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The Kids Are Alright?
By Chris Pine
Jets Insider.com Staff Writer
May 19th, 2004
A key to a successful 2004 Jets season is a healthy John Abraham.
A key to a successful 2004 Jets season is a healthy John Abraham.
My apologies to Mr. Townsend.

It seems as though the Jets have accomplished their off-season goal of becoming a younger and faster team. They have released several players, almost all of them over the age of thirty, and subsequently acquired several players almost all under the age of twenty-seven. Not bad considering what most people had assumed would be a challenging task to accomplish. My only question: did they get the right personnel or just the more youthful?

Let me digress for a minute here; I am facing thirty in a few weeks myself and I cannot express how depressing it is to talk about players now over the age of thirty as old. Then talk about twenty-six year olds as kids. To borrow a title from another British classic rock band, what a drag it is getting old. Now the Jets already have young and athletic players at many of the skill positions. On offense you have Chad Pennington (27) at quarterback, Santana Moss (24) currently their number one receiver, and their two tight ends Anthony Becht (26) and Chris Baker (24). On the other side of the ball you have several defensive lineman all under the age of thirty, John Abraham (26), Dewayne Robertson (22), Bryan Thomas (24), Shaun Ellis (26), and even Jason Ferguson (29). The two remaining linebackers from last season Victor Hobson (24) and Sam Cowart (29) can’t really be considered over the hill either. Lastly you have safety John McGraw (25) and the old man in the bunch Donnie Abraham (30). Not exactly an old-age home of starters if you ask me. So while I agree that getting some younger players bused into town was very important it does not get automatically assumed that these new additions translate into wins on the field for the New York Jets.

We can start with Justin McCareins, who was low on the depth chart of wide receivers for the Titans last years and yet still managed to catch forty-seven balls for 812 yards while hauling in seven touchdowns. Those are pretty impressive numbers, especially the touchdown-to-catch ratio. That kind of solid production is quite an eye-opener; although it would be wise to note who was throwing those pigskins around back in Tennessee. McCareins definitely benefited from playing on a team with THE BEST QUATERBACK in the league.

Yes, I still have my man-crush on Steve McNair.

McCareins does fit the mold for what the Jets want. He is 25, 6’2”, and versatile. They plan on using him in some dual punt return formations with Santana Moss and utilizing his penchant for blocking safeties on running plays. As long as he stays healthy he should be a very solid number two guy who can catch around 900 yards worth of balls. Also having a taller target in the end zone for Pennington who can actually catch the ball would be a plus.

The next guy on my list of newcomers is linebacker Eric Barton, who was signed as a free agent. Barton at age 26 is another young guy and is also a solid 6’2”, 245lbs. A good trend is the 127 tackles he accumulated in 2002 and then the 133 tackles in 2003. Now he is coming from a team who last year probably had one of the worst tackling defenses; but loathe though I am to admit it, he is coming from a quality franchise. During his first four years with the Raiders he no doubt became accustomed to playing in January and making an impact in the playoffs. He was not only on a Super-bowl team in 2002 but also the ill-fated yet high-regarded 2001 squad who lost that dramatic game in New England amid the snowstorms. This should be something worth noting because it means he expects to win. Having Barton and number one draft pick Jonathan Vilma, who being a former Hurricane is also accustomed to winning, playing on the field together should help shape the attitude of the Jets defense who last year far too often were seen with slumping shoulders and hands on their hips.

We then get to CB David Barrett, maybe his Who song should be “Who are you?” This guy came from the defensive backfield of the Arizona Cardinals, which is like getting an actor for your critically acclaimed police drama from saved by the bell…oh wait. That did happen. Well it can’t happen twice, unless Screech is going to be the replacement for Jerry Orbach on “Law and Order”. All I know about Barrett is that he is 26 and in 39 career starts he has only six interceptions. Not exactly a ball-hawk. Barrett supposedly fits the Jets projected style of play on defense, which is said to become more aggressive. I guess as long as he doesn’t imitate Aaron Beasley chasing after wide receivers he should be an upgrade, but probably only a marginal one.

Add to these three newcomers the recently drafted LB Vilma and CB Derrick Strait, both projected to play immediately and make an impact, and you can see why the Jets brass are excited with the potential of this team for the upcoming season. Although I would gather that the road to the playoffs lie not so much with the neophytes as it does with the incumbent young players.

Guys like DT Dewayne Robertson who will have to step up and live to his expectations as “Baby Sapp”. He was doing his best Claude Rains impression last year being all but invisible. There is also Bryan Thomas who seems to have gotten a pass for the better part of two seasons. With the prospect of losing either Shaun Ellis or John Abraham after this season it would be nice to know that the Jets have someone who can step in and fill their cleats.

Speaking of Abraham, it’s time for him to show Jet fans what he is made of and play a full season, healthy and productively. It is nice to know the Jets have a player who can explode for four sacks in one game at times but if he misses four to five games a year how helpful is that? The other injury-riddled player would be S John McGraw who seems to have won the starting free safety job on potential alone. Shouldn’t this guy play? It would be great to see these two guys get a full, uninterrupted year under their belts.

Lastly, and by no means least, would be the quarterback. Chad Pennington should finally be able to put together a full season and show us that he is the leader we think he is. I don’t think anything short of an amazing season will quell the masses of Jetland, at least not this denizen. Chad needs to show that not only can he stay healthy but that he can lead this team to more victories and another playoff appearance even when things around him aren’t going well. Can he win a game all by himself? Can he raise the level of the team around him even when they are struggling? This is what he must prove.

If these highly skilled yet still unproven players can live up to their potential and finally stay on the field all season long playing together then with the additions of all these new players, it has to translate into one h-e-double-hockey-sticks kind of a year. Of course, as Jet fans, we should remember that something always seems to get lost in the translation.