The Jets re-unite with former team capatin and Pro-Bowler Kevin Mawae this weekend.
It’s enormous stadiums teeming with tens of thousands of fans. It’s bone-crunching hits that make even the toughest fans wince. It’s awe-inspiring deep balls with perfect spirals thrown by guys with rocket arms. And twins. It’s Week 1 and after a long summer, the NFL regular season will finally get into full swing this Sunday.
The New York Jets certainly hope to avoid a repeat of last year’s opening day, when they suffered a 27-7 loss at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City at the hands of the Chiefs. A lot has changed since then, and the Jets are looking for a change in direction for a team that looked to be going the wrong way much of 2005.
The Jets have a new, rookie head coach in Eric Mangini, a new starting running back (no matter who the mystery man ends up being), and a revamped offensive line that will feature two first round draft picks. With so much turnover, many experts do not expect much from the Jets in 2006. The squad, however, does not seem to mind the low expectations.
“To me, that is great; if we lose that means you guys won’t stomp us too bad” veteran wide receiver Laveraneus Coles said with a smirk referring to the media. “At least we have an excuse of ‘you said we were going to be sorry.’”
Gang Green will square up against another team that is in a so-called transition year. The Tennessee Titans made some big changes over the offseason, letting veterans like quarterback Steve McNair go while bringing in young talent like rookies QB Vince Young and RB LenDale White. Still, it has not been easy for the Jets to prepare for this weekend’s game in Nashville.
Titans head coach Jeff Fisher is yet to name a starting quarterback for Sunday’s game. Although he did announce that Young will be the backup, he has yet to decide if veteran journeyman Kerry Collins or Billy Volek, who has played number two to McNair for several years, will get the nod at starter. This has put an extra burden on the Jets defense, who now must prepare for all three quarterbacks.
“I think that’s a really solid decision on Jeff’s part,” Mangini said of Fisher’s decision not to name a starter. “I think we have to prepare for three quarterbacks. That takes time. It’s something we’re doing very thoroughly. They all present unique problems because they all have different skill sets.”
Mangini has a few tricks up his sleeve, too. He has still not named a starting running back for this weekend and it seems that anyone of the four backs (rookie Leon Washington, newly acquired Kevan Barlow, or returning vets Cedric Houston and Derrick Blaylock) could receive a good bulk of the carries.
Also unknown is how much of the 3-4 defense the Jets will use in the game. The team has worked out of both 3-4 sets and the more traditional 4-3 look in practice. This could leave pass rushers like Brian Thomas and Trevor Johnson flexible to play both defensive end and some outside linebacker.
Perhaps the Jets biggest secret weapon, however, is rookie wide receiver Brad Smith. Smith, who was a four year starting quarterback with the Missouri Tigers in college, showed big play capability throughout the preseason, especially in the last game against Philadelphia when Smith got some snaps under center. His versatility certainly gives the Jets a couple of options when it comes to trick plays.
“It wasn’t just the last game,” Mangini said of Smith’s preseason performance. “It’s been his approach throughout. He’s always been working to build his versatility. Being able to play wide receiver and special teams as well as the quarterback position gives us versatility on offense.”
Smith won’t be the only spark on Sunday though. Although the Jets and Titans are not in the same division and rarely play each other, there could be some fireworks on while the Jets are on defense as they line-up against former Jets’ all-pro center Kevin Mawae. Mawae will likely spend much of his time blocking either the nose tackle, likely Dewayne Robertson, or the middle linebackers Eric Barton and Jonathan Vilma, who knows what to expect out of the crafty center.
“I expect what I got from him in practice,” Vilma, one of the Jets defensive captains, said. “He’s going to hold, he’s going to do what he has to do to block me or the defensive lineman or Eric Barton, whoever it is, but I expect everything from him.”
No matter what the expectations, there is a general feeling of excitement around the squad. A long training camp and preseason has ended and this weekend it will finally be time to see the finished product.
“I’m really happy with the way these guys have worked,” Mangini said. “That being said, that work needs to translate into consistent focus and execution on the weekend.”
-Mawae will not be the only player lining up across from his former teammates on Sunday. Jets wide receiver Justin McCareins and cornerback Andre Dyson was drafted by the Titans in 2001. Dyson has no ill will toward the team he left after the 2004 season, however.
“I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity the Tennessee Titans gave me,” Dyson said.
-The Jets beat the Titans 24-17 when they traveled to Tennessee December 1, 2003, the last time the two franchises met.
-It came out yesterday that the Titans pursued to trade for QB Daunte Culpepper this off season from the Vikings. Culpepper, though who is from Florida nixed the move in favor of Miami.
-Don't expect to see the debut of QB Vince Young on Sunday unless the game gets real out of hand for the Titans.
-WR/KR Tim Dwight who has sat out for the most part of the last 2 weeks with an injured leg, should be ready to go on Sunday. He will be returning kicks and be in the slot during multiple WR formations.
New York Jets
OL Trey Teague (leg): Out
CB David Barrett (upper leg): Questionable
WR/KR Tim Dwight (lower leg): Questionable
LB Matt Chatham (lower leg): Probable
G Pete Kendall (lower leg): Probable
TE Erron Kinney (knee): Out
DE Antwan Odom (knee): Out
T Jacob Bell (back): Questionable
WR David Givens (hamstring): Questionable
G Benji Olson (upper leg): Questionable
S Lamont Thompson (ankle): Questionable
RB LenDale White (ankle): Questionable
Game time is at 1PM on Sunday, local TV on CBS 2 and local Radio on 1050 ESPN Radio and WRCN 104.3 on Long Island. Be sure to check back to JI after the game for a complete recap!
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