New Jets G Pete Kendall: The team hopes Cardinals' trash turns into their treasure. (Photo courtesy, NY Jets)
There has been a lot of buzz during this training camp about how explosive the Jets offense can be. With all the pieces in place including QB Chad Pennington, RB Curtis Martin, and WR’s Santana Moss, Justin McCareins, and a healthy Wayne Chrebet, the Jets offense seemingly has the potential to put up some big numbers. However, as good as Pennington’s weapons seem to be on paper, the team’s ultimate offensive success rests on the shoulders of the offensive line. If this unit can remain healthy and open holes and protect the QB, the sky is the limit. History is on the teams side as the o-line has not had any significant in-season injuries since 1999.
A big question coming into 2004 is the apparent lack of depth the Jets have on the offensive line. Entering training camp, the Jets had only one backup on the line with actual game experience and that was C Jonathan Goodwin. That stat alone would make any coach or fan cringe.
It’s not often that a high caliper NFL veteran is released only days into training camp. But that was the situation when the Arizona Cardinals cut Pete Kendall on August 1. Rumors surfaced that Kendall had snitched on Head Coach Dennis Green and reported violations of off-season workouts to the NFLPA. Kendall denies the rumors but nonetheless he went from starting NFL lineman to unemployed within hours.
The news of Kendall’s release shocked and pleasantly surprised many a GM around the league. About half of the NFL teams, including the Jets, inquired about the talented former first round pick. Thanks to the quick footwork of Assistant GM Mike Tannenbaum, the Jets ended up making the strongest offer which ultimately Kendall accepted. Only hour later, the ten year Vet was introduced to the NY media. The signing of Kendall should give the Jets a solid starter at left guard on the o-line. Brent Smith, who Kendall replaces and who did a noble job last season after being shuffled into the starting lineup, will now be competing with Brandon Moore for the other guard spot. If Moore wins the starting job, Smith becomes a solid veteran on the bench ready to fill in when needed.
Jets General Manager Terry Bradway has shown he does not believe in paying big money to guards, which is the reason he lost guards Kerry Jenkins in 2002 to the Buccaneers and then Randy Thomas in 2003 to the Redskins as free agents. Bradway seemingly made a strong statement by signing Kendall to a 5 year, $20 million contract, however the deal included no signing bonus and is quite cap friendly.
With Kendall in the mix starting at left guard, the Jets now have four solid starters on the line with Jason Fabini at left tackle, Kevin Mawae at center, Kareem McKenzie at right tackle and either Smith or Moore at right guard.
Jets offensive line coach Doug Marrone already likes what he sees from Kendall.
“He has a toughness about himself,” said Marrone. He’s always been known as a tough player. Calling around and talking to coaches who have coached him, everyone has said that he is a tremendous player, a very smart football player. He brings nine years of experience to us. He especially brings us experience at two positions. He has started in this League at left guard and he has started at center. It’s an upgrade for our line. It brings us more competition and it gives us more experience.”
Backing up Kendall at LG is Dave Yovanovits, a 2003 7th round Jets draft pick. Yovanovits earned a spot on the team last year after a nice training camp but was inactive for all 16 of the Jets games.
The battle between Smith and Moore at RG should be interesting. Moore, a converted defensive lineman has mainly been a practice squad player for the Jets but was signed to the roster in October last year and played a little over 100 plays. Smith meanwhile, was signed before 2003 from the Dolphins as a backup tackle. An 8 year vet coming off two consecutive inactive years from major ACL injuries on each knee, Smith was seen as a longshot to even make the team. However, after the sudden retirement of FA G Tom Nutten a week into last year’s training camp Marrone plugged Smith into the right guard position he held the spot for all of 2004.
Marrone talked about what each brings to the game.
“(Brent has) the experience of starting more, having been around the League,” said Marrone. “He knows a little bit more about the players. Everything is not a new experience for him. With Brandon, sometimes we take that for granted. Sometimes when things happen out there, that’s a new experience for him, that’s the first time he’s seeing it. Every day for Brandon is a tremendous experience for him. Brent zones in on more of the fundamentals and skills.”
Marrone feels Moore has a bit of an advantage.
“Brandon really has the athleticism to help him,” said the Coach. “He has tremendous strength on the line and he is also able to get out there. Both players are able and both players are willing. Brandon has a lot of upside to him because he’s been healthy.”
Moore has spent the past 2 1/2 years making the transition from defense to offense and had to change his mindset.
“On defense, you try to get away from the guy,” said Moore. On offense, you’re trying to hold onto the guy, so it’s a different mentality,”
Marrone would like Moore to be more consistent.
“ That’s the one thing that we are looking for with everyone. To be in this League and to play offensive line, you have to be very consistent to be very productive. The one thing that happens now, especially with players that are battling for position, you see flashes of things, especially with younger players. Even the two rookies we drafted, they flash at times and we feel really good about it. But then sometimes you’ll see a little bit of inconsistency,-which is expected,-so when the consistency picks up then you have the ability and confidence to put them in the game,” Marrone said.
Coach Edwards likes the competition.
“It helps (having them together) and I think that Brandon is doing a good job,” said the Coach. “He is a young player who hasn’t started a lot of games. Brent now goes from right to left and that is a learning process. The good thing about it is that he has been there. He has played 16 games at guard. Now, he is going to the other side. The footwork is a little different over there but for the most part, he is doing a pretty good job. And it is tough. It is tough against this defense at times because of what they do.”
At left tackle, Jason Fabini has a stronghold on the position despite having a sub par year in 2003 that was marred by missed blocks and penalties. Since being drafted in the fourth round in the 1998 draft by the Jets, Fabini has been a big part of the offensive line. Fabini spent the first two years of his career at right tackle before switching to left tackle prior to the team’s 2000 training camp. Since then, Fabini has started every game at LT for the Jets. Fabini is not going anywhere as he signed a five-year, $17 million contract during the offseason in 2002 and will be here until 2007. Jets nation hopes that 2003 was just a fluke and Fabini will bounce back into form.
Backing up Fabini at LT will be Adrian Jones, a fourth-round draft pick from Kansas. Jones is certainly talented, but will take time to learn the Jets offense. Jones talked about the transition from college to the NFL.
“It’s not a long process, it’s a quick process,” said Jones. You have to be ready every time you get out here. The main thing is that it’s real fast paced and that’s the biggest adjustment I can see from college.”
Kevin Mawae is the anchor of the line at center, where he has been for the Jets since signing from the Seahawks in 1998. His outspoken personality and leadership on and off the field has made him the elder statesman of Gang Green. Despite entering his 11th NFL season, Mawae is still as solid as ever. The veteran has earned five consecutive Pro Bowl starts and possesses the longest current streak started among NFL centers with 155 games. Mawae’s contract runs until 2008.
Goodwin, who was switched from guard to center this off-season after veteran C J.P. Machado was not retained. He is in his third NFL season and has had the luxury of learning from Mawae. Goodwin has played in 28 games in his first two seasons with the Jets as a reserve and on special teams. He will also continue to be a back up at guard as well as center.
Curt McGill is listed as third on the depth chart at center and is a long shot to make the team. McGill spent all of last season on injured reserve with the Colts but did get experience this past off-season playing with the Scottish Claymores in NFL Europe.
Kareem McKenzie, the starting right tackle, is the only lineman Bradway has ever picked higher than the fourth round. McKenzie has been solid during his Jets career, making 32 starts out of 40 games he has played in. After being a restricted free agent this season and trying to negotiate a long term deal, he could not come to terms with the team and ended up signing his one year tender offer. He now becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season. Based on the numbers he was looking for from the Jets and the team’s huge list of other pending free agents (Pennington, Moss, Ellis, Abraham and Becht) it’s almost a lock that this will be McKenzie’s last season as a Jet.
Backing up McKenzie is Marko Cavka, a big 6’7, 294 pound rookie from Sacramento State. Cavka impressed enough at Division I-AA Sacramento State to be drafted in the 6th round by the Jets. They hope to groom him enough this season so he can take over for McKenzie next year if needed. Cavka has earned praise from offensive line coach Doug Marrone but is still learning.
Marrone is pleased with the progress of Cavka and Jones so far.
“They (Jones & Cavka) had a very good scrimmage against the Giants’, said Marrone. They played against veteran players, guys who have been in this League. They won some battles and they lost some, but the experience is going to be tremendous for them. Now I think it gives them an edge up going into this preseason with New Orleans.”
While the young linemen have been fighting for spots on team, veterans such as Mawae and Fabini have been helpful to them. Jason Nerys is an UDFA from the University of Delaware, looking for a spot on the roster at right guard. After helping lead Delaware to the I-AA National Championship last year, Nerys will look to continue his success in the pros.
Nerys has been thankful for the veterans help. “Those guys can offer so much knowledge because they have been in the league for a while. They are all at the top of their game. They’re all great players so you can learn a lot. They’ve been very helpful and I’ve learned a lot these past few weeks from those guys,” Nerys said.
The offensive line seems to be gelling recently in practice and Edwards feels going against the defense everyday is helping them.
“I think our defense is helping them because of all the things we do (on defense) and all the different fronts they see in practice and all the different types of blitzing Donnie (Henderson) is going to do with our players. All of the different fronts and all of the different things we are trying to do helps them when they get into game situations,” Edwards said.
The offense has been talked about as having all the tools as being explosive and the o-line will play a big part in whether or not Pennington has time to release the ball or Martin has holes to run through. Pennington knows if the o-line plays well, it will lead to success.
“It all starts up front; making sure our offensive line gels and comes together and working together,” said Pennington. That is where it all starts. Those guys know that. I know that. They are the key to our success and they will do a good job for us.”
Only time will tell.