Can you feel it?
The long off-season has mercifully ended and the sweet smell of football is in the air.
Yes itís that time again; every long journey starts with the first step and in the National Football League that can mean only one thing, training camp for the greatest game ever invented. I think we should erect statues to the men who created this league, I really do. GOD Bless the Canton Bulldogs!
Okay, I just had to get that off my chest, so without further ado letís get right down to business and preview the 2007 NY Jets.
TOP 10 POSITION BATTLES IN 2007
1. Darrelle Revis verses every Cornerback not named Andre Dyson.
Make no mistake about it, when the Jets moved up to nab Darrelle Revis at #14 Overall in Round One of the 2007 NFL Draft it was not a backup Cornerback they had in mind, nor was it someone they perceived as extremely raw and in need of much grooming. When they moved up that high, you can bet your bottom dollar they saw a big, physical, fast and well-schooled defensive-back who can compete for that CB spot (opposite Dyson) from the outset.
Revis will have to battle the likes of David Barrett, Justin Miller, Hank Poteat and Drew Coleman, but I believe the Jets got it right the rookie will solidify that position by pre-seasons end. Either way, the team should be well-stocked with depth at CB and a number of nickel/dime-back candidates to choose from. That will be another interesting battle to watch, who nails down those nickel and dime spots, and the safeties might have something to say about that as well.
2. Erik Vs Eric.
Safety Erik Coleman had an outstanding rookie campaign back in 2004, but his progression has been disappointing since then. This is not to say Coleman has been awful, that would be somewhat unfair. However, itís safe to say the expectations were fairly high following his rookie season and he has been rather ordinary since then. Coach Mangini let him know it too having pulled his starting assignment for a brief while in 2006. That being said, the rookie Eric Smith started to emerge as last season progressed and it will be interesting to see if Erik Coleman can bounce back, knowing his starting assignment is on the line, or if the second year Safety (Eric with a C) shows enough improvement to unseat Erik with a K.
3. Harris Vs Barton.
Inside-Linebacker Eric Barton is another veteran who was somewhat disappointing in 2006, which likely prompted the Jets to trade up in round two for highly regarded Michigan ILB David Harris. Rumor has it the Jets were so enamored with Harris they were prepared to select him near the bottom of round one had they not traded up for Revis. The Jets obviously thought enough of David Harris to move up in Round Two and that does not bode well for Eric Barton. Harris is a stout run-defender and a terrific young prospect, in due time he will likely join Jonathan Vilma inside for keeps, but it will be interesting to see if Barton can hold him off in 2007 or if the rookie can make an immediate impact as I suspect he might.
4. Rotation at Outside Linebacker
This is not necessarily a position battle per-say. Bryan Thomas and Victor Hobson both did a nice job at Outside Linebacker in 2006; both are relatively young players in the prime of their careers, and I suspect both will maintain their status as quasi-starters in 2007. I say quasi-starters because the Jets loaded up on OLBís in the off-season, most notably importing pass-rush specialist David Bowens (formerly of Miami) and one-time TOP 5 draft pick Andre Wadsworth, who is attempting a comeback from a career derailed by injuries.
Based on history, itís likely the Jets have more of a rotation in mind for 2007, fresh bodies that can sustain a pass-rush attack for four quarters without slowing down, so I believe someone will emerge (most likely David Bowens) as person in the rotation. If there is a battle to watch here, it would be Bowens vs. Wadsworth for the role of primary substitution/pass rush specialist, with Wadsworth being the long-shot.
5. Third Wide Receiver
This race is wide open (no pun intended) and could be the most entertaining battle to observe. Justin McCareins is the established veteran who would appear to have the inside track, but sophomore Brad Smith is a terrific athlete who made a tough transition from college QB to NFL WR in 2006 and should be much more comfortable with the position this season. Also, if this kid really ďGETS ITĒ he can emerge as a big-time playmaker for this team.
A dark horse is rookie Chansi Stuckey, the late round draft pick from Clemson. Donít be fooled by his falling into the seventh round, much of that had to do with an injury which left him unable to run at full speed for a significant portion of the draft evaluation process. However, prior to his disappointing workouts, some draft websites gave him a borderline day-one grade based on performance and ability. Lastly, Stuckey is electric with the ball in his hands. Heís a playmaker and he is tailor-made for the slot, yet heíll probably need some grooming and at this point he still has to be considered a long shot for the #3 spot. More likely is that he will spend this season on the practice squad.
6. Left Guard
Left Guard should be a non-issue with veteran Pete Kendall still in the fold, but old Pete has done a lot of popping off in the off-season and he could be on borrowed time. As you well know by now, Pete has been unhappy about his contract and heís gone public with his demands for a new deal, trade or release. There has even been innuendo that a holdout may ensue, which also bears watching.
When Kendall was skipping the off-season program, new import and former Ohio State Road-Grader, OG Adrien Clarke, was getting most of the reps with the starters and depending on his progress, he could be next in line. A reliable source at JI also tells us that that rookie Jacob Bender (OT in College) may get shot at OG as well. The team will also monitor the waiver wire during camp, looking for some veteran depth if it becomes available.
This can go any one of three ways. Tangini (GM Mike Tannenbaum and HC Eric Mangini) can at some point decide to accommodate Peteís request for a trade or unconditional release (the new contract is not happening), at which point Clarke and Bender will be the likely candidates to compete for that LG position with Clarke (OG in College) being the obvious favorite, or cooler heads can prevail (i.e. Pete can take a chill-pill and honor his existing contract without making anymore waves), at which point he would be the obvious favorite to maintain his starting position, provided he hasnít already burned enough bridges to make his departure a foregone conclusion?
7. Right Tackle
This is another spot on the offensive line that bears watching, and in my view is where rookie Jacob Bender becomes more of a threat to the incumbent. Anthony Clement, the journeyman tackle is your classic ďhold-the-fort-guyĒ to steal a phrase from Bill Parcells and that phrase pretty much describes a veteran player who is good enough to start in a pinch and he wonít really hurt the team, but heís simply holding down the fort until someone better comes along.
Bender was a good player in college (Nicholls State). He was also a dominant left-tackle, so this kid has some skills. Unfortunately Nicholls State is far removed from big-time 1A College Football and this may be a work in progress. That being said, Bender comes packaged with NFL size (listed at 6í 6Ē/315) and itís not inconceivable he can make a run at that RT spot sometime in 2007 if not directly out of training camp. Clement is the obvious favorite from the outset, but this one also bears watching.
Veteran FA Darian Barnes, formerly of the Dolphins and Tampa where he spent some time blocking for new Jets RB Thomas Jones, is thought to be a devastating lead-blocker. He goes into camp as the likely candidate to lead the way Jones and Neon-Leon Washington. However donít sleep on Stacy Tutt who like Brad Smith had to make a tough transition from College QB in 2006 and showed some flashes as the season moved along. While Barnes seems entrenched as the lead-blocker, Tutt has a chance to make a nitch for himself in the old Richie Anderson role of a FB/H-Back who can make some plays out of the backfield.
9. Defensive Line
Right Defensive End should be a foregone conclusion. The Jets didnít shell-out 20+ million dollars for Kenyon Coleman so Kimo Von OLD-Hoffen could spend another year taking up space, so this one should be a slam-dunk or the Jets front-office made a big mistake. My bet is that the Jets got it right and Coleman will prove to be a nice addition, a 6í 5Ē/295 Pound DE who is ďyoungĒ (thank goodness) and tailor-made for the 3-4 defense. Obviously Dewayne Robertson is entrenched at Nose Tackle, and Shaun Ellis has a virtual lock on the LDE position, so the battles here are all about the primary substitutions, and those guys get a lot of play, so these battles are not to be taken lightly.
At DE weíll have the old warhorses Bobby Hamilton and Kimo Von OLD-Hoffen battling the new additions, Michael Haynes and Eric Hicks. One rookie to keep an eye on is Mike DeVito from Maine, and CJ Mosley is sort of a DT/DE tweener who might make a push for more playing time as well. The primary reserve at NT will see Sione Pouha (coming back from a season ending injury) battling the likes of C.J. Mosley, Zarnell Fitch (who looks the part at 6í 3Ē/320, but can he play?), Matt McChesney and if all else fails Mr. Von OLDhoffen who played some Nose Tackle in Pittsburgh (I think it was under Knute Rockne?). Bottom line, this team really needs Pouha to finally step up and earn his keep.
10. Third Running Back
Obviously in the grand scheme of things this one is of lesser importance to the average Jet fan, but bare in mind that all it takes is one injury to your # 1 or # 2 (i.e. Thomas Jones or Neon Leon) and suddenly your # 3 is thrust into a far more prominent role. The incumbent Cedric Houston, would seem to have the inside track, but heís not Earl Campbell and heís not above a challenge if someone can step forward. In this regard keep an eye on the rookie from James Madison, Alvin Banks and to a lesser extent, Danny Ware from Georgia. Ware is a big kid, listed at 6í 0Ē/234 Pounds, and he has some ability, but he never lived up to his lofty expectations in college. Banks, on the other hand, comes from a smaller program where he really excelled and he could be a sleeper worth watching.
5 REASONS THE 2007 NEW YORK JETS WILL NOT MAKE THE PLAYOFFS
As is always the case, nothing can derail a football team like a series of crippling injuries or just a few to the wrong guys, so donít forget to keep the Jets in your prayers every night (starting right now) before you nod off into dreamland. Keep it simple, donít pray for wins, itís bad luck, just pray for good health and be exceedingly thankful if those prayers are answered in the affirmative. Hey, this is a violent game, a collision sport, and we need all the help we can get.
To quote Coach Manginiís main man Teddy Atlas, ďSuccess is like a martini, it relaxes you.Ē Well letís not have any of that on this football team. Now is not the time to think you arrived. You havenít arrived anywhere until youíre hoisting that Vince Lombardi Trophy amidst a cloud of confetti.
If you want to see what can happen to a football team when the inmates start thinking they can run the asylum, look no further than the NY Giants. Just do what coach says and weíll be fine, otherwise do us all a favor and take a hike before you destroy a good thing.
When you start obsessing over money and that diverts your attention from the task at hand, preparing for the opposition and winning football games, itís only a matter of time before youíre not even worth the money youíre already being paid. Thatís not to say Iím opposed to money, I like a buck as much as the next guy, and Iím certainly not opposed to football players (who sacrifice their bodies for our entertainment) being paid a small fortune. Just understand that the NY Jets, like every other NFL franchise, are operating with a salary cap and theyíre trying to kill two birds with one stone, stock this team for a championship run while simultaneously paying each man according to his worth, and at the end of the day this has to be about more than money, winning has to matter as well, at least as much if not more.
ďThe will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.Ē Thus reads the sign in Coach Manginiís office and truer words have never been spoken. Everyone wants to win. I never met a man in my life who wants to lose, but few are willing to pay the price for success. Last year this team was willing to pay that price, coming off the horrific sting of a 4-12 disaster, and now is no time for backsliding. With a tougher schedule and the Super Bowl (not merely making the playoffs) being the ultimate goal, and with the New England Patriots loaded for bear, this team will need to work even harder.
5 REASONS THE 2007 NEW YORK JETS WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS
1. The Penguin, AKA: ManGenius
Iím not worried about 2, 3, 4 & 5 (see above) and Iíll tell you why, because this coach wonít have it, not on his watch. This coach is for real, the Real McCoy, the authentic article, of this much I am certain and you will be too (in due time) if youíre not equally as certain already.
2. Brian Schottenheimer
If you thought Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer looked smart, daring and bold in 2006, just wait to you get a load of him with a real feature back at his disposal for the sequel. I would imagine Mr. Schotty was doing cartwheels when he got the news; Thomas Jones is a NY Jet.
3. Thomas Jones and Neon Leon
Last year this team had an outstanding Scat-back (Leon Washington) miscast as a feature back and no feature back to speak of, so what the addition of Thomas Jones does for this team goes beyond the obvious addition of a feature back, it also allows Neon Leon to slide right into the role he was born to play. I canít tell you how excited I am about the prospect of this dynamic duo wrecking havoc on Sundayís. With Thomas Jones carrying the load and Neon Leon spelling TJ with his big-play ability, I believe this running game has gone from well below average to one that will keep Defensive Coordinators extra busy in preparation, and gone are the days when defenses could sell-out verses the pass and rush Chad Pennington with reckless abandon. Which bring me to #4 and this one may be controversial for the Chad detractors.
4. Chad Pennington
We all know Chad has his physical limitations, heíll never have a cannon for an arm and I donít deny thatís an issue, but check the record and youíll find this team has made the playoffs every year Chad has remained relatively healthy. Although his play was spotty at times in 2006 (bearing in mind this was his first year back from two torn rotator cuffs, injuries that were believed to have finished his career), he still led the Jets to double-digit wins and yet another appearance in the post season, and this without the help of a bona-fide feature back. So despite his physical limitationís, this man wins. His record speaks for itself and that is a fact. I know he hasnít won a Super Bowl, but Pennington leads his teams to the playoffs like he has a license (3 for 3 when heís started more than 10 Games). Itís about time that we (myself included) acknowledge that fact, just to be fair. I mean if you want to acknowledge his limitationís thatís fine, its fair game, but donít ignore the record or dismiss it as an aberration, in my view that is not being fair. Having said that, I have no reason not to expect more of the same from Chad Pennington, especially with a vastly improved running game this year, I fully expect he will lead this team to the same place he always leads them when healthy, and that means post season play.
5. Loaded up on Defense
Darrelle Revis; David Harris; Kenyon Coleman; David Bowens; Eric Hicks; Michael Haynes; Andre Wadsworth; etc. Granted, not everyone will workout as planned but the Jets loaded up on defensive personnel and some will stick.
Itís not simply a matter of loading up on defense. Coach Mangini inherited a defense that was largely built with the 4-3 scheme in mind and he needed to add 3-4 personnel on the fly. One off-season was hardly enough time to complete the transformation, so last year he had to make due with what he had and got a much better read of what is lacking. This off-season he went full bore to fill those holes while also adding depth in certain areas. If you look at the players he added, even some of the rookie UDFAís like OLB Jason Trusnik for example (small school pass rushing phenom who nearly set a new NCAA record for sacks, with a slew of tackles for losses), most everyone is tailor-made for the 3-4 scheme. So a closer inspection shows a defense that seems far more amicable for the 3-4 scheme as well as a defense that is far more equipped with 3-4 depth.
Again, not all will be starters or major impact players, but football is a collision sport and injuries are almost to be expected during the course of season, so depth is an essential element. In turn, while the Jets remain thin at Nose Tackle I would argue they are much better positioned to endure a 16+ game grind in 2007 than they were in 2006. Lastly, while DBís are not exclusive to any particular scheme per say (4-3 or 3-4), if Revis works out as planned, the Jets will also have the young #1 CB they have dreamed about for quite some.
Overall, I am optimistic about this team and all Jets fans should be as well. No-one gave these guys a snowballs chance in hell last year and they made the playoffs in a tough conference (not to be confused with the little sisters of the poor, better known as the NFC), where highly regarded teams like Cincinnati, Denver, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, and yes even Miami (last years media darlings) all failed to do likewise. They also did it without a feature RB, a geriatric at RDE, a game of musical chairs at RCB, sub-par depth at linebacker (inside and out) and the QB everyone likes to bash (sometimes even me). So youíll have to excuse me if I believe the sequel will at least be as good if not better, tougher schedule or no tougher schedule. I look at this team from top to bottom and I see the potential for a much better (and deeper) football team than we fielded in 2006. I also believe in this Head Coach whole-heartedly.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I failed to mention our primary competition in the AFC East. Letís not pretend it will take anything less than 11-5 (minimum) to have any shot at the division title. More likely 12-4 will be the number, based on how strong the Patriots look on paper. History shows that the Pats wonít disappoint.
In my view this is the task for the 2007 NY Jets, not to simply qualify for the playoffs; that much I expect, but to make a serious run at the division title and they can start by knocking off the Patriots in the home/season opener. Do that and Iíll believe the division title is possible. Also, it will put a scare into the Patriots as well. Itís time to take a stand, itís time to protect our house, itís time to become a dominant home team and itís time to let the Patriots know we mean business ... from day one!
Look for my quarterly team reports throughout the 16 game season and also the return of my weekly NFL Power Rankings coming soon!
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