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.

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.

The Best of the Jets

I’m going to take a break from the more analytical stuff today and commemorate today’s article as a celebration of the beginning of the “Turn on the Jets Hall of Fame” and “Turn on the Jets Hall of Shame.” You can find these two pages across the top of the web site. The Hall of Fame idea was blatantly stolen from The Jets blog (www.thejetsblog.com), and is reserved for the best of the best, in the mind of this site. The Hall of Shame is reserved for the worst kind of people, as you’ll see.

Anyway, on to today’s article which examines the current roster and determines the following:

The Best of the Jets

Most Valuable Offensive Player – Leon Washington – This is a tough call but the Jets have a limited number of playmakers on offense and Leon Washington is a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. Their offense would instantly lose what little big play threat it had, if Washington was gone. He has the ability to score on any given play and the ability to line up all over the formation. Thomas Jones and Nick Mangold were also given consideration.

Best Offensive Player – Nick Mangold – This is different from the Most Valuable Player, because Washington’s value to the Jets is more than Mangold’s to them but as an overall football player, I am giving the nod to Mangold over Washington, Thomas Jones, Alan Faneca and others. Mangold is arguably the best center in the NFL and leads the Jets offensive line, which is probably their strongest overall unit.

Worst Offensive Starter – David Clowney/Brad Smith/Chansi Stuckey – This was a relatively easy call, whomever ends up winning the Jets #2 receiver position has the most to prove on this unit. Chansi Stuckey has been the most productive of this group but only has 32 career catches. All three of these guys are probably better fits as #3 or #4 receivers, than as a full time starter.

Offensive Player who Most Needs to Step Up – Mark Sanchez/Kellen Clemens – It will probably be Sanchez under center when the season starts, but whomever the Jets quarterback ends up being will be facing a ton of pressure to protect the football and lead a passing game to support the Jets already solid running game and defense. Sanchez will face pressure as a first round draft pick and the future franchise quarterback and if Clemens is under center, he will be facing pressure to keep Sanchez off the field.

Offensive Player in Need of Bounce Back Season – Jerricho Cotchery – Cotchery was pretty good last year as the Jets number two receiver, but they need him to meet and exceed his 2007 production (1,130 yards) this year. He is their unquestioned number one wide-out, which means 800 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns isn’t going to cut it.

Most Valuable Defensive Player – Kris Jenkins – The most important thing for any defense to do is stop the run. When Jenkins is healthy he is a force up the middle, which makes it extremely difficult for opposing teams to move the ball on the ground against the Jets. Anybody who doubts his value, only needs to look back to last year and see how much the defense’s production dropped after injuries began to take a toll on Jenkins (starting in the Denver game). The Jets need the big guy healthy for all 16 games if they want to be an elite defense in the NFL this season.

Best Defensive Player – Darrelle Revis – In only two seasons Revis has shown himself to be a legit lock-down cornerback, which is a hard thing to find in the NFL. He is one of the best business right now and I wouldn’t trade him for any corner in the league except for maybe Nnamdi Asomugha.

Worst Defensive Starter – Marques Douglas/Mike DeVito – Neither player has ever shown the ability to be a full time player, but one of the two will be asked to step in for Kenyon Coleman to start at defensive end. Douglas is stout against run but doesn’t present much of a threat rushing the passer, and DeVito only has 0.5 career sacks.

Defensive Player Who Most Needs to Step Up – Bart Scott – The Jets paid Scott a ton of money to come in and lead their defense. He is an experienced pro-bowler in Rex Ryan’s system, and the Jets are expecting him to maintain the level of play he had in Baltimore and help his fellow linebackers adjust to a new scheme. He will also be looked at as the vocal leader of the defensive unit. He isn’t in the shadow of Ray Lewis anymore, Scott needs to be the Jets version of Lewis.

Defensive Player in Need of Bounce Back Season – Kerry Rhodes – Rhodes developed the reputation of a playmaker in 2006 and 2007, but was very quiet last season often overshadowed by his fellow safety, Abram Elam. Rex Ryan has stated his desire to turn Rhodes into his New York version of Ed Reed, and I don’t doubt Rhodes talent to play that role in the Jets defense. He needs to get back to sacking the quarterback, intercepting passes, and forcing fumbles which he made a frequent habit of both in 2006 and 2007.

Don't Doubt It: Sanchez is the Jets Guy for 2009

First a few updates from the Jets Locker Room, which had media availability today:

1. Erik Ainge refused to give the reason why he has been absent from team activities the past few months. He stated the team doesn’t even know the specific reason, but they respected his personal privacy and need to handle the matter. Ainge will be battling UDFA Chris Pizzotti for the #3 spot this season, after originally being mentioned as a contender for the starting job before the Jets drafted Mark Sanchez.

2. When asked about the Jets move to acquire Sanchez, Jerricho Cotchery, Kerry Rhodes, and Darrelle Revis among others all sounded excited about his potential. They understand the implications about trading up to #5 to select somebody, so despite saying the politically correct thing about Kellen Clemens, seem to understand that Sanchez is going to be the guy this year. Rhodes had the funniest line of the day, when he mentioned that Sanchez would now have to battle him for “the best looking guy on the team.”

3. Sanchez has reached out to the wide receivers to set up times to work on throwing the football, which is a move that drew praise from a few veterans in the locker room. The guy has done everything you want a rookie to do so far. Obviously, he needs to produce on the field but still you can’t have any complaints about Sanchez yet.

4. Many Jets were asked about Brett Favre today, a few players anonymously cited him as being selfish and deceitful, while Rhodes refused to comment, although most of them were indifferent about him potentially joining the Vikings and expressed support for him. (It now appears he is going to stay retired, but who ever knows with this guy).

5. According to Dave Hutchinson, the Jets have recently worked out tight end Michael Gaines, who is one of the players I mentioned they should target a few days ago. I’m glad to see they are taking my advice. Gaines is a good blocking tight end, who would go a long to improving the Jets depth at tight end. He caught 23 passes last season for Detroit.

Don’t Doubt It: Sanchez is the Jets Guy for 2009

Kellen Clemens had to face the media today and said just about everything you expected he would. The common theme being that it is still an open competition, he still believes he will be the opening day starter, and that he is just going to keep working to improve. Rich Cimini made a good point however when discussing Clemens demeanor today, stating that he is “beginning to lose his swagger.” Obviously, Clemens is going to be more confident battling a UDFA with zero career NFL passes in Brett Ratliff, than he is battling the highly acclaimed Mark Sanchez.

Part of me feels bad for Clemens who is coming off a strong mini-camp and by all accounts has had a very good off-season. He is in a nearly impossible situation right now. No matter what anybody says, the odds are stacked heavily against him. He doesn’t need to just outplay Sanchez this summer, he needs to blow him away to win the job.

Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Last year Clemens was in the exact same position, except reversed heading into training camp. The coaching staff clearly wanted the younger Clemens, who they spent a 2nd round draft pick on, to beat out Chad Pennington for the job. Pennington needed to clearly out perform Clemens to win the job and through the first few weeks that was exactly what he did. Frustrated by Clemens lack of progress and the prospect of having Pennington be the starter for another season, they made the bold move to acquire Brett Favre.

 

Clemens had his chance to seize the Jets quarterback job last year. I can give him a pass for not seizing the job in 2007 in his eight starts behind a garbage offensive line and with no healthy receivers. Yet, during camp last season he did nothing to show he could be the Jets quarterback of the future. If he had outplayed Pennington and showed substantial progress last summer, the Jets wouldn’t have acquired Favre and Clemens would have started last season. He wouldn’t be in this situation now, where he is at a disadvantaged position battling the #5 overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Unless there is an extended holdout or injury, bank on Mark Sanchez being under center for the Jets when they open up against Houston. I don’t see him bombing out in training camp or Kellen Clemens all of a sudden looking like a franchise quarterback this summer. The Jets drafted Sanchez to be their guy for this year, and for the next ten.

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.