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NFL Team Report - New York Jets - INSIDE SLANT
Geno Smith will become the second rookie quarterback to start a season opener for the Jets when he lines up behind center Sunday afternoon against the Buccaneers.
Mark Sanchez, the first rookie quarterback to start a season opener for the Jets will be watching on the sideline, an omnipresent reminder to Smith and the Jets of all that can go wrong in trying to develop a franchise quarterback.
The Jets made the obvious official on Wednesday, when they announced, via the team's website, that Smith would start Sunday. With Sanchez still recovering from the right shoulder injury he suffered while relieving Smith in the fourth quarter of the Jets' third exhibition game on Aug. 24, there had been little doubt Smith would get the nod.
But the Jets, displaying the type of Belichickian coyness and secrecy that the Rex Ryan of old would have mocked, insisted on waiting until Wednesday to reveal the news.
"We're very comfortable with Geno," Ryan said Wednesday afternoon. "I think we're comfortable as a football team, as an organization. We're confident that Geno's going to help get this job done. We recognize the challenges of a rookie quarterback but I think each one of us will pick our own game up."
That's what the Jets did in 2009, when Sanchez won the job months after being selected sixth overall in the draft and quarterbacked a team that made the first of two consecutive appearances in the AFC title game.
But the 2009 team featured a proven workhorse back in Thomas Jones, a pair of reliable, in-their-prime receivers in Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards and perhaps the best defense in the game.
These Jets? Not so much.
New No. 1 running back Chris Ivory has never played a full season and missed most of training camp due to hamstring issues. The Jets' nominal top receiver, Santonio Holmes, couldn't even guarantee on Wednesday that he'd play this year. And the defense is still the Jets' strong suit, but with an unproven pass rush and question marks at safety, it's nowhere near the unit it was in 2009.
And unlike Sanchez, who authoritatively beat out token incumbent Kellen Clemens by going 24-of-37 for three touchdowns and one interception in preseason action in 2009, Smith won the job more by default after going 22-of-37 with one touchdown and three interceptions in parts of two games.
"I don't think I've been rushed," Smith said. "I don't think they would put me out there if I wasn't ready."
Whether he's ready or not, the Jets don't have much of a choice on Sunday. Only time will tell if playing immediately as a rookie will help him develop into the franchise quarterback the Jets have been searching for four decades - or if somebody else will be uttering these words two, three or four years from now.
"Honestly, I'd love to be the franchise quarterback here," Smith said. "I think that's the reason why they brought me in here. I don't want to look ahead. I'm focused on what I have here and now and that's to work hard."
SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular season meeting, Jets lead series 9-1. The Jets have won the last seven games between the two teams dating back to 1984 and won the most recent clash, 26-3, on Dec. 13, 2009. The most memorable game between the two teams was surely the Jets' 21-17 win on Sept. 24, 2000. That game was played just months after the Jets traded their best-known player, wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, to the Buccaneers in a blockbuster and controversial trade. The Jets won in the final minute when Curtis Martin threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Wayne Chrebet, whom Johnson had criticized throughout his four years with the Jets. The Jets will hope history repeats itself Sunday, when they play the Buccaneers mere months after completing in which the Jets sent their best player, potential Hall of Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis, to Tampa Bay.
NFL Team Report - New York Jets - NOTES, QUOTES
--Not only did former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum coin the term "mini-draft" to describe the pursuit of free agents in the days following final cutdowns, he seemed to take a borderline bizarre delight in mining the NFL's bargain bin and mixing and matching the players on the bottom of his own 53-man roster.
New general manager John Idzik is notoriously unemotional, so if he derives any enjoyment out of the mini-draft, he isn't likely to express it. But Idzik will surely be as busy in the days leading up to the regular season opener this year as Tannenbaum was last year.
Like most teams, the Jets still have question marks even after their roster was "finalized." In particular, the Jets seem likely to address needs on the offensive line and at wide receiver.
The Jets thought they might have found a backup tackle in late August, when they brought back Jason Smith, the former no. 2 overall pick who was serviceable last year. But he endured a disastrous audition against the Eagles in the preseason finale, when he helped Matt Simms get sacked seven times, and was among the Jets' cuts Saturday.
Rookie Oday Aboushi is technically the backup tackle, but the fifth-round pick looked raw in training camp and was a surprise addition to the 53-man roster. The Jets could try to sneak him on to the practice squad if they can find a more reliable reserve.
The Jets are slated to open the season with five wide receivers, but the only two they can count on against the Buccaneers are Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill. Santonio Holmes, the nominal no. 1 wideout, finally just resumed practicing following a protracted recovery from his Lisfranc injury. Clyde Gates proved to be injury-prone once again this summer while Ryan Spadola made the team as an undrafted free agent out of Lehigh.
It wouldn't be a surprise if the Jets waited until after the season opener to find another receiver. Braylon Edwards, whom the Jets cut last Monday, loves playing for the Jets, and signing him after week one would mean the Jets wouldn't owe him a fully guaranteed 2013 salary.
--The NFL fined New York Jets reserve quarterback Matt Simms $7,875 for simulating a gun gesture during the preseason game against the New York Giants, multiple sources reported.
Simms made the gesture after throwing a 22-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ryan Spadola in the fourth quarter of the 24-21 overtime win. He was penalized on the play for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The league is cracking down on taunting, including making similar gestures. A league rule set in 2012 states: "These acts include but are not limited to: sack dances; home run swing; incredible hulk; spiking the ball; throwing or shoving the ball; pointing; pointing the ball; verbal taunting; military salute; standing over an opponent (prolonged and with provocation); or dancing."
BY THE NUMBERS: 2010. That's the last year in which all the Jets' draft picks made the final 53-man roster. Of course, the Jets had just four draft picks in 2010 -- defensive back Kyle Wilson, offensive tackle Vladimir Ducasse and running backs Joe McKnight and John Conner. All seven of the Jets' draft picks from John Idzik's first draft made this year's 53-man roster.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Until there's an announcement, then the competition is ongoing." - Coach Rex Ryan on why the Jets haven't named a starting quarterback yet.
NFL Team Report - New York Jets - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Jets, perhaps the team with the neediest quarterback situation in the league, cut the number of quarterbacks on the roster with starting experience in half on Friday by releasing Greg McElroy.
Of course, McElroy had just one NFL start under his belt, and it was a memorable one for all the wrong reasons: McElroy tied a franchise record by getting sacked 11 times against the Chargers last Dec. 23. Three days later, he admitted he was feeling concussion symptoms and was scratched for the regular season finale against the Bills.
His undersized fragility -- McElroy missed the Jets' final three preseason games an ankle injury and was released with an injury settlement -- and penchant for taking big hits meant he was unlikely ever become anything more than a No. 2 quarterback.
But his exit, coupled with the near-certainty that Mark Sanchez will miss the regular season opener, means the Jets will oppose Tampa Bay with three quarterbacks who have taken a total of four regular season NFL snaps. All those snaps were taken by Graham Harrell, whom the Jets signed the day before the regular season and who will backup Geno Smith and Matt Simms.
The Jets claimed running back Alex Green off waivers from the Packers, leaving Kahil Bell's roster spot in jeopardy.
The Jets also claimed defensive end Scott Solomon off waivers from the Titans.
In addition to Greg McElroy, the Jets also cut the following players on Saturday: DB Royce Adams, DL Junior Aumavae, WR Michael Campbell, K Dan Carpenter, DL Lanier Coleman, C Erik Cook, LB Troy Davis, LB JoJo Dickson, DB Mike Edwards, DL Tevita Finau, DL Antonio Garay, RB Mossis Madu, WR Mohamed Massaquoi, DB Rontez Miles, WR Ben Obomanu, TE Chris Pantale, WR Zach Rogers, OT J.B. Shugars, OT Jason Smith and LB Jacquies Smith.
--SS Antonio Allen will draw the start for the Jets in their season opener against the Buccaneers on Sunday. Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett spent all of training camp battling for the starting job opposite Dawan Landry. Jarrett seemed to be in the lead for much of August, but Allen capped his preseason in impressive fashion by returning an interception for a touchdown in the exhibition finale against the Eagles. Allen, whom the Jets selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, bounced between the active roster and the practice squad last year, when he finished with a sack and a fumble recovery in seven games.
--G Vladimir Ducasse will start for the Jets at left guard in the season opener against the Buccaneers on Sunday. That Ducasse, who was expected to serve as the Jets' backup tackle, will be starting at left guard comes as a bit of a surprise. The Jets signed Willie Colon to play left guard and drafted Brian Walters with the expectation he would start at right guard, but Colon will play right guard and Winters, who battled an ankle injury during training camp, will be the backup at both guard spots. This will be the first NFL start for Ducasse, whom the Jets selected in the second round of the 2010 draft.
--QB Matt Simms will be the Jets' backup quarterback on Sunday. Simms won the Jets' No. 3 job with an impressive preseason that he capped by going 33-of-44 for 285 yards in the Jets' 27-20 win over the Eagles. He moved up to No. 2 when Mark Sanchez was declared out for the season opener with a shoulder injury. Simms signed with the Jets prior to the 2012 season but was cut at the end of training camp.
--QB Mark Sanchez (shoulder) is out for the Jets' season opener against the Buccaneers on Sunday. The Jets made the announcement on Wednesday, the same day Geno Smith was named the starter. Neither the Jets nor Sanchez have provided a timetable for his recovery, but the signing of Brady Quinn earlier this week was a strong indication that Sanchez will be out multiple games.
--OLB Quinton Coples (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday and is all but certain to miss the Jets' season opener on Sunday. Coples suffered a hairline fracture of his right ankle against the Jaguars in the Jets' second preseason game on August 17 and underwent surgery three days later. He is expected to miss at least the Jets' first two games. The Jets visit the Patriots next Thursday, just four days after they play the Buccaneers.
--TE Kellen Winslow did not practice on Wednesday but is expected to play against the Buccaneers in the Jets' season opener on Sunday. Winslow, who has undergone multiple knee surgeries during his career, will get weekly "maintenance" days in hopes the Jets can coax a full healthy season out of him like they did last year with LaRon Landry.
--CB Antonio Cromartie (hip) was limited in practice on Wednesday but is expected to play against the Buccaneers in the season opener on Sunday. Cromartie was hurt in the Jets' third preseason game on Aug. 24 and missed the exhibition finale against the Eagles five days later.
--WR Santonio Holmes (foot) was limited in practice on Wednesday and said he didn't know if he'd play in the Jets' season opener on Sunday. Holmes said he's "still limited" and not able to run routes at his usual speed. He said he hoped to play at some point this season but then added he didn't expect to be placed on the short-term injured reserve. Holmes spent most of the summer issuing pessimistic updates about his recovery from the Lisfranc injury he suffered last Sept. 30 but appeared to be running at full speed prior to the Jets' last two preseason games.
GAME PLAN: In some ways, the Jets will be looking into a mirror in the season opener. Like the Jets, the Buccaneers have inconsistency at quarterback (Josh Freeman), but do have a legitimate No. 1 running back and a stout defense.
Jets QB Geno Smith will be as raw as any starting signal-caller in the league. And unlike the Buccaneers, the Jets lack a stud running back. The stoutness of the Jets' defense remains uncertain, as well, after a subpar 2012 and an inconsistent preseason.
The Jets will need to take the ball out of Smith's hands as much as possible and for Chris Ivory to be the Marshawn Lynch-esque workhouse they need. Defensively, a revamped interior must shut down Doug Martin and force Freeman to take to the air.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Jets offensive line vs. Buccaneers defensive line: Sounds simple, but with the Jets sure to unveil perhaps the most vanilla offense in the league, the most basic of matchups will be magnified. The only way the Jets can contend for a playoff berth is by augmenting a solid defense with a low-risk, run-heavy offense that emphasizes ball control and turns the quarterback into nothing more than a game manager. In center Nick Mangold, tackles D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Austin Howard and guards Willie Colon and Brian Winters, the Jets have plenty of experience and, in the case of Winters, a promising youngster who could anchor the line in the years to come. But the Buccaneers allowed an NFL-low 3.5 yards per carry last season and an inability to get the run going on Sunday will force the quarterback -- probably Geno Smith -- into doing something he's not equipped to do: Try to win the game by himself.
NT Damon Harrison vs. RB Doug Martin: Harrison, a longshot to even win a roster spot entering training camp, instead took advantage of Kenrick Ellis' injury and Anthony Garay's ineffectiveness to win the starting job. The world will find out right away if he's up to the task. As a rookie last year, Martin finished fifth in the NFL in rushing and established himself as the focal point of the Buccaneers' offense. The Buccaneers are only slightly happier with their one-time franchise quarterback, Josh Freeman, than the Jets are with Mark Sanchez, so Tampa Bay is going to do its best to establish the run with Martin. Harrison shutting him down could force the Buccaneers into relying on a quarterback they don't trust. Sound familiar?
UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Geno Smith. Backups -- Brady Quinn, Matt Simms, Mark Sanchez.
For better or for worse, the Geno Smith Era begins Sunday. Smith (22-of-37, 246 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions, one safety taken) didn't look ready to direct an NFL offense during his two preseason games and questions remain about his maturity and ability to transition from the spread, but with Mark Sanchez still weeks away from game action, the Jets will have no choice but to start Smith and hope for the best. The signing Monday of Brady Quinn indicates that the Jets -- who have wanted to rid themselves of Sanchez for months -- may just stash the one-time franchise quarterback on injured reserve sooner than later. The Jets will be in a world of hurt if Sanchez is done for the year and Smith is unprepared for a full NFL season. As poorly as Sanchez has played the last two years, he's got a Hall of Fame resume compared to Quinn, who has a popgun arm and who went 4-16 as a starter with the Browns and Chiefs. Simms looked good in the Jets' preseason finale against the Eagles, but that was against third-stringers and the next regular season NFL snap he takes will be his first.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Chris Ivory. Backups -- Bilal Powell, Tommy Bohanon, Alex Green, Mike Goodson (suspended).
The Jets have a lot -- namely, their entire offense -- resting on Ivory, who battling a hamstring injury throughout training camp and had just 14 carries for 28 yards in two preseason games. Ivory never had to be a full-time back in New Orleans, and his absence for the bulk of the summer didn't do much to discourage the notion he won't be able to hold up as a true no. 1 back. With that in mind. the Jets' best-case scenario had Ivory serving as the power back and Goodson as a passing down back with game-changing abilities, but these are the Jets, so the best-case scenario went up in smoke when Goodson was arrested on drugs and weapons charges in May. Goodson missed all of training camp and will be suspended for the first four regular season games, which means Powell is once again the O2O in a 1-2 combination. Powell showed flashes of big-time talent during camp but had just 122 total yards on 32 preseason touches. The Jets did upgrade at backup running back by signing Green, who led the Packers in rushing last season, during last weekend's Omini-draft.O Bohanon looks like he'll be a sizable upgrade at fullback.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jeff Cumberland. Backups -- Kellen Winslow, Konrad Reuland.
Cumberland is the nominal starter, but Winslow is the biggest name and the player most likely to turn a potentially awful Jets' aerial offense into something salvageable. Winslow missed all but one game last season and is perhaps the oldest 30-year-old in the league, but he had seven catches for 76 yards during the preseason, which has the Jets hoping he can turn back the clock and rediscover the form he displayed with the Browns and Buccaneers during his peak years. Cumberland emerged as a reliable safety valve last season and should be a regular target in a low-risk passing game. Reuland is solid enough, but if he's starting, something's gone wrong.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Jeremy Kerley, Santonio Holmes. Backups -- Stephen Hill, Clyde Gates, Ryan Spadola.
The ever-dramatic Holmes, who acted as if he might never walk normally again during the off-season, participated in practices in the week leading up to the exhibition finale and appears on target to start against the Buccaneers. Alas, he was in decline mode long before he suffered a Lisfranc injury against the 49ers last Dec. 30, so what he has left remains to be seen. Kerley was the Jets' nominal no. 1 receiver last season but shouldn't be relied on as anything more than a solid slot receiver. Hill has all the tools in the world but will need to impress the new regime by beginning to polish his raw skills. Gates has been impressive in short bursts but can't seem to stay healthy. Spadola garnered innumerable comparisons to Wayne Chrebet by making the Jets as an undrafted free agent out of a Division I-AA/FCS school, and the depth chart in front of him is as tepid as the one in front of Chrebet way back in 1995. Don't be surprised if this is an area the Jets upgrade on following week one (Braylon Edwards?).
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- C Nick Mangold, LG Willie Colon, RG Brian Winters, LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, RT Austin Howard. Backups -- Oday Aboushi, Will Campbell, Vladimir Ducasse, Caleb Schlauderaff, Ben Ijalana.
With eighth-year veterans Mangold, Ferguson and Colon as anchors, as well as second-year starter Howard and rookie Winters, the offensive line possesses the type of experience and upside necessary to give the Jets' popgun offense a chance at succeeding. But the Jets will be in a world of hurt if anyone along the line gets hurt. Mangold and Ferguson have been impressively durable since they were drafted by Mike Tannenbaum in the first round of the 2006 draft while Winters played 50 games in college and Howard emerged as a big-time run blocker during his first season as a starter. But Colon played in just 12 games the last three seasons and the Jets have no backups who can step in as starters if needed. Aboushi and Campbell should be on the practice squad, at best, but made the team largely on their draft status. Ducasse and Schlauderaff surprisingly survived the regime change, but their limitations are well-known. Ijalana's career has been derailed by injuries -- he played in just four games for the Colts after being selected in the second round of the 2011 draft -- but he provides far more upside as a reserve tackle than Aboushi, Ducasse or Schlauderaff.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DE Muhammad Wilkerson, DE Sheldon Richardson, NT Damon Harrison. Backups -- Kenrick Ellis, Leger Douzable.
Wilkerson, whose goal is to make the Pro Bowl, anchors a defensive line that will be young but filled with potential. Wilkerson was an absolute beast during the second half of last season and is looking to establish himself as the NFL's best 3-4 defensive end. Richardson was drafted in the first round last April after playing just two seasons at Missouri, where he led the SEC in tackles last season. Some growing pains are to be expected, but if he progresses faster than expected then the Jets may have the type of ferocious line Rex Ryan would be proud to call his own. Ellis was expected to become the starting nose tackle before he missed the final three preseason games with a back injury, which opened the door for Harrison to emerge from nowhere and earn the nod. After barely playing as a rookie in 2011 and missing four games due to injury last season, Ellis may be running out of time to prove he can reach his potential with the Jets. Douzable, who spent last year on injured reserve, was a surprise addition to the Jets and can provide help in a pinch.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Calvin Pace, OLB Garrett McIntyre, ILB David Harris, ILB Demario Davis. Backups -- Antwan Barnes, Nick Bellore, Ricky Sapp, Scott Solomon, Quinton Coples (injured).
The Jets thought they had rebuilt one of the worst pass rush units in the league by moving Coples to linebacker, but he's going to miss at least the first two games of the season after suffering a broken leg in the Jets' second preseason game. This could be a lost year for Coples, who was progressing slowly in his transition, so the Jets will need Pace's rejuvenation needs to carry over into the regular season and for Davis to emerge as the big-time player the Jets thought they were getting in the third round of the 2012 draft. Though Barnes is just two years removed from recording 11 sacks with the Chargers, the Jets expect to keep him in his situational role and start McIntyre in Coples' spot. Harris, underrated and underappreciated, is primed to once again lead the Jets in tackles. Bellore should contribute more on special teams while Sapp and Solomon provide valuable depth.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Antonio Cromartie, CB Dee Milliner, SS Dawan Landry, FS Antonio Allen. Backups -- Kyle Wilson, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Ellis Lankster, Isaiah Trufant, Darrin Walls, Josh Bush.
With Cromartie and Milliner, the Jets have at cornerback the type of star power they don't have anywhere else. Cromartie had no trouble filling Darrelle Revis' shoes last season and should continue to suffocate opposing no. 1 receivers. Milliner's health will be a constant concern -- he underwent five surgeries as a collegian and missed the final two preseason games with a calf injury -- but as long as he's on the field he'll be a giant upgrade on Wilson, who remains a pass interference machine three years after he was selected in the first round of the draft. It wouldn't be a surprise if Wilson was passed on the depth chart by the less familiar but far more reliable likes of Lankster, Trufant and Walls. . The Jets don't have nearly as much depth at safety as they do at cornerback. It remains to be seen if Dawan Landry can adequately replace his brother LaRon and if the proposed safety platoon between Allen and Jarrett works as well in reality as it does in theory.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Nick Folk, Punter Robert Malone, KR Clyde Gates, PR Jeremy Kerley, LS Tanner Purdum.
Folk has more lives than a horror movie villain. He survived training camp challenges from Billy Cundiff and Dan Carpenter but will surely be in danger of losing his job the first time he misses a field goal. A back injury during training camp nearly cost Malone his job, but he'll be fine as long as he keeps continuing his streak of games with at least one 50-yard punt (16 and counting). Joe McKnight's release left Gates as the kick returner by default, but having a player as prone to injury as Gates taking back kicks seems to be a misguided idea, so don't be surprised if the Jets scour the waiver wire for help there. Kerley was an effective, if risk-averse, punt returner last year, when he set an NFL record by calling for 36 fair catches. Purdum is back for his fourth season as the starting long snapper.