Raiders Head Coach Art Shell is playing for his job. Raiders players with expiring contracts are playing to showcase whatever talent they may have to any NFL teams in less disarray than Oakland (that’s all of them, by the way). And the Jets, on the verge of seizing the final wildcard berth in the AFC, might be playing without their best offensive and defensive players. In other words, Sunday’s regular-season finale at the Meadowlands has “trap” written all over it.
Jets DE Shaun Ellis has been with the team through playoff runs and losing seasons alike, and he is the first to admit that the Jets will have their work cut of for them against the 2-13 Raiders on Sunday.
“Even though their record and everything is not the way they want it to be, they have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball,” said Ellis. “You know, this may be the game that they decide to put it all together. It’s the last game; I’m pretty sure a lot of guys are probably playing for the Raiders and also playing for themselves, too. So, I mean, this could be a real tricky game.”
The Raiders enter the game touting one of the worst offenses in the NFL, and even though their defense – against the pass in particular – is superb, it has not been enough to overcome the abysmal efforts on the offensive side of the ball. Still, a 307 yard offensive outbreak against the Chiefs in Week 16 including an impressive 8-of-15 third down conversions, opened some eyes at Jets’ camp.
“I think the Kansas City game is a good example of how well they can move the ball,” Mangini said in his morning presser, adding that his team will prepare just as diligently for this game as any other.
More unnerving than the notion that Oakland’s offense may finally show up for a game this Sunday is the concern that many of the Jets’ key playmakers will not be able to due to injuries. Heading the list of recently-fallen Gang Green-stars are WR Laveranues Coles, RB Cedric Houston, CB Andre Dyson, and S Kerry Rhodes.
Coles, who missed a large portion of Monday’s win in Miami after being injured on a hard hit by LB Zach Thomas, appeared much improved in practice today. Coles sustained injuries to his head and chin on the hit, which appeared to be a helmet-to-helmet blow.
“It was one of those that we put in to the league,” Mangini said of the violent hit, adding that, “It was a pretty big hit.” However, he would not confirm that Coles had suffered a concussion, insisting that “he got hit in the head, and that’s it.”
Houston, who was injured a week earlier against the Vikings, also appeared to be reasonably healthy in practice on Thursday. He began running at slower speeds and avoiding making cuts that might put additional strain on his injured calf, but as the practice session progressed he became increasingly involved.
Houston is clearly still not at 100 percent, but he looked much better, splitting carries with RB Leon Washington all afternoon. RB Kevan Barlow, who took Houston’s place as the team’s power running-back against Miami and struggled mightily, saw his role reduced in practice once again.
As for the team’s injured defenders, Thursday’s practice provided little hope that either one will be in game-shape by Sunday.
Rhodes appears more likely to be able to play in the regular-season finale than Dyson, who was limited all afternoon and showed a visibly-hard time running. Dyson spent the majority of the practice in pads but on the sidelines. Rhodes was limited as well, but he managed to work close to full-speed. Both are listed as questionable.
Surprisingly enough, Dyson’s injury could potentially hurt the Jets’ kicking game as well as their pass defense. That’s because, according to Coach Mangini, Dyson has been practicing as a back-up place kicker.
”We’ve had Dyson kick some field goals,” Mangini informed reporters during his Thursday presser. He also mentioned that K Mike Nugent has been working as a back-up punter and that QBs Chad Pennington and Patrick Ramsey have been practicing as back-up holders for place kicks.
If nothing else, having Pennington and Ramsey work as holders will hopefully force P Ben Graham, who currently holds the job, into correcting the problems he’s had recently in that area. Graham botched the hold on a crucial field-goal attempt against Miami, his second such error in just two weeks.
Graham didn’t instill any confidence in his teammates and in Special Teams Coordinator Mike Westhoff on Thursday as he had difficulty holding onto snaps in a punting drill. Westhoff lectured him after the drill, telling Graham to “straighten up” and not let down his hard-working teammates.”
Mangini said that he understands there were justifiable reasons for Graham’s two botched spots – especially against Miami, where the soaking wet ball flew straight out of his hands – but said that it was still inexcusable and that “we can’t have those things.”
-The Jets put a large emphasis on offense during the early minutes of Thursday’s practice, including a passing drill that called for every receiver on the team to be involved. Beside the team’s normal set of receivers, WRs Brad Smith and Wallace Wright had plenty of balls thrown their way, presumably in case Coles is unable to play. Smith had the only dropped pass in the drill, letting a five-yarder slip through his fingers.
-FB B.J. Askew appeared to be limping in the locker room, but on the practice field he showed no signs of discomfort from his injured foot.
-WR Justin McCareins equated Pennington to his quarterback when he was a member of the Titans, Steve McNair. He said that Pennington’s toughness is “very similar” to McNair’s and added that Pennington has also done a phenomenal job of dealing with criticism from the media and fans.
-Coles was asked whether he believes the hit on him in the Miami game was a helmet-to-helmet shot, replying that it doesn’t make a difference at this point in time. “I don’t get into that,” he said of the process of submitting the hit to the league and possibly getting Thomas fined, adding with a chuckle, “It’s not like I get any money from it.”
New York Jets
-FB B.J. Askew (Foot): Questionable
-RB Kevan Barlow (Thigh): Questionable
-CB David Barrett (Hip): Questionable
-WR Laveranues Coles (Head/Jaw): Questionable
-CB Andre Dyson (Knee): Questionable
-FB James Hodgins (Knee): Questionable
-RB Cedric Houston (Calf): Questionable
-S Kerry Rhodes (Knee): Questionable
-DB Eric Smith (Foot): Questionable
-LB Matt Chatham (Foot): Probable
-OL Brandon Moore (Back): Probable
-DL Rashad Moore (Hand): Probable
-QB Chad Pennington (Calf): Probable
-QB Patrick Ramsey (Calf): Probable
-DE Bryan Thomas (Shoulder): Probable
-RB LaMont Jordan (Knee): Out
-WR Jerry Porter (Hip): Out
-QB Aaron Brooks (Neck): Questionable
-RB Zack Crockett (Heel): Questionable
-WR Randy Moss (Ankle): Questionable
-G Kevin Boothe (Elbow): Probable
-T Robert Gallery (Neck): Probable
-G Corey Hulsey (Knee): Probable
-CB Fabian Washington (Shoulder): Probable
The team continues its preparation for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Raiders with a full walk-through tomorrow. Be sure to check back to JetsInsider.com for a full game preview!