New York Jets – Looking Beyond The QB

Mike Donnelly examines the New York Jets offense surrounding the quarterback position

With the first round of Jets OTA’s in the books, the debate on who should be the starting QB come week 1 against Tampa Bay is really heating up. The fanbase is as down on Mark Sanchez as ever, and the vitriol directed towards him has reached monumental proportions. Yes, I am aware of the reasons for this, and whether it is a fumble, an interception, a headband, another interception, a silly quote, or a buttfumble, Sanchez has clearly brought most of this on himself. But while everyone was tracking each and ever pass each quarterback threw during OTA’s and coming up with a snarky joke or hateful comment about one of the passers as quickly as possible, I was focused more on who was on the field with the quarterbacks.

Let’s be real here, the organization has done The Artist Formerly Known As The Sanchize no favors in recent years, and even if Sanchez does win the starting job, it would seem as though his time with the Jets is rapidly coming to an end. But we already know all that. The Jets need to make sure they don’t repeat the same mistakes they made with Sanchez with rookie Geno Smith, and it starts with building a solid supporting cast around him. I’m not here today to say who should have his hands under Nick Mangold’s rear end in September, because I think that’s yet to be determined. Instead, let’s take a look at what will be around Genark Smithchez, and what kind of position he will be put into. Since this is a Jets website, let’s go ahead and start with the biggest negative.

Unreliable Receiving Corps – This is officially entering “big problem” territory. If the Jets top three WR were healthy and 100% sure to start the season, I would think it is a more than serviceable group. Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley are both very good players in their roles, and second-year player Stephen Hill has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, Holmes is coming off a very serious injury and Hill has continued to battle a nagging knee injury, which has continually kept him off the field. That’s an especially large problem for Hill, because ol’ Brick Hands needs as much practice as he can get. Kerley is the only reliable option in the bunch, and while he’s a very good slot receiver who could blossom even further in his third season, he’s far from a true #1 option. At least the team has a reliable tight end that can be a safety blanket for whoever takes the snaps, right? Oh wait, no, actually it’s the complete opposite of that. Nevermind.

If Holmes isn’t ready for week 1 and Hill continues to be unreliable, then we could be looking at a repeat of last year, only with the roles of Jason Hill, Clyde Gates, and Mardy Gilyard being filed by Zach Rogers and Ben Obomanu as prominent players in the offense. In case you don’t remember how 2012 turned out, it was bad. Very bad. We will all be like those fans sitting around in the movie Major League reading off the names of the players on the roster with both shock and disgust. (Mitchell Friedman? Clyde Gates? Vidal Hazelton? Who are these guys?!) I believe the Jets badly need to bring in a veteran receiver as insurance heading into training camp, or whoever wins the QB battle will have a rough go of it.

Unproven Run Game – To be clear, I think the Jets run game has the potential to be very good, and far better than what we saw the past two seasons. I’m as big of a fan of Chris Ivory as there is, but he’s never handled a full workload before, and he’s unfortunately battled some injuries throughout his brief career. The same can be said for his primary backup, or more accurately the 1B option, Mike Goodson. If one or both of these players suffer injuries or don’t produce on the field as expected, then we could be seeing a lot more of Bilal Powell, and that’s not exactly a good thing. I don’t think defensive coordinators would spend a whole lot of late nights game planning to stop Powell and Joe McKnight. It is imperative that Ivory and Goodson stay healthy and strong, but that is far from a certainty. If they do stay healthy and productive, it will be our quarterback’s best friend. If they don’t, well…it could get ugly.

But not everything is bad, let’s look at some of the positives for Genark Smithchez…

Marty Mornhinweg – The former Eagles offensive coordinator has a history of getting the most out of his quarterbacks and is known for a very QB-friendly system. In other words, he’s the exact opposite of Tony Sparano, which is a very, very good thing. Marty is a former quarterback himself so he sees the game through the eyes of that position. He will put the QB in the best possible position to succeed this year, and we can rest easy at least knowing the game plans will make some sense. Expect heavy doses of the running game, with lots of short, safe passes mixed in to raise the confidence on whoever is under center. Mornhinweg is the best thing the 2013 quarterback has going for him.

Improved Offensive Line – The media liked to make a big fuss about how the Jets lost two of their starting offensive linemen, but letting Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson walk was the best possible thing for the team. Slauson signed for hardly any money in Chicago and Brandon Moore continues to be unemployed, which should show you how highly they are thought of around the league. To replace them, the team drafted Brian Winters and signed veterans Willie Colon and Stephen Peterman. While Peterman is nothing special, Colon has been a very good player when healthy, and Winters will be a talent upgrade from day 1, especially as a run blocker. Also, Austin Howard will be more comfortable heading into his second season as a starter, and you have to figure his pass blocking will improve.

So while it is easy to point the finger at the quarterback and put the blame squarely on his shoulders, it’s important to remember that there are ten other players on the field with him. Whether it’s Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith who takes the first snap in September, it will likely be a struggle to score points this season. Let’s hope the team doesn’t repeat the same career-killing mistakes with Geno that they made with Mark, and in a few years we can look back on 2013 as the beginning of something special.