Final Tune-Up
By John Melillo
Jets Staff Writer
September 2nd, 2004

Those who enjoy star gazing will have better luck focusing their attention on the night sky rather than on the football field when the Jets host the Philadelphia Eagles this Friday. Many familiar names will be limited or held out of the lineup, as both teams evaluate their young, unproven talent for the final time.

Those who enjoy star gazing will have better luck focusing their attention on the night sky rather than on the football field when the Jets host the Philadelphia Eagles this Friday. Many familiar names will be limited or held out of the lineup, as both teams evaluate their young, unproven talent for the final time.

“There have been so many guys that have done a good job here,” Edwards said. “This will probably be (the toughest cut) because it’s so tight.”

A plethora of young, promising talent will receive extended looks in the Eagles game so the team can gauge their potential and see where they fit in the team’s plans. The most intense battles on the roster are at running back, linebacker, receiver, tight end and the secondary.

“I’ve got a long two days ahead of me, whenever we’ve got to make the final cut,” Edwards said. “What will happen is you cut some of them and you anticipate that you’re going to get them back? The cutting isn’t hard; it’s waiting and hoping that somebody doesn’t put them on the 53 (roster).”

In a positional breakdown, here is how each player stacks up against their competition heading into the final preseason game.

Quarterback With Chad Pennington’s ink still wet on the largest Jets contract in team history, there will likely not be a debate on the Jets starting QB for several years. The backup situation however, is a different story. The obvious choice for a backup this season is newly signed Quincy Carter. However, with limited experience in the west coast offense, it’s yet to be seen of Carter can run Paul Hackett’s system. If he does not show progress and possibly a more viable option becomes available on the waiver wire, the Jets could very easily jettison Carter with little or no salary recourse. Stay tuned.

The jucier battle at QB is for #3 where Brooks Bollinger and Ricky Ray are battling for a roster spot. Ray should get a significant look on Friday and it could very well be his last chance to impress the Coaches as it’s unlikely that the Jets will keep four QB’s on the roster. Even though Ray has clearly outplayed Bollinger this pre-season Jets OC Paul Hackett seems to have affection for Bollinger. The logical choice in our eyes is to designate Bollinger to the practice squad as Ray will likely be signed by another team if he’s released.

Running back: Arguably one of the most impressive players throughout training camp has been RB Johnathan Reese. Reese, an Ivy League product, leads the team in rushing for the second consecutive preseason with 117 yards on 26 carries (4.5 ypc). Reese has seen significant playing time behind RB Curtis Martin in the first three exhibition games. Reese is being challenged by RB/KR Ian Smart, whose had limited action rushing the ball, but offers more versatility as a special teams contributor. Smart has found some success as a kickoff returner, with a 24.4 average on five returns. Look for both backs to receive extended playing time to settle one of the tightest competitions this year.

Linebacker: The first five roster spots appear all but locked up by LBs Sam Cowart, Victor Hobson, Eric Barton, Jonathan Vilma and Jason Glenn this year. That leaves four players likely fighting for one roster spot. They are Mark Brown, Kenyatta Wright, Ryan Myers, Wes Bautovich and rookie Darrell McClover. Of the bubble group, Brown appears to have the inside track after a productive training camp and Week 2 game against the Colts, recording five tackles and a sack. His toughest competition might come from second-year veteran Kenyatta Wright, who led the team in special teams tackles last season (32). McClover is a rookie to keep an eye on and may land on the team’s practice squad for future development.

Wide Receiver:The team features a star-studded trio of wide outs this year with Santana Moss, Justin McCareins and Wayne Chrebet. Behind them are emerging young players such as speedy Jonathan Carter and rookie Jerricho Cotchery. The performances of the younger receivers in camp have given Edwards and staff something to ponder this summer. If the team decides to keep six receivers this year, they will choose from a group consisting of Ken-Yon Rambo, Matt Dominguez and Terrance Stubbs. Of the group, Rambo has the most experience and has been featured on return units in camp, while Dominguez and Stubbs each have flashed this preseason. Both could be stashed on the practice squad.

Tight Ends: The story at tight end is the battle for the third and likely final roster spot behind Anthony Becht and Chris Baker this year. Veteran newcomer Mikhael Ricks has had a good camp and has 6 years of NFL experience including a Pro Bowl berth in 2002 while with Kansas City. Valuable special teams contributor James Dearth has found a niche with the team, performing the long snapping and holding duties. John Paul Foschi is facing a tough, uphill battle to make the team, as he did not distinguish himself during camp.

Secondary: The team possesses a solid blend of veteran experience with young talent in the secondary this year. The star of training camp, rookie S Erik Coleman, appears to have grasped the defense well and appears destined to start at strong safety over veteran S Reggie Tongue to start off the year. Cornerbacks Donnie Abraham, David Barrett and Ray Mickens sit at the top of the depth chart, followed by rookie Derrick Strait. Cinderella undrafted free agent Roderick Bryant has had a great camp and the Coach has already indicated that he will be on the roster come September 12th. At safety, Jon McGraw, Tongue and Coleman all appear to be roster locks. That leaves safeties Derek Pagel, Omare Lowe and Rashad Washington on the bubble along with cornerbacks Andrew Davison and Art Thomas. With Mickens, Abraham and McGraw all sitting out the Eagles game, look for the bubble players to receive a lot of playing time Friday.

A PENNY SIGNED IS A PENNY EARNED: The news that the Jets locked up their franchise QB for the next seven years by signing Chad Pennington to a $64MM extension last night was music to Edwards’ ears.

“I think it’s good for the organization,” said the Coach. I think it’s god for the fans. It’s something we all felt would get done. It got done. On both sides, I think the parties negotiating the deal did a good job and Chad was involved in it at the end. It was his decision, and I thought it all worked out well for us. He (Pennington) has done a lot in his short career. I think it’s a step toward the future for this organization, which is good.”

Word is that the Jets will now be focusing on signing Pro Bowl DE Shaun Ellis to long term extension. While both sides have had contact, no deal is imminent at this point.

ROSTER MOVE: The Jets announced that they claimed FB/TE Casey Cramer off waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Cramer (6-2, 250), from Dartmouth, was selected in the seventh round (228th overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Due to the lingering shoulder injury to BJ Askew, the team is looking for more depth at the FB position. The Coach talked about the newest Jet today:

“We have a little concern at fullback”, said Edwards. “He (Cramer) knows the offense, he’s a pretty smart guy and he did a pretty good job for them down in Tampa. We’re going to take a look at him in the next couple of days.”

MISCELANEOUS TIDBITS: Despite all the talk of RB Curtis Martin getting as many reps as possible this pre-season, he will sit out and rest on Friday....Look for LaMont Jordan to get a lot of carries against Philly as the Jets will be showcasing him as trade bait to the league one last time before the season starts....QB Chad Pennington will play, but only for a series or two....QB Quincy Carter will see his first action as a Jet this Friday. “He’s going to play earlier than later,” Edwards said. Carter is expected to be the first quarterback off the bench after Chad Pennington and ahead of QB Brooks Bollinger and Ricky Ray....While many teams decide to let their key players sit out the final preseason game as a precaution, coach Herm Edwards sees things differently. “They’re going to play,” Edwards said of his team’s starters. “I think Philadelphia announced that some of their starters are banged up, so they probably won’t play. That’s okay, but our guys are going to play. If it’s five plays, 10 plays, 20 plays, whatever it may be, you go in there and perform well. It’s kind of important for us to get through that.”....The Jets lead the all-time preseason series against the Eagles, 14-11, in a match up that began in 1967.

INJURY REPORT: FS Jon McGraw is hampered by a groin injury and will be held out of the Eagles game as a precautionary measure. WR Jonathan Carter turned his ankle in practice yesterday and may be held out as well.

Here is the official injury report for Friday’s game:

-OG Brent Smith (tricept): Questionable
-WR Jonathan Carter (anke): Questionable
-FB B.J. Askew (shoulder): Doubtful
-TE Anthony Becht (shoulder): Questionable
-WR Wayne Chrebet (quad/leg): Out
-CB Ray Mickens (knee): Out
-CB Donnie Abraham (knee): Out
-DE Bryan Thomas (hamstring): Out
-DT Josh Evans (back): Out
-FS Jon McGraw (groin): Out

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Meadowlands. Local broadcast is on WCBS Channel 2 TV and 1050 AM ESPN Radio. Check back to Jets for all of the post-game news and reports.