Here are four important players to keep an eye on who are returning from injuries suffered last season :
~ ~ New York Jets : Safety LaRon Landry
Injury : Achilles
Thoughts : The Jets signed Landry to a one-year, $3.5 million contract despite knowing he wasn't 100 percent. Landry has already missed organized team activities. The Jets hope his Achilles can be fully healthy by training camp. Landry, when healthy, is a big and physical safety who can blow people up. That would fit in well with New York's defense. But Landry can't help the Jets unless he's on the field. The former first-round pick missed 16 games the past two seasons with the Washington Redskins.
Oh hey, guess what the Jets are going to do this season? Something we basically guessed shortly after they drafted Quinton Coples ?
The decision to draft DE Quinton Coples fueled speculation that the Jets, who employ a 3-4 base defense, will use more 4-3 alignments. Well, it’s not speculation anymore; it’s true. “It just makes sense to use four true defensive linemen,” DCMike Pettine told ESPNNewYork.com. They’ve always sprinkled in some 4-3, but it usually involved an OLB (Calvin Pace or Bryan Thomas) lining up in a three-point stance with three linemen. But now the plan in certain situations is to line up Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson on the outside, with Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito inside — all true linemen. Two reasons: There’s uncertainty at Thomas’ position (he’s returning from Achilles tendon surgery) and it keeps DeVito on the field. Pettine said he wants his best 11.
Amusingly, I said off-air the night of the draft to Ray Lucas that I thought this indicated the Jets could be trying to run a 4-3 more this season, which he roundly thought was a terrible idea. If we’ve learned one thing about Rex in his three years it’s that Rex believes personnel should dictate the use, not the other way around – especially on his defense. Rex likes to highlight his players’ strengths, but at the same time, he’s also probably been looking to move away from the three man front some more as more teams run spread derivative offenses to put more pressure on the QB out of base personnel. Having four down linemen seems to counter the spread better, as it puts more pressure on protecting the QB.
Having DeVito will be good as it will help keep him on the field a little more, but with his injuries last year it’s an obvious concern that playing inside in a 4-3 might grind him down a little more over the course of the season. If the Jets are smart, they’ll keep Dixon and Ellis in a steady rotation behind Pouha and DeVito to mitigate any concerns about injury for their starters at the tackle spot.
Life’s a lot more rewarding these days for Aaron Maybin.
For one thing, the loquacious Jets linebacker is coming off his best season as a pro. For another, he, like most of the other players at his position and on the team, has been reshaping his body.“It’s really just been a grind, man, and I’m definitely able to see the benefits,” Maybin told me in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center locker room following Thursday’s final OTA practice. “A couple of people on the team, some coaches can tell, just by looking at me, the change from one year to the next.“I just talked to Bill [Hughan, head strength coach] and he said I’m starting to get right around where they want me, right around 250 now. It’s great to be so close to my goal so early in the offseason.”Compare this to his 229 pounds when he first arrived as a Jet last August, or the “220 soaking wet” when he was making headlines at Penn State and building toward his 11th-pick-of-the-draft status with Buffalo in 2009.“I’m still 3 percent body fat. All my numbers are where they were,” he said. But has he lost any of his trademark speed? “If anything,” he replied, “I’m faster. I feel as explosive as I’ve ever felt.”
On another front, Maybin has become one of the most popular Jets. He’s made charity appearances with teammates this offseason and always draws a crowd. In the locker room, he’s a must-stop for reporters who want a smart, well-thought-out quote (for the print folks) offered up in his resonant baritone of a speaking voice (for the audio/video people).He said he mentioned “two words” about having a few meals with Olympic gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps this offseason and that line of questioning became the lead of Brian Costello’s story in the New York Post. In part the draw was due to Phelps. In part it was the rising star that is Maybin.Aaron is a shining example of why it’s always premature to slap the B-word on almost any player after two seasons in the NFL. It’s ancient history to remind everyone that Maybin had no sacks his first two seasons and was cut loose by the Bills to ultimately come to the Jets. Sure, that part sounds like “bust,” but his six sacks, four forced fumbles — tied for fifth in the NFL — and team-high 24 QB pressures in limited playing time for the Jets in ’11 sure doesn’t.Not all NFL rookies are made the same. Maybin’s one of those guys who needed time to sort things out, to really come to grips with that time-worn football phrase, “Don’t try to control the things you can’t control.”
“If you lose the idea that this is a kids’ game, what are you really doing?” he said. “For a while I may have gotten away from that, putting too much pressure and expectations on myself.“I was thinking too much, I wasn’t feeling like myself because I felt I wasn’t in the right position. Stop thinking so much, get back to having fun, bring your kind of energy to the game. It took a while for me to get this game that I love. Now I love coming to work every day with these guys.”Maybin said where he is now feels kind of like where he wanted to be and should have been from the start of his career.
“Being in that situation where you didn’t have the coaching staff’s trust or you weren’t embraced by the fans, now it’s the complete inverse of that,” he said. “Now the fans embrace you, people here see your work ethic. It’s why you play the game. You hope people see the effort, the amount of hours you put into this thing.”Let it be stated now that Maybin’s not in this for redemption or personal accolades or proving people wrong. He’ll talk about himself, but he won’t specify his goals and he’ll always remind that it’s about more than just No. 51 in green. He further knows that one eye-popping season out of three doesn’t assure that this coming season will make it 2-for-4.“I do have personal goals, but none of those goals come before the team anyway,” he said. “I’m just working hard out on the practice field, in the weightroom, in the training room. It’s all just to make sure this upcoming season is as big a season as we can have as a team and myself also.”
But for all those who thought he was too light to throw his weight around in the NFL or didn’t have the right attitude or any of a myriad other criticisms, Maybin has friendly — always friendly — words of advice :
“Keep on doubting. Many a man has lost many a dollar betting against me.”
There are those NFL players who we might have some concerns about regarding their transition to life after football.
Jay Richardson is not one of them.
For one thing, he has just a great attitude about things. Take, for instance, his position as a street free agent defensive end signed by the Jets before April’s draft.“I’m feeling great,” Richardson told me last week with the boundless energy of a genuinely positive person. “This is a wonderful team and organization. I was in Oakland for 3½ years and Oakland is a little different world. The Jets are a good team that has made the playoffs. They took the year off last year but they’re a great team with great character. People talked about a ‘circus atmosphere’ here but I haven’t seen that. It’s great here, a great group of guys.”
Jay knows a few of those guys better than others. He was on some strong Ohio State teams of the mid-2000s that also featured Buckeyes teammates Nick Mangold at center and Santonio Holmes at wideout.Richardson also knows about having to take a year off. He did that in 2011. After those 3½ seasons in silver and black (during which he started 22 games and produced 81 tackles and seven sacks) and a half-season with Seattle, he became a free agent after the lockout was ended and couldn’t find another team at the time that wanted his services.“Nobody called, but I kept busy,” he said. “I did a little world traveling, going to Switzerland and Italy. And I started my own insurance brokerage.”He called it JR & Associates, and if you need an auto or homeowner’s quote or just want to see how smartly he’s set up his company online, you can click here.
Richardson also stayed in pro shape because, as he said, “I’d like to think I had decent production and I wasn’t done playing. I was happy to get the call from the Jets. My body feels amazing after the year off. I’m excited. And I love Coach [Karl] Dunbar. He’s a big 4-3 guy.”Whether or not Rex Ryan, Mike Pettine and Dunbar, the Jets’ new DL coach, are going to incorporate more 4-3 into their scheme, Richardson has a shot to fit in. The 6’6″, 280-pound Ohioan, who’s got length and size similar to first-round rookie Quinton Coples, is fighting for a roster spot again, but this time on the East Coast. He’s in the end/tackle mix with Muhammad Wilkerson, Coples, Mike DeVito and Marcus Dixon.
There are no guarantees for JR, of course. The veteran minicamp next week will be important for him, as will training camp at SUNY Cortland in August. But in between those two events — actually right after the end of the minicamp — Richardson will have one more life-affirming personal event to preside over.That’s the Mind, Body & Heart Youth Excellence Summit 2012, the annual life-skills camp for kids in the Dublin, Ohio, area staged by the Jay Richardson Foundation. The event is set for June 15-16 at Dublin Scioto High School, Richardson’s alma mater. If you’re a Jets follower, a Jay Richardson fan, or a kid who wants “assistance in developing a game plan for high school and college,” see the Website for what will undoubtedly be a positive experience.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Thoughts and observations on Day 1 of the Jets' three-day minicamp :
1. I think the 4-3 front will be a bigger part of the defense this season than people expect. Calvin Pace said they've used more 4-3 than in any previous offseason under Rex Ryan. They have the depth up front to use a four-man line, especially with the addition of No. 1 Quinton Coples. That they don't have four healthy, proven linebackers also is a reason they're using so much 4-3.
2. The Jets were so banged up at receiver (no Santonio Holmes, no Stephen Hill) that I expected CB Antonio Cromartie to run a few routes. Hey, he probably could do it.
3. Holmes took a lot of heat last week for pulling himself out of practice. He could've prevented that by simply admitting he had tweaked his hamstring (it sure looked that way). The team also could've saved him from some bashing by announcing the injury. By the way, he looked fine Tuesday running sprints off to the side. Have a feeling he'll be back Wednesday.
4. Speaking of receivers, Chaz Schilens keeps showing up. He keeps this up, and the Braylon Edwards chatter will die.
5. QB Mark Sanchez made some nice throws, especially in the red zone (and especially to TE Dustin Keller), but he got away with a couple of balls that should've been intercepted. It wasn't a great day for Tim Tebow, either. In terms of pure passing, the gap between Tebow and Sanchez is significant.
6. Here it goes again. Ryan talked up G/T Vladimir Ducasse, whom he described as a different player from a year ago. They'd better hope he just didn't get Gholston-ed.
7. Can't wait to hear LaRon Landry's reasoning for skipping the offseason program. He reported to minicamp, thus avoiding a fine, but he declined interview requests. They'll never admit it publicly (can't rip a guy for missing voluntary workouts), but the Jets couldn't have been happy he missed so much time. When Ryan was asked to give an injury update, he reacted as if he'd been asked to explain the theory of relativity. It's hard to give out info on a player when you haven't seen him in two months.
It is no secret. Last year the Jets weakest defensive link was at the safety position. Jim Leonhard went down 13 games into the season, and the combination of Eric Smith and Brodney Poole was frightening at times. Prior to Leonhard’s injury, the Jets had no answer for big tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Leonhard’s injury only exacerbated the issue, and the Jets found themselves unable to effectively defend the middle of the field. The decision to trade Dwight Lowery may have been bit hasty, but hindsight is always 20/20.
The Jets responded in the offseason by making a play for Reggie Nelson. They lost out to the Bengals, but rebounded by signing LaRon Landry just a few days later. Landry is an intruging prospect. Prior to his second Achilles injury in two years, Landry was the second best run-stopping safety in the NFL according to PFF. They were less generous when grading him in coverage, but as our resident TJB genius Bent has pointed out, “You can’t read too much into safety numbers because some are in coverage support all the time so hardly ever get targeted and others are in man coverage and only get targeted when their man is open…You can’t read too much into his coverage numbers because they don’t give credit for when he was in man coverage and his man wasn’t open so it wasn’t thrown to him (as opposed to other safeties that are often in coverage support, so being in the wrong place doesn’t affect their numbers).” This is key to understanding how PFF grades safeties, and why their rankings may not be as accurate as the other positions they grade.So, while his coverage numbers over the last couple of years are nothing to write home about, he actually wasn’t even that bad compared to the rest of the league. In 2010, and 2011, Landry saw significant time in the box, lining up in man to man coverage as opposed to serving as the safety valve for the cornerback. Most safeties in the NFL are not required to do this, but Landry has proven he is capable.
Clearly, Landry is an upgrade at the position, but he is also a major injury concern. Honestly, the guy looks like he’s been juicing and is much more of a linebacker/safety hybrid than a natural safety this point in his career. In addition, he has a controversial injury history and maybe losing agility and range to due to his seemingly abnormal mass gaining tendencies.Over the last two years, Landry has faced some curious injury issues. These problems have been exacerbated by the fact that he has appeared less than diligent in trying to permanently cure his ailments. In 2010, a strained Achilles tendon injury shelved him for the last seven games of the season. The Redskins and their medical staff recommend surgery, but after speaking with his own doctors, Landry opted for an alternative measure; platelet rich plasma and stem-cell treatments in order to repair the tendon. This innovative new treatment promised to accelerate the healing of tendon injuries and osteoarthritis naturally without subjecting Landry to significant risk. Whether or not these treatments will completely solve Landry’s ailments is unknown.
Based on his play in 2010, had Landry stayed healthy, he probably would have been one of the NFL’s top-paid safeties by now. In 2011, he missed the first two games of the season with a strained hamstring. He returned for eight games, re-establishing himself as a dominant force in the middle of the Redskins defense before once again re-injuring himself, this time with an injured groin. Landry ended up missing the final six games of the season as a result.Landry has played in only 17 of the last 32 games, which is a red flag. The positives here are that in the first half of the 2010 season, Landry was having a stellar year. He was in the box less than he was in 2011, and I attribute this to Haslett coming to the realization that Landry’s skills as a run-stopper were superior to his skills as a coverage safety.
If Landry can stay healthy, he will undoubtedly be a major force in Rex’s last line of defense. Based on his skillset, and the talk of the Jets playing more 46, it is quite clear that Landry was brought in to take on the responsibilities of “The Bandit”. The Bandit linebacker/safety role requires the player to line up on the inside shoulder of the tight end. Normally, The Bandit is tight to the line of scrimmage, but he can also roam the center of the defense to create confusion. Basically Landry’s job will be to destroy the tight end on every play. The Bandit can also be sent on an inside blitz where he shoots through the “C” gap and rushes the passer. Or, The Bandit can be sent on an outside blitz where he rips outside and around the tight end. In both blitzes the, the cornerbacks are on islands and the free safety is assigned to the tight end, who this season will most likely be a combination of Eric Smith/Josh Bush/Yeremiah Bell.It is no wonder Rex went on record saying that Landry was a better fit for their defense than Reggie Nelson. While it may appear on the surface that Nelson was a more versatile athlete, it is actually Landry’s skill set that best suits the defense Rex is trying to build. Here’s hoping Landry fully recovers in time for the season, and is able to stay healthy for the entire season.