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.
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.