Six questions as the Jets open training camp

July 23rd, 2014

CORTLAND, NY – This year’s AFC East is as wide open as ever. The Patriots have finished atop the division nine out of the last ten seasons. This year might be different though, as the Bills, Dolphins and Jets have all made significant personnel improvements over the offseason. With all three teams looking to dethrone the Patriots as AFC East champs, training camp and pre-season will play a crucial role in each of their chances to accomplish what they didn’t last year: make the playoffs.

Here are the six biggest questions facing the New York Jets as open camp tomorrow at 10AM on the campus of SUNY Cortland.

1. Who will start at left guard?

Veteran Willie Colon underwent two surgeries in the offseason (knee, bicep) and has yet to participate in team activities thus far. With that being said, he’s still a virtual lock to start at right guard.

This leaves us two players fighting for the starting role at left guard: Brian Winters and Oday Aboushi. Winters was a third round pick in last year’s draft and if it weren’t for an early injury he probably would have started all 16 games last season. After week 4 Winters started at guard and experienced some growing pains throughout the season. He allowed a league-high 10 sacks for guards and ranked 77th out of the 81 guards in the league who were rated. Winters’ play has to improve in training camp and the preseason, if not he will lose his starting job to Oday Aboushi, a fellow second year guard. Aboushi was a 5th round pick in last year’s draft. Unlike Winters, Aboushi didn’t touch the field for a single snap during last years regular season.  Watch out for Dakota Dozier, the Jets took him in the 4th round this year and he has an outside chance of landing the starting spot at left guard. He was a four-year starter at Furman Southern and showcased excellent run blocking skills during his time there.

The future of disappointing WR Stephen Hill is one of many questions as the Jets begin camp this week. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

2. Will WR Stephen Hill be a week 1 starter?

During his first two seasons with the Jets, Hill has been unimpressive to say the least. He’s had his fair share of nagging injuries, but while on the field Hill has been shadowed by the expectations of being a second round draft pick.

With Eric Decker now on the team, Hill is fighting an uphill battle to hold down the No.2 receiver spot opposite Decker. In his way are Jacoby Ford, Jeremy Kerley, David Nelson, and a congregation of talented rookies featuring Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans. Hill has a bit of luck on his side though—Ford, Saunders and Kerley are some of the more talented wide receivers on the roster, but they are all best suited as slot wide receivers given their size and speed.  Unless Saunders can prove to be more than just a slot receiver, Shaq Evans and David Nelson will be the main competition for Hill moving forward.  If you’re a Jets fan you have to hope that Hill can show some promise during camp. Nelson has talent, but during his time in Buffalo as well as his last season with the Jets hasn’t shown any viable evidence that he’s anything more than an average possession receiver.

3. Who will be the #3 QB?

The Michael Vick vs. Geno Smith debate has been a hot topic ever since the Jets acquired Vick in March. Let’s not waste time arguing as to whom should be the week one starter. It is Geno’s job to lose—it might not be the best choice, but it is what it is. Barring a zombie like performance from Geno in the preseason, he’ll be the starter week one.

There’s another interesting quarterback battle that will be taking form in Cortland this summer and that’s for the 3rd and final quarterback spot on the roster. Matt Simms, who surprised everyone by making the team last year over Greg McElroy battles sixth round rookie Tajh Boyd. The prospect from Clemson is a huge question mark coming into training camp—he was wildly inaccurate at times during his collegiate career. Boyd’s numbers could have also been inflated because of the yards and touchdowns generated from screens thrown to WR Sammy Watkins an having WR Martavis Bryant (Steelers 4th round pick) was also another reason why his college career went smoother than others.

If Simms can muster up another preseason performance like he had last year (led all quarterbacks on the Jets roster with a 103.6 combined quarterback rating) he should get the nod over Boyd.

4. Who will start at strong safety?

With first round pick Calvin Pryor as a shoe-in to start at free safety there is a two-player battle for the strong side. Antonio Allen and Dawan Landry are two familiar names that are equally as poised to take the reigns.

Landry is a seasoned veteran; he is entering into his ninth season and was a starter for both the Ravens and Jaguars before signing with the Jets last year. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Antonio Allen who was a 7th round pick back in 2012. The former South Carolina Gamecock is looking like the favorite to be the starter coming into camp. His numbers last year were very comparable to Landry’s, but since the arrival of Pryor there’s only room for one to start. Allen is the crowd favorite and his youth and improving body of work should allow him to win out in what might be the tightest position battle in this year’s camp.

5. Will rookie WR Jalen Saunders sneak his way into the starting lineup?

If you watch some of the film on this 165 pound 5’9’’ wideout in college you’ll be blown away. He started his career at Fresno State but left for Oklahoma after his sophomore season. At both Oklahoma and Fresno State, Saunders excelled as not only a return specialist but a slot wide receiver as well. His college tape showed that he’s not only shifty and explosive—he is quite possibly the most physical 165 lb WR in last year’s class. Saunders also has good hands, which supplement his ability to make defenders miss with ease after the catch. The concern for Jalen is his size, he is a physical playmaker indeed, but he doesn’t posses the strength to get off of press coverage at the line. This may be why he will never be able to play on the outside. If he doesn’t beat out Kerley for the starting spot as the slot wide receiver, you might still see both of them out on the field during the same time in creative and unique offensive packages.

6. What can we expect from CB Kyle Wilson?

This young defensive back from North Jersey was a first round pick back in 2010. A few seasons later and now Wilson is notoriously one of the most scrutinized player on the Jets’ roster. The culmination of careless penalties and his below average play at every position besides his role as a nickel corner is probably why.

During a week 3 win against Buffalo last season, Wilson hit rock bottom. He committed three consecutive penalties late in the game (holding, illegal contact, personal foul) and was subsequently benched by Dennis Thurman for the rest of the game. This was the watermark for a horrible 4th season by the young defensive back.

With one of his worst seasons to date, and the added pressure of new corners (Dimitri Patterson in free agency and Dexter McDougle and Brandon Dixon in the draft) and an expiring rookie contract, expect Kyle Wilson to improve this year. The scrutiny that he has faced over the last few years could be valuable in Wilson’s learning experience. He knows more than anyone that another bad year will lead to the Jets cutting ties with this former first rounder. Look for him to make strides, as he will have a chance to start opposite Dee Milner or in the slot.

Jets Town Hall 2014 Provided Fan’s With A Unique, Intimate Experience

May 29th, 2014

Select Jets’ season ticket holders were invited recently to an evening at Manhattan’s Ziegfeld Theater hosted by the team’s top brass including Owner Woody Johnson, President Neil Glat, GM John Idzik, Head Coach Rex Ryan, and voice of the Jets, Bob Wischusen.

Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan gets up close and personal with the fans at the team's 2014 Town Hall Meeting.

The goal of the second annual event was to give an exclusive, in-depth look into the team, it’s direction and new and improved perks as a season ticket holder.

The event was led off by Idzik’s coverage of the free agent additions to the 2014 roster. Notable off-season additions include: Eric Decker, Chris Johnson, Mike Vick, Jacoby Ford and re-signings such as Jeff Cumberland and Calvin Pace.

After covering the moves the team made in free agency, Idzik transitioned to the 2014 NFL Draft by introducing all 12 new draftee’s to the fans. The Draft Class was highlighted by the Jets’ first-round pick, Calvin Pryor, who’s a physical run thumping safety that drew comparisons to former Oakland Raider Probowler Jack Tatum from Rex Ryan.

The Jets also bolstered their wide receiving core in later rounds by adding a number of playmakers to the position (Jalen Saunders, Shaq Evans, and Quincy Enunwa). Sander’s has definitely been the most scrutinized name out of all the wide receivers as he weighed in at just 165 pounds at the combine. Idzik touched upon the weight concern and offered some relief to fans, “Jalen’s size may scare you but he doesn’t play to his size. We have no qualms with Jalen.”

After Idzik gave a thorough analysis of all 12 picks in this year’s draft class, Rex Ryan gave an exclusive look into the defensive play calls as he elaborated on the different audible in the Jet’s zone blitz packages.

The invited fans were then treated to a Q&A session with Ryan and friends with the goal better understanding the strategy and decisions made by the team this off-season. The event gave all in attendance a personal experience, which isn’t offered by many other NFL Teams.

Ryan wished that this type of event were available to him when he was growing up. Ryan and Idzik both had fathers who were Jets’ coaches and grew up as loyal Jets fans. “I think I connect with the fans for the simple fact that I was one of them,” Rex said. “It’s not just our team. It’s their team.”

To see a video highlighting the Jets’ Town Hall Meeting: CLICK HERE

AFC East Draft Grades

May 24th, 2014

Buffalo Bills: B-

The hourglass of Doug Whaleys tenure with the Bills is losing sand by the minute. The 2nd-year GM might be out of a job next spring if Buffalo’s new ownership cleans house. With the win-now pressure that comes with a potential 15-year playoff drought, Whaleys hand was forced into over-paying for Sammy Watkins, the most well regarded offensive weapon in the draft. All the eggs are in the Sammy Watkins basket this year as Buffalo gave up 2015’s first round pick and a 4th rounder which they eventually recouped in exchange for dealing Stevie Johnson to the 49ers.

Buffalo added more depth to their sparsely talented offensive line when they drafted Cyrus Kouandjio. The 6’7’’ 325 Ib. behemoth of a tackle will most likely start on the opposite side of anchor Cordy Glenn. Kouandjio has a huge amount of upside but with him also comes the potential of being a bust. His knees are rumored to be bad and it seems to show in the way he moves his feet while in pass protection. Kouandjio also blocks in an upright position, which allows defensive lineman to get leverage and easily knock him off balance.

Sleeper Pick:

Seantrel Henderson is a 7th round steal; he’s big, physical, and maybe the most talented pass blocker in the entire draft. Henderson had scouts concerned as his career in Miami was riddled with off-the-field issues. In August 2012, Henderson was involved in a car accident in which the Chevy Impala he was driving ran a red light and crashed into a car, injuring members of a family of six. His biggest on–field struggles occur when he tries to pick up rushers in a disguised blitz package. Another knock on him is his speed—it’s not easy to be quick when you’re 6’7’’ and 331lbs.

Down The Road Starters:

Randell Johnson : This linebacker is smart, athletic, he can hit, but he didn’t exactly go up against NFL-talent competition during his time at FAU. He possesses above average speed and plays a bit like Nigel Bradham—someone who he will be in direct competition with for starting reps during training camp. He definitely has a good chance to make an impact with the Bills. Buffalo could use all the help they can get at linebacker, which is why they also added inside linebacker Preston Brown in the third-round.

Preston Brown : Louisville’s defensive talent was showcased in this years draft when two of their products came off the board in the first round. Brown was the last member of the Louisville defense to get grabbed in the 2014 draft when he was drafted the 73rd pick. The inside backer is a hard nosed run stopper, who’s game models that of new teammate Brandon Spikes, who the Bills signed to a one-year deal over the off-season. Brown makes plays on a consistent basis; he’s an absolute wiz at stripping running backs while they’re in the hole. He also displays above average tackling ability in open space.

Head Scratcher:

Ross Cockrell : This four-year starter was drafted in the fourth round, making him the highest player drafted from Duke in the past 15 years. What made this pick exceptionally negligent is that Safety, Mo Alexander, was taken off the board a pick later by the Rams (a position the Bills desperately needed to add depth to). At 6’ Ross Cockrell is undersized as he weighs in at 190 pounds. This allows wide receivers to effortlessly move him while blocking. His aggressiveness and tackling aptitude are as non existent as Blake Griffins love for this Golden State Warriors fan.

New England Patriots: C-

The Patriots needed to add explosive players to the interior of their defensive line and to their wide receiving core. They addressed one of those needs early as Bill Belichick passed on Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman in favor of Florida’s Dominique Easley. The two are completely different defensive tackles, Hageman is a mammoth at 6’6’’ 315 pounds and excels at plugging up holes. In contrast, Easley is 6’2’’ and 285 pounds and uses his strength and speed to get off the line quickly and disrupt plays before they even happen. Easley’s two ACL injuries resulted in him being discounted in the NFL draft, so it was a pretty big surprise when Belichick and the Pat’s took him off in the first round. Belichick probably knows what he’s doing, Easley will terrorize the young second and third year quarterbacks of the AFC East if he can stay healthy.

The Patriots didn’t shy away from controversy with their second pick either, as they added QB Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round. New England needed to add a big name playmaker at wide receiver, and even though they drafted Jeremy Gallon in the 7th round, it won’t be enough. The Patriots could have added a dynamic wide-out in Davante Adams if they traded up in the second round, but instead Adams will join Aaron Rodgers, Eddy Lacy, and Randall Cobb and form the NFL’s version of Voltron.

Sleeper Pick:

Jeremy Gallon : At Michigan Gallon held the program record for receiving yards in a single season (1,373 yards). He also holds the Big Ten record for receiving yards in a single game (369). With all the great wide receiver prospects in this year’s draft it’s not hard to understand why Gallon fell all the way to the seventh round. As a seventh round pick, Gallon still has a great shot at making the 53-man roster. He possesses above-average hands and the ability to make defenders miss in the open field after the catch. Gallon could turn out to be one of Brady’s favorite targets this season behind Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.

Down The Road Starter:

Bryan Stork is a versatile offensive lineman who excels in picking up blitzes. At Florida State Stork started 34 games at center and six at guard. He’s an anchor in pass protection and is athletic enough to make blocks downfield in the run game. He’s going to need to get stronger if he wants to make it in the NFL, he lacks physicality when blocking against the run and will often latch on to defenders instead of driving them back.

Head Scratcher:

James White : It was really tough not to knock the Pat’s for taking Jimmy Garoppolo in the second, but this pick made it easy. Belichick and the rest of the Patriots organization really blew it on this one, especially because of the other running backs available when they selected him. Watch the tape of White and it will immediately bring you back to the Pop Warner days when nobody tackled. Seriously, on the majority of his runs it seems like the defense is actually trying to get him into the end zone; like one of those collaboration plays where a youth football or basketball teams gives the manager a shot at being the hero. There weren’t more than a handful of times when White made a defining play in a big game that didn’t involve a second level defender tripping over his own shoelaces. This running back might have telekinetic powers because he seems to just wish the defense out of his path, and it works! But in the NFL? Unlikely.

New York Jets: B+

With 12 picks in this year’s draft the Jets could do no wrong. They drafted Calvin Pryor with the 18th overall pick; with Pryor they get a fearless safety that can line up in a multitude of different spots. He has better coverage skills than most give him credit for and he’s exhibited unbelievable closing speed during his time at Louisville.

The Jets upgraded their offense in the second round when they took Jace Amaro, the tight end from Texas Tech. Amaro is a polished route runner with great hands who effortlessly finds the seams in coverage. He had some off-field issues during college as he was arrested in 2012 for credit card fraud. On the field Amaro is a pass catching split end who will definitely help Geno Smith progress; he isn’t quite on the level of Eric Ebron or Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but he does something that neither of them do—block.

Geno will also be playing with an upgraded wide receiver core this year as the Jets added Eric Decker to the mix in the off-season. They followed that up by adding three diverse playmakers at wide receiver: Jalen Saunders, Shaq Evans, and Quincy Enunwa.

Sleeper Pick:

Quincy Enunwa : This 6th round wide receiver is big, physical, and has great mitts. He’s a little bit of a work in progress—his route running needs to be crisper if he’s going to play in the league. Enunwa’s biggest strength is his size; it allows him to shield off defensive backs when going up for the ball. He’s also an asset as a blocker on screens and runs. The former high school high jumping stand-out also has a knack for making unbelievable plays in the biggest moments.

Down The Road Starters:

Jalen Saunders : The Fresno State transfer is one of the smallest wide receivers in the draft—goodness, is he fast though. Once Saunders arrived at Oklahoma he made an immediate impact on offense and special teams. In his two seasons at Oklahoma Saunders amassed 1,558 receiving yards with 11 touchdowns as well as 3 punt return touchdowns. At about 165 pounds Saunders is actually one of the most physical receivers in the draft. He matches his speed and physicality with hairpin cuts that form a trifecta of embarrassment for would be tacklers.

Dexter McDougle : The Jets got great value with the 80th pick in the third round. McDougle matches decent size with unbelievable speed and ball skills.  While at Maryland, McDougle showed us that his skill set is well rounded. He anticipates routes, plays at a high speed, has great hands, and isn’t afraid to tackle either.

Head Scratcher:

Jeremiah George : When the Jets took George in the 5th round they passed up on a lot of good players—and a lot of good linebackers for that matter. Lamin Barrow and Ronald Powell are two physical SEC outside linebackers that were available when they took George. The Jets could have also drafted Marquis Spruill who would have been a more viable option for the Jets at inside linebacker. The knock on George is that he’s undersized. Since he’s smaller than most inside linebackers, he’s not very stout when going up against the run. He continually runs around blocks and isn’t a great open field tackler.

Miami Dolphins: C

The Dolphins allowed 58 sacks last year, ranking them worst in the NFL. The Dolphins seriously needed to improve the offensive line and they waited no further than the 19th pick of the first round to do so. They drafted Ja’Wuan James, a versatile lineman who can play ether guard or tackle. It seems that the Dolphins had James as the fifth best lineman in the draft (behind Robinson, Martin, Mathews, and Lewan) as they were confident enough to use their first round pick on him. The Dolphins were dead set on taking a lineman, and it showed as they stretched for a player who could have definitely been available when they were on the clock in the second round.

Instead the Fins picked wide receiver Jarvis Landry in the 2nd. Landry could fill the #2 receiver spot—The LSU star is exceptionally talented and makes circus catches look routine.

The 2nd round pick is looking like the one bright spot in Miami’s rather murky 2014 draft pool.

Sleeper Pick:

Billy Turner : North Dakota’s Billy Turner is an excellent left tackle with good size and quick feet. One of the only reasons that he was still on the board in the third round is that he played at an FCS school. His footwork and strong arms make him a great addition to a Miami Dolphins offensive line that is filled with holes. There’s a good chance that both Turner and Ja’Wuan James could find themselves starting week 1.

Down The Road Starter:

Matt Hazel : The Dolphins drafted yet another FCS player in the sixth round. Matt Hazel from Coastal Carolina is a possession receiver who can play on the outside or in the slot. Hazel catches almost everything that comes his way—he made a ton of acrobatic catches in traffic—something that really excited NFL scouts. At 6’1’’ and 200 pounds Hazel is a prototypical receiver and with a little work he could become a productive NFL wide out.

Head Scratcher:

Arthur Lynch : With the 15th pick in the fifth round the Dolphins took tight end Arthur Lynch. Lynch was known primarily for his blocking ability at the University of Georgia. Though in his senior season Lynch proved he could do more than just block as he had 30 catches for 459 yards and 5 touchdowns. With the emergence of Charles Clay at tight end last season the Dolphins had more pressing needs. AJ McCarron was still available in the 5th round and the Dolphins can definitely use a viable back-up (not named Matt Moore) who will push Ryan Tannehill.