches this year.

10. C’mon Now – We have to be due for finding the right coach and right quarterback, don’t we?

Week 1 of OTAs: Defense Steals Show

First a few updates:

1. Sorry about the lack of overall posts this week. It is my senior week here at Muhlenberg, culminating with graduation tomorrow. I’ll be back to full time business here as soon as I receive my diploma.

2. The more I read about Thomas Jones contract situation, the more I side with the Jets. The guy requested his contract be structured the way it currently is, which is frontloaded with a drop off in the third year and is now trying to go back on it. Jones better realize the Jets aren’t going to redo this deal and aren’t going to move him unless a knockout offer comes along, which it probably won’t. Make no mistake the Jets are much better off with Jones as their starting tailback, but they can survive with Leon Washington and Shonn Greene splitting the bulk of carries.

3. According to Leon Washington’s agent’s twitter account (real professional way of doing business), there is progress being made with his contract discussions. You have to hope Washington will find his way back to OTAs this week. He should note the way they took care of Jerricho Cotchery and Kerry Rhodes before they entered their fourth years and expect the same treatment.

4. Jason Taylor is back in the division, signing with the Dolphins. I’d rather have him in Miami than in New England, I know that much.

Week 1 of OTAs: Defense Steals Show

From what the media saw of the Jets practice on Thursday, this is what we know:

1. The defense is ahead of the offense, which is to be expected. Overall, the Jets have more talent on defense and the offense is currently lacking their top two running backs and experience at both receiver and tight end. Apparently the Jets two minute drill was a disaster with numerous interceptions and dropped interceptions, along with plenty of miscommunication on the offensive side of the ball.

2. Don’t want to say too much yet, but apparently defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has been impressed with Vernon Gholston so far. He has been active in the Jets pass rush (although they haven’t been in pads yet) and has bounced back and forth from being at linebacker and in a three point stance. All Jets fans are keeping their fingers crossed that the light will go on for Gholston this year and he will live up to his lofty draft status.

3. Rex Ryan has raved about his defensive backs, in particular Darrelle Revis who appears to somehow continue improving despite already being a top 5 corner in the league. Donald Strickland has played well so far and pulled in a few interceptions, same goes for Drew Coleman who will be fighting for a roster spot.

4. Kellen Clemens was okay during Thursday’s practice, without having to look over his shoulder for Mark Sanchez who is finishing up classes at USC. Let’s see how he handles next week, when he is splitting number one reps with the Jets first overall pick. Rex Ryan continues to imply that he expects Sanchez to win the job, but that is an open competition and if Clemens outperforms him, he will start. In other quarterback news Erik Ainge was awful, throwing interceptions all over the field and showing no control of the offense. It will be a battle for him to win the #3 job this year.

5. Bart Scott continued his habit of constantly trash talking everybody around him and his swagger seems to be spreading around the team. Just from hearing interviews with players and coaches so far this year, you can expect a much different personality for the Jets this year.

6. David Clowney was running as the other starting receiver (besides Jerricho Cotchery) on Thursday. It really appears the Jets are content to let him, Brad Smith, and Chansi Stuckey battle it out for reps. Smith is the kind of the guy who always looks good in practice but rarely has translated his productions to games. Clowney has potential but alot to prove in terms of durability and consistency. Stuckey is better off being a #3/slot receiver.

7. Bubba Franks is recovering from minor knee surgery, leaving converted defensive end Kareem Brown as the #2 tight end for these practices. Danny Woodhead ran as the starting running back since Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, and Shonn Greene all weren’t present. Jehuu Caulcrick also received major work in the backfield, as both a fullback and halfback. The Jets are running an offense right now with Kellen Clemens, Woodhead, Caulcrick, and Brown and none of them will likely be on the field when they play Houston in week one.

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.

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.