Offseason Surprises and Players to Watch

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.

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