We’re three weeks away from the first day of training camp and during these three weeks we will look to examine the depth chart at each position (with the exception of special teams). We’ll look at who is locked into a starting spot, likely to get/keep a starting spot, who will just miss the starting lineup but become an important backup and guys who will likely be cut.
We start with the offensive line because honestly this is the unit that gives me the most concern for the Jets going into the season. Obviously the quarterback is the most important single position and it won’t matter much if the offensive line is great if the quarterback play is terrible but in order for the quarterback to play to the best of his ability the offensive line is going to need to prove it’s capable of protecting the quarterback and giving the running backs lanes to run through.
The secondary seems to be the unit most people are unsure of and understandably so, but with the raw talent, Rex Ryan’s system and getting to play behind a dominate front line I expect the secondary to have their rough patches, especially considering all the high-powered offenses they play this season, but still be more than adequate. With the offensive line there are two huge unknowns at both guard spots and I have some questions/cause for concern with the other three starting lineman as well.
Definite starters: Breno Giacomini (RT), Nick Mangold (center) and D’Brickashaw Ferguson (LT).
Interestingly enough the new guy, who replaced last year’s most consistent lineman Austin Howard, Giacomini is the one I’m least worried about. Giacomini only started nine regular season games for the Seahawks, he injured his knee early in the season and needed surgery, but was able to play the last six games of the regular season and helped stabilize a previously shaky offensive line as the Seahawks made their Super Bowl run.
Giacomini has had issues with ill-timed penalties throughout his career, but seemed to get past those issues last season. He’s a big, strong man who has developed great technique and footwork. If Giacomini stays healthy he’s going to be a bully on this line. Throughout mini-camp Giacomini routinely stood up oncoming defenders or stopped them dead in their tracks with a strong double-jab inside the shoulder blades, expect to see it for yourself as soon as the preseason starts (or training camp for any that are attending).
With Mangold I’m not really worried per se, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out the fact that, for whatever reason, his play has slipped over the past couple of years. Of course he was the best center in the league by far a few years ago, I’m talking a galaxy sized gap between him and the second best. So, even though his play has slipped from what it was he’s still easily an above average center.
Judging Mangold’s slip in play and projecting it forward is tricky because it’s hard to tell if it’s just a natural decline in skill, having to play next to struggling guards that leave him more exposed (two former Jets have told me they believe this to be the case) or if the different injuries he has suffered have contributed to the decline. Most likely it’s some combination of the three, but at only age 30 I’m inclined to say it’s more about the injuries and the guards struggling beside him than a loss of ability.
Mangold will never let on about just how much pain he has played through these past few seasons, but he’s suffered numerous injuries and he just kept playing through them. Are all those injuries taking it’s toll on Mangold’s body and play? Or can he get healthy, hope for improved play by the guards on his sides and get back closer to being the dominate center we were so getting used to just a few years ago?
With D’Brickashaw Ferguson I only have one real concern, but it’s a ginormous concern. Ferguson can still block defenders coming on inside moves with relative ease and he’s even improved as a run blocker, although still inconsistent, but speed off the edge has bothered him for the past few seasons as defensive ends and edge linebackers with a quick first-step have routinely breezed by him.
The reason this is such a huge concern is, of course, because being able to stop defenders coming off the edge is the biggest reason why the good left tackles get paid so much money, it’s kind of important in order to protect the quarterback. Ferguson is only 30 as well so he should still be able to play at the level he once did when he was considered the best left tackle in football, but somehow he needs to get back to stopping those edge rushes and whether he can or not is on the top of my list of things to look out for during training camp and preseason.
Likely starters/key backups: Brian Winters (guard), Willie Colon (guard), Oday Aboushi (guard) and Dakota Dozier (guard).
With Colon missing OTA’s after having his knee scoped the Jets gave Winters more reps at right guard with Aboushi getting the first-team left guard reps. Ryan still anticipates Colon being fully healthy and holding on to his starting role at right guard, which would shift Winters back to left guard, but if Colon can’t get and stay healthy or perform up to expectations they could end up with some combination of Winters, Aboushi, or possibly even Dozier, as their two starting guards. If Colon can’t get healthy then the most likely scenario to start the season would have Aboushi as the left guard and Winters the right.
If Dozier were to have a great camp and preseason then he could be paired with Winters and in this scenario they would both have the ability to play either side. But Ryan spent most of mini-camp raving about the progress Aboushi has made and he’s not just blowing smoke Aboushi looked great so far this offseason and far better than at any point last year, now we just have to wait and see if the quality play continues in camp and preseason.
The coaching staff loves the leadership, energy, intensity and physicality Colon brings but his skills have certainly been on the natural decline and recent injuries aren’t about to slow that decline down at all. If healthy and Aboushi or Dozier don’t establish themselves as being ready to start then Colon will likely open the season as the starting right guard, but I’d be more surprised if he finished the season as a starter than if he didn’t.
Winters probably has a starting job all but locked up, barring injury or drastic regression, whether it will be at left guard or right will depend on who wins the other starting spot. It appears Aboushi is on deck and if he continues to build on the progress he’s made so far I’d think it’s only a matter of time before he cracks the starting lineup at one of the guard spots, if Colon can’t get healthy or play well or if Winters struggles.
Dozier isn’t likely to make the starting lineup, at least to start the season, but the Jets have high hopes for the rookie and he could serve a critical role as a backup and potentially be forced into the lineup because of injuries or bad play by the players ahead of him on the depth chart.
There’s just so many unknowns. Does Colon have anything left? Is Winters as bad as he looked at times last year or was his late season improvement a sign of progression that will only get better? Dozier is a rookie and Aboushi is basically a rookie since the Jets gave him and Will Campbell the equivalent of a red-shirt season last year.
There’s potential in this group, but there’s literally nothing proven about any of these players that the team can feel confident about. All their confidence is in projections, hopeful projections at that.
Dalton Freeman has the backup center spot locked up, but we’ll have to watch him closely in training camp and preseason to see if he could possibly prevent a repeat of the disaster of 2011 when Mangold missed a stretch of games due to an high-ankle sprain if Mangold were to get hurt again. Freeman looked good in the stretches I watched him during mini-camp, but playing against the second-and-third-string defenses is a much easier task than playing against the big boys.
How many of the rest of these guys make the final 53-roster is obviously still to be determined, I’d guess Will Campbell will most likely stay with the team in a backup role. They drafted him as a project, moving him from defensive tackle in college to a guard and unless they determine all hope is lost I doubt they’d give up on a project like that before his second year. That would give them five guards and would leave them with a backup for each guard spot if Colon suffered a season-ending injury.
Caleb Schlauderaff is the other guard on the roster, but chances are he won’t make the final cut and my dream of writing a daily column called the ‘Daily Schlauderaff’ will die forever.
At tackle, they have the two starters in Ferguson and Giacomini, Aboushi played tackle in college and did some work at tackle in camp and practice last season so in theory he could fill in at tackle in a pinch, but even with his improved play and newly bulked up/filled out frame it would be a stretch to think he could be an decent tackle. Which leaves Ben Ijalana, Markus Zusevics, Brent Qvale and Patrick Ford as the other backup tackle options.
I won’t pretend to have seen enough from any of these guys to handicap the odds of who makes it and who doesn’t, but don’t expect the Jets to rely on just this group. Look for John Idzik to bring in more competition for the backup tackle position once other teams start making their cuts.
The Jets have upgraded their weapons at receiver and running back, they expect better, more consistent, quarterback play from Geno Smith in his second year but if the offensive line has one or two weak links the entire offense could struggle to get any type of consistent production. I’ll let the other reporters chart completions, argue over the quarterback and worry about the youth movement in the secondary, throughout the rest of this offseason I’ll have my eye on the offensive line and be looking for answers.