Archive for July, 2008

Offseason Surprises and Players to Watch

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Keep in mind that yes, it is still only July and full-contact drills have yet to begin at Jets training camp, but it’s not too early to start singling out some Jets as pleasant surprises. No, when I’m talking about surprises and who has played well, I’m not including former pro-bowlers such as WR Laveranues Coles, G Alan Faneca and S Kerry Rhodes. Why not? Well, these players are stars in the NFL and their name [and contract] says they should be. When I’m talking about surprises, I’m naming the players who have flown under the radar and may have a significant contribution with Gang Green in 2008.

1. Marcus Henry (WR)- When the Jets drafted Henry (6-foot-4, 207 pounds) in the sixth round of April’s draft, Kansas Head Coach Mark Mangino called the selection a “steal.” Sure the Jets knew they weren’t getting a deep threat with blazing speed, but they did know Henry could prove to be a mismatch for any cornerback in the NFL. So far at Jets camp, Henry has been just that. Specifically at Jets practice today, with Eric Mangini placing a focus toward goalline and red-zone situations Henry easily out-jumped whoever was covering him. On a play from the 10-yard line, Kellen Clemens fired a pass to Henry, who both out-muscled and out-jumped CB Drew Coleman for a touchdown. The Jets have not thrown many deep balls to Henry, but they have featured him in 15-20 yard crossing routes and inside the red-zone.

2. Chansi Stuckey (WR)-During Mangini’s Sunday afternoon press conference, the Jets head coach praised the work his wide recieving core had done in the offseason. In both blocking and catching passes, he seemed excited about the offensive weapons this team will have in 2008. I know I’ve talked about Stuckey alot previously, but he has shown terrific hands in camp. With WR Brad Smith missing time during during the June minicamp because of a balky back, Stuckey showed he could step in and assume the role of the third wideout behind Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. While he doesn’t show the size (6-feet, 196 pounds) as someone like Henry, Stuckey has shown that he has the speed to break away from defenders. The Jets have used Stuckey in a lot of quick slant routes and fly routes, and if he stays healthy, he could be a nice deep threat for Gang Green. Not to mention, Stuckey has also shown a nice burst of speed while returning kickoffs.

3. Jason Pociask (TE)- Pociask is not going to make highlight reel catches or break away from defenders like TE Dustin Keller might, but he will catch the ball. Pociask, is another guy who Mangini praised Sunday during his press conference. During Tuesday morning’s practice, he caught everything that was thrown from him. it’s really tough to tell how good of a blocker he will be because the Jets haven’t truly reached full-contact drills, but Pociask seems like a reliable backup while Chris Baker remains out.

4. David Clowney (WR)-Clowney, just like Stuckey, is another receiver that has flown under the radar. Clowney not only compares to Stuckey in size, standing 6-feet, 188 pounds, but he also compares in speed. Clowney is another receiver who the Jets have featured down the field, and has also shown reliable hands. With so many receivers overacheiving it will be interesting to see where Clowney fits on the team, but you cannot knock his talent.

5. Eric Smith (S)-Alongside Kerry Rhodes, Smith should be part of a strong safety core in 2008. Smith who played in 15 games last season (4 starts) has been working with the first-team offense throughout the offseason. Although Smith hasn’t made any game-breaking plays in camp, he has  solid coverage skills. Mangini always has had good things to say about Smith and considers him one of the smartest players on the defense, so we will wait to see whether his skills and smarts translate onto the field.

Players to Watch:

1. Bryan Thomas (LB)-After being drafted in the first round by Gang Green in 2002, Thomas has continously disappointed. However, after an underperforming 2007 season, Thomas returned to mini-camp motivated once again. Now with Vernon Gholston in the mix, Thomas cannot just stay pat. He must show why the Jets spent such a high pick on him and surely has the opportunity playing in Mangini’s 3-4 defense. If Thomas matches his 2006 production (8.5 sacks) this defense will be frightening alot of quarterbacks.

2. Bubba Franks (TE)-With Chris Baker receiving a lot of attention with his contract dispute and Dustin Keller because of his first-round pick status, Franks gets unnoticed among the Jets tight ends. Franks has always shown he can block and be a red-zone threat, so it will be interesting to see what he does in 2008.

I’m Not Believing the Favre Hype

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

Here at Jets camp, all news remains relatively quiet concerning Brett Favre. Eric Mangini remained mum when approached with questions about Favre during his daily press conference. As Chad Pennington told us yesterday, Green Bay management contacted the Jets about a potential interest in Favre, so the sides have definitely been in discussion. But the extent of those discussions remains unknown. If you ask me, the fact that Green Bay contacted the Jets (and not the other way around) is a telling sign. If Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum had been the first one to reach out and seek the trade, I would view any “Favre to the Jets” rumors to be a little more believable. One thing for sure is that Tannenbaum watched the morning practice from the sidelines, so he obviously was not in discussion with the Packers at the time.

If you ask me, I just cannot see Favre stepping into Weeb Ewbank Hall anytime soon. Even though the Jets options at quarterback aren’t exactly tantilizing, management still seems committed to winning with either Pennington or Kellen Clemens. Favre would surely put fans in the seats on Sundays, but what would happen if those fans leave Giants Stadium after watching losses rather than wins? What would that say about Kellen Clemens? Favre can still deliver hand-bruising bullets through the seems of defenses like he did in a Week 3 victory over the San Diego Chargers (28-for-45, 369 yards, 3 TD), but he still has the propensity to throw the big interception. Just ask Corey Webster.

I may still be wrong as there remain conflicting reports about Favre, but I still do not think the Jets will committ to the Green Bay quarterback. With the Packers set to open training camp tomorrow and Favre saying he plans to report, I expect something to develop soon.

Practice One is Complete: Views on Offense and Gholston

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Practice number one from Weeb Ewbank Hall is complete, as Gang Green spent the rainy morning running through unit drills. The quarterback battle was again a hot topic as both Kellen Clemens and Chad Pennington competed in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 passing drills. While the defense looked strong in drills, I would give Pennington the edge for the morning session. While Pennington was by no means sharp, he made fewer mistakes than Clemens. Clemens lone blunder came against “drop 8 coverage,” as he threw a pass right to OLB Eric Barton for an easy interception. But even after a poor practice by Clemens, this quarterback battle should go right down to the final week of preseason. Barring injury or an incredible turnaround by Gang Green’s two signal callers, the race is just too close for Eric Mangini to call. Obviously the Jets like Clemens’ arm strength, but Pennington is also showing more zip on his passes, which he admits to be working on.

With DE/OLB Vernon Gholston “close” as Mangini reported in his post-practice press conference, it has to make everyone happy that number 56 should be on the practice field within the next few days. Even though we haven’t even made it through a full day of training camp, Gholston had already missed a portion of the team’s June mini-camp because he was still completing classes at Ohio State. It’s tough enough for any rookie to become acquainted with NFL playbooks, especially Mangini’s complex defensive system. The learning curve becomes even tougher when away from the field. So even with the Baker contract dispute still an important issue, Gholston’s situation should be the main focus. As we’ve seen with several other players, (i.e. Bryan Thomas) a stellar college season does not automatically translate into instant success on Sundays. Bottom line, get Gholston signed and on the field.

Even with the clowdy quarterback situation, I still have very positive feelings about the Jets’ offense. With the addition of six-time all-pro guard Alan Faneca along with Damien Woody at right tackle and Tony Richardson at fullback, the Jets are going to be opening holes for Thomas Jones and company. Even though Jones received a lot of criticism for his 2007 performance, he still managed to rush for 1,119 yards behind a poor offensive line. The running game will only get better, especially if the Jets get Chris Baker (a underappreciated blocker) on the field. That’s not even mentioning the wide receiver unit. Along with the always-reliable Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, the Jets have nice options for the third and forth receiver spots. With Brad Smith back in practice and looking healthy, and Chansi Stuckey still showing soft hands, the targets are there.

I have to admit, RB Danny Woodhead is impressive, both speed and strength wise. As she showed in the previous camps and now after one training camp practice, he makes sharp cuts in and out of holes. He always hits the hole with speed, showing why he rushed for 7,962 yards at D-II Chadron State. Despite only standing at 5-foot-9, 200 lbs, Woodhead displayed his strength as he carried would-be tacklers for almost ten yards on one run today. He also managed to hold onto the ball as defenders tried to rip it away. But even with those noticeable strengths, I have a tough time seeing Woodhead as a member of the Jets this season. With Jones, Leon Washington, Jesse Chatman, Musa Smith and Jehuu Caulcrick already in camp, it will be tough to find an opening. Yet again, there’s still a long way to go.

What to Watch For on the Eve of Training Camp

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Training camp opens tomorrow for the New York Jets at Hofstra University, marking the last summer at their Long Island home. The Jets have trained at Hofstra since 1968, but starting in September, Gang Green will relocate team headquarters to Florham Park, N.J. However, aside from the sorrow that will fill the hearts of fans who have followed the team since its Shea Stadium days (1964-1983), there will also be excitement in the air.

Starting with the team’s first practice at 8:45 a.m. fans will get their first glimpse at prized additions such as DT Kris Jenkins, OLB Calvin Pace and G Alan Faneca. While no one is expecting Gang Green to catch the Patriots this season with the off-season moves, there will surely be less boo birds filling Giants Stadium.

Alongside the aforementioned players, one theme to watch for in training camp will be the position battles. Obviously the competition that will receive most of the attention will be the fight for the starting quarterback job. Neither Kellen Clemens nor Chad Pennington grabbed the lead while splitting duties last month during OTA’s. Fifth-round pick Erik Ainge (Tennessee) should finally be on display after sitting out most of the preseason workouts with a surgically repaired pinky on his throwing hand.

The fight for the third wide receiver spot will also pick up steam, as Brad Smith and Chansi Stuckey are in competition. Smith’s offseason got off to a slow start because of a back injury, but he should be back and raring to go. After spending most of the offseason workouts on the exercise bike, Smith returned to practice on June 5 and looked crisp in drills. Stuckey, who is entering his second professional season after missing his rookie year with a knee injury, showed off his soft hands in passing drills. It will also be important to keep an eye on David Clowney, who received praise from Eric Mangini. “I like the progress that David Clowney has made. He’s a guy that has excellent deep speed, he’s got a head for special teams production,” said Mangini last month.

It will also be intriguing to see how the Chris Baker situation plays out. Baker was placed on the PUP list on Monday, meaning he won’t be practicing tomorrow. Last season, Pete Kendall lasted until training camp while voicing similar complaints but was dealt to the Washington Redskins shortly after. Perhaps only time will tell.