NFL Team Report - New York Jets - INSIDE SLANT
Head coach Rex Ryan really liked how the New York Jets looked during OTAs and minicamp. Of course, what else is he, or any other NFL head coach, going to say?
"The energy and all that stuff has been outstanding," Ryan said. "I love the way we're competing against each other."
As routine as optimism is at this time of the year, there's little doubt the Jets seem to be in a better place heading into training camp than they were 12 months ago, when Ryan, working under first-year general manager John Idzik, appeared to be a lame duck operating with a talent-deficient roster.
The Jets, of course, exceeded expectations by finishing 8-8, which earned Ryan a short contract extension. And Idzik disproved, to some degree, his overly cautious reputation by bolstering a tepid offense with free-agent signees Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and Michael Vick.
The infusion of talent, as well as a second season in Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense, has quarterback Geno Smith believing the Jets are much further along than they were a year ago.
"Obviously, there is a big difference with just the way that we've gelled, having a second year in this offense and a better understanding of what's required of us and the way to get in and out of routes, the timing of the offense; all those little subtle details that really takes time to develop," Smith said. "Once we get out there against an opposing defense and play another 16 games, we'll be able to measure just how much we're improved."
The measures will come far sooner for some members of the offense: wide receiver Stephen Hill and linemen Oday Aboushi and Will Campbell, in particular. Hill, who is trying to hang on to his roster spot after two injury-wrecked seasons, has a fan in wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal.
"It's a little early to label him a bust," Lal told the New York Daily News. "I have a hard time labeling a guy a bust when he's done everything in his power. Luck, in terms of injuries, hasn't been on his side."
Neither Aboushi nor Campbell played a snap as rookies last year. One or both will have to emerge, at least as a legitimate backup, for a Jets squad that had uncommonly good health along the offensive line last season.
"We're excited about the young guys," Mornhinweg told season-ticket holders on a conference call. "We've got an opportunity to become one of the better offensive lines in the league."
The Jets will find out soon if the optimism is warranted, or just a springtime tease.
NFL Team Report - New York Jets - NOTES, QUOTES
--The paucity of news between minicamp and training camp -- as well as the history between the Jets and New England Patriots -- ensured a decent shelf life for "Playbookgate," i.e. the allegations by Cleveland Browns head coach and former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine that the Jets' playbook ended up in the hands of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
A series of players and executives with ties to the Jets and Patriots commented on the issue at a charity function on Long Island in late June. And not surprisingly, their reactions fell along party lines.
Curtis Martin, who spent the first three years of his career with the Patriots before signing with the Jets and emerging as a Hall of Fame running back, said a team could derive tremendous impact from getting its hands on an opponent's playbook.
"What most people don't understand is that football is a science," Martin told ESPN.com. "There are little signals and little movements from one person that can give an indication on where the entire play is going. I think it can have a tremendous effect on a game.
"If we're playing chess and I understand all of your moves before you make them, my probability of winning is pretty high."
Belichick, in his own inimitable manner, refused to comment on the topic when asked about it at the Patriots' minicamp. Patriots safety Devin McCourty stuck to his coach's script at the Long Island gathering.
"I have no idea about any of that," McCourty told ESPN.com. "I feel like to comment on it keeps the nonsense going."
Few people have a better idea of the Jets-Patriots nonsense than Eric Mangini, a one-time Belichick right-hand man who severed his relationship with Belichick by first taking the Jets' head coaching job in 2006 and then blowing the whistle on the Patriots' spying techniques in 2007.
Mangini said it would be difficult to gain a weekly advantage from a potentially old copy of a playbook, but demurred when asked if he'd ever swapped playbooks with a member of another organization.
"Typically, I haven't done that," Mangini told ESPN.com. "But I don't think it's so far out of the range of what happens."
--Michael Vick believes he can win a championship with the Jets -- as the backup to Geno Smith.
"I think it can happen this year," Vick told ESPN.com during the Jets' minicamp. "I think Geno can take us where we need to go."
The general belief is that Vick is far more likely to supplant Smith as the Jets' starter this year than Smith is likely to lead the Jets to the promised land for the first time in 46 seasons. But Vick said winning a Super Bowl, even as a backup, would be the perfect way to end an interesting, polarizing career.
"If I can walk away from this game with a ring, I'll be so thankful," Vick said. "Because I've never won a championship at any of the levels that I've played on. Almost had one in college (in 2000 with Virginia Tech). I want a ring."
--Team strength: Defensive line.
Few teams in the league have a 1-2 punch like Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, who can wreck havoc with opposing running backs and quarterbacks. Their dominance creates a trickle down effect for the rest of an otherwise average defense.
--Breakout player: Free safety Calvin Pryor.
Even if Pryor doesn't win Defensive Rookie of the Year, a la his new teammate Sheldon Richardson, expect him to become an immediate anchor in the secondary just like Richardson did along the defensive line last season. Pryor brings nastiness and big-play skills to an area that has been deficient for several seasons.
--Fantasy football reality check: Running back Chris Johnson.
Fellow free-agent acquisition Eric Decker should lead the Jets in receiving touchdowns, but is likely to go a few rounds too high based on name recognition and the numbers he put up with Peyton Manning. Johnson is slotted for a timeshare with Chris Ivory, but has the durability and explosiveness to easily lead the backfield in carries. Johnson loves his numbers and is aware of his legacy, so he'd like nothing more than to break off a few long touchdown runs on his way to registering a seventh straight 1,000-yard season.
NFL Team Report - New York Jets - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Geno Smith. Backups -- Michael Vick, Tajh Boyd, Matt Simms.
Smith impressed the Jets with his maturity and stoicism last year. But all the positive intangibles in the world won't allow him to keep his job if his play comes close to dipping to the levels of his five-game slump last season, when he had no touchdowns and eight interceptions between Oct. 27 and Dec. 1. Smith's impressive finishing kick -- he had 976 yards of total offense and seven touchdowns in the last four games -- provided a hint at a versatile player who could be more than just a placeholder or game manager at quarterback. He'll need to keep building on last December in order to hold off Vick, who turns the Jets' league-worst backup quarterback situation into one of its best. The increasingly injury-prone Vick, who turned 34 in June, is probably no longer suited to be a full-time quarterback, but he can certainly take the wheel and move the chains in electric fashion for a team built to win now. Boyd outplayed Simms by a wide margin during minicamp and is likely to win the No. 3 job. Simms replaced Smith at halftime against Miami on Dec. 1, but the snaps he took last season were the first meaningful ones he's taken since he completed his vagabond collegiate career with 62 attempts at Tennessee in 2011.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Chris Johnson, FB Tommy Bohanon. Backups -- Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Daryl Richardson, Alex Green, Chad Young.
The Jets dramatically bolstered their one offensive strength by adding Johnson, the former 2,000-yard rusher whose productivity declined the last few seasons in Tennessee. Ideally, the Jets would like to unveil a "thunder and lightning" approach with Johnson and Ivory, but Johnson is far more durable and proven than Ivory and could grab the reins in the backfield sooner than later. The key for Johnson, who has rushed for 1,000 yards in all six NFL seasons and doesn't turn 29 until September, is his engagement level: He often appeared disinterested in Tennessee, where he'd regularly blame his offensive line for not creating holes. That shouldn't be a problem with the Jets. Ivory's fragility is due at least in part to the uncommon ferocity with which he runs. At the least, he should thrive as a short-yardage and clock-killing back, though he showed plenty of big-play burst himself last season, when he had eight rushes of 21 yards or more. Powell was stretched as a starter, but is a very good jack-of-all-trades, especially in passing situations. Richardson was the Rams' No. 1 running back entering the 2013 season, but a toe injury derailed him. Bohanon solidified a regular problem spot for the Jets as a rookie last season.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jeff Cumberland. Backups -- Jace Amaro, Zach Sudfeld, Chris Pantale, Colin Anderson, Terrence Miller.
The future at tight end for the Jets is Amaro, who shattered tight-end records at Texas Tech before being selected by the Jets in the second round of May's draft. But Amaro's learning curve is likely to be steep after playing in Texas Tech's gadget offense, so Cumberland, whom the Jets re-signed to a three-year deal worth $5.7 million, should still be the starter and leading receiver at tight end this season. The Jets can certainly get by with Cumberland, who offers good hands and sneaky big-play ability (he averaged 15.3 yards per catch last year). Look for Amaro to experience plenty of growing pains before having a strong December, a la Geno Smith and Dee Milliner last season. Sudfeld and Pantale barely factored into the tight-end equation even before the Jets upgraded the position.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley. Backups -- David Nelson, Greg Salas, Stephen Hill, Jacoby Ford, Shaq Evans, Quincy Enunwa, Jalen Saunders, Clyde Gates, Saalim Hakim, Michael Campbell.
What is this? An actual set of NFL-caliber wide receivers? Decker may not be a true No. 1, but he provides legitimacy and a reliable set of hands for Smith, especially in the red zone. Kerley, the Jets' top receiver by default the last two years, is a perfectly fine slot receiver, though the Jets likely drafted his replacement this spring in Saunders. Nelson was impressive after being signed off the street last season and is in the lead for No. 3 receiver duties. Hill looked great in the spring, which is no surprise for a player who has always impressed in sweats. But after two disappointing and injury-prone seasons, the former second-round pick faces an uphill battle to beat out the veteran Salas and rookies Evans and Enunwa for the final receiver spots. Ford is likely to contribute solely as an explosive kickoff returner.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, LG Brian Winters, C Nick Mangold, RG Willie Colon, RT Breno Giacomini. Backups - T Ben Ijalana, T Markus Zusevics, T Brent Qvale, G Will Campbell, G Caleb Schlauderaff, Patrick Ford, C Dalton Freeman, Oday Aboushi, Dakota Dozier.
Few draft picks in Jets history have provided as much bang for the buck as Mangold and Ferguson, a pair of 2007 draftees who once again displayed their uncommon durability last year. Mangold missed just two snaps while Ferguson played every snap and has missed just one snap in his career. They'll likely be needed to serve as anchors again given the presence of a new right tackle in Giacomini, who has big shoes to fill as Austin Howard's replacement, as well as the uncertainty at guard. Winters struggled for most of his rookie season while Colon bounced back from three injury-plagued seasons to play in all 16 games last season before tearing his biceps in the finale and then suffering a knee injury during his rehab. With an underwhelming set of backups, the Jets can ill-afford to lose Colon or anyone else. Head coach Rex Ryan talked up Campbell and Aboushi during OTAs, but neither player played a down last season as rookies. The Jets do have a pair of interesting sleepers in the rookie Dozier and in the veteran Zusevics, a one-time promising prospect who is trying to resurrect his career after missing two seasons with pectoral injuries.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DE Muhammad Wilkerson, DE Sheldon Richardson, NT Damon Harrison. Backups - T Kenrick Ellis, Leger Douzable, T Tevita Finau, NT T.J. Barnes, E Anthony Grady, Kerry Hyder, Zach Thompson.
Wilkerson, Richardson and Harrison did something last season that no Jets defensive group has achieved in more than 30 years: They got their own nickname. "The Sons of Anarchy" earned the moniker by spearheading a dominant rush defense that spent most of the season on pace to allow fewer yards per carry than any team in the 21st century. Wilkerson and Richardson are do-everything beasts. Richardson even scored two touchdowns as a goal-line back.
Harrison is less spectacular than Wilkerson and Richardson, but no less effective. A serious injury to any of the "Sons" trio would deal a serious blow to the Jets' playoff hopes, but Ellis, whose injury-prone ways opened the door for Harrison last season, and Douzable are better-than-average backups.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Calvin Pace, OLB Quinton Coples, ILB David Harris, ILB Demario Davis. Backups -- Garrett McIntyre, Antwan Barnes, Nick Bellore, Troy Davis, A.J. Edds, Jeremiah George, Trevor Reilly, Jermaine Cunningham, Steele Divitto, Ikemefuna Enemkpail, Tim Fugger.
No unit on the Jets maximized its abilities more last year than the linebackers. Pace racked up a career-high 10 sacks as a situational pass rusher, Harris led the Jets in tackles for the sixth time in seven years and Coples and Davis emerged as legitimate starters. The Jets might get even more production out of their linebackers this year, especially if Barnes, who had two sacks in five games before suffering a season-ending knee injury, completes his comeback and rookie Jeremiah George, the likely successor to Harris, can translate his college numbers to the pros. McIntyre has established himself as a solid, versatile backup. The other veteran linebackers, Bellore and Troy Davis, are key special-teams contributors who see little time on defense.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Dee Milliner, CB Dimitri Patterson, SS Calvin Pryor, FS Antonio Allen. Backups - CB Kyle Wilson, CB Ellis Lankster, CB Darrin Walls, CB Johnny Patrick, CB Dexter McDougle, CB Brandon Dixon, CB Ras-I Dowling, Jeremy Reeves, CB Lowell Rose, S Dawan Landry, S Jaiquawn Jarrett, S Josh Bush, S Brandon Hardin, S Rontez Miles.
Two years ago, the Jets had the best cornerback pair in football. Now, with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie gone, the Jets are left to hope they can get through this season with the inconsistent yet promising Milliner and the injury-prone, unproven Patterson before Milliner and/or rookies McDougle and Dixon, whom the Jets took in the third and sixth rounds, respectively, emerge as legitimate starters. The Jets need Milliner, in particular, to build on an impressive final month as a rookie because the veteran backups are fringe role players at best.
Amazingly, the Jets are in better shape at safety, a position that coach Rex Ryan has largely ignored for most of his tenure. The hard-hitting Pryor has already begun establishing himself as a team leader and should provide the Jets an immediate physical and vocal presence at the back of the secondary. Allen worked with the starters during minicamp, an acknowledgement by Ryan that he possesses the upside and big-play capability that Landry lacks. Landry will still be a valuable mentor and sounding board as well as a key backup in a unit that otherwise lacks experience.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Nick Folk, K Andrew Furney, P Ryan Quigley, P Jacob Schum, KOR Jacoby Ford, PR Jalen Saunders, LS Tanner Purdum.
Folk was as proficient as he was clutch last season, when he nailed 92 percent of his field-goal attempts and booted three game-winners to earn a four-year contract extension. He was also much imporved on kickoffs. Quigley averaged 45.5 yards per punt, less than a half-yard shy of the team record. The Jets' once-proud return game had no sizzle last season, but Ford and Saunders can impact field position or bring a kick back for a touchdown every time they touch the ball. Purdum had another reliable season in 2013.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: K Nick Folk (tendered at $3.556M; signed 4-year contract March 11).
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--WR Josh Cribbs (not tendered as UFA).
--QB David Garrard (not tendered as UFA).
--RB John Griffin (not tendered as ERFA).
--WR Vidal Hazelton (not tendered as ERFA).
--FB Lex Hilliard (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Josh Mauga (not tendered as UFA).
--S Ed Reed (not tendered as UFA).
--TE Konrad Reuland (not tendered as ERFA).
--RB Darius Reynaud (not tendered as UFA).
--TE Kellen Winslow (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--S Calvin Pryor (1/18): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Jace Amaro (2/49): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Jalen Saunders (4/104): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Shaquelle Evans (4/115): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--G Dakota Dozier (4/137): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Jeremiah George (5/154): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Brandon Dixon (6/195): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Quincy Enunwa (6/209): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Ikemefuna Enemkpali (6/210): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Tajh Boyd (6/213): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Trevor Reilly (7/233): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Nick Bellore: RFA tendered at $1.431M with no compensation; $1.431M/1 yr.
--G Willie Colon: UFA; $2M/1 yr.
--TE Jeff Cumberland: Potential UFA; $5.7M/3 yrs, $1M RB 2014.
--LB Jermaine Cunningham: Potential UFA; $730,000/1 yr.
--DE Leger Douzable: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--K Nick Folk: Franchise FA; $12M/4 yrs, $2.1M RB.
--CB Ellis Lankster: Potential UFA; $1.6M/2 yrs, $155,000 RB.
--LB Garrett McIntyre: Not tendered as RFA; $645,000/1 yr.
--LB Calvin Pace: UFA; $5M/2 yrs, $1M RB.
--CB Darrin Walls: Potential RFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Eric Decker: UFA Broncos; $36.25M/5 yrs, $7.5M SB/$15M guaranteed.
--CB Ras-I Dowling: FA; $1.23M/2 yrs.
--LB A.J. Edds: Fa; terms unknown.
--WR Jacoby Ford: UFA Raiders; $740,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--T Breno Giacomini: UFA Seahawks; $18M/4 yrs, $2.5M SB/$7M guaranteed.
--RB Chris Johnson: FA Titans; $8M/2 yrs.
--CB Dimitri Patterson: FA Dolphins; $3M/1 yr, $1M SB.
--RB Daryl Richardson (waivers Rams).
--QB Michael Vick: UFA Eagles; $4M guaranteed/1 yr, $2M SB.
--T Markus Zusevics: FA Patriots; terms unknown.
--CB Aaron Berry: UFA Browns; terms unknown.
--CB Antonio Cromartie (released).
--G Vladimir Ducasse: UFA Vikings; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--RB Mike Goodson (released).
--WR Santonio Holmes (released).
--T Austin Howard: UFA Raiders; $30M/5 yrs, $15M guaranteed.
--QB Mark Sanchez (released).
--CB Isaiah Trufant: Not tendered as RFA/Browns; $1.54M/2 yrs, $1M guaranteed.