Yesterday was Special Teams Coordinator Mike Westhoff's last game with the Jets. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
The story on Day One of 2008’s season will undoubtedly be the missing faces. Without a shadow of a doubt, several Jets that have played a significant role in the team’s success the past years will be donning new threads by next year.
As of now, though, all that anybody has to run with is questions and possibilities. From younger practice squad players that may be left off the roster next year to veteran playmakers, a 4-12 year will spark GM Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Eric Mangini to alter the face of the franchise.
Yet, while it is common practice for teams one year removed from a sub-par season to witness personnel change, plenty of intriguing storylines will cause the potential for another Pete Kendall situation to erupt next training camp.
For one, QB Chad Pennington has made it clear that he has set plans for 2008—and those plans, if he can help it, do not include playing backup for the Jets, or any other franchise.
Pennington entered the year as the starter, but after a downright awful start for the team, the veteran signal-caller that had just led a supposedly mediocre team to the playoffs was relegated to the bench in favor of unproven second-year quarterback Kellen Clemens.
The Marshall product made it known when he was benched that he wanted to eventually return to starting. And with the off-season around the corner, Pennington doesn’t look close to changing his mind.
“I’ve always enjoyed my time here, I really have, and I enjoy the guys here in the locker room. I do see myself contributing as a starter,” Pennington said. “Because I am under contract, I’m a Jet, so if I remain a Jet, I’ll be the best Jet I can be.
“I don’t have a gut feeling right now,” he continued regarding where he thinks he will be next year. “I’ll probably have a better feeling when that happens.”
If he wishes to start next year, Pennington may find himself elsewhere. It is no secret that the Jets’ front office is more intrigued by the younger Clemens than the aging Pennington. Thus, the veteran did not close the door to the opportunity of playing for a different team next year.
“Here, wherever, I want to be a starter. That is what I live for, as far as professionally. With my occupation in my profession, I live to be a starting quarterback. I relish the moment of being in that huddle, looking the other 10 guys in their eyes, looking at the fire and intensity and the trust they have in me,” Pennington said. “There is no greater feeling, I believe.”
Mangini, meanwhile, made it clear he wants Pennington back, but would not say that the veteran will be guaranteed a starting role.
“I’ve said how pleased I was with Chad, and I know how difficult it was for him to take a new role, but I thought that he handled it as well as anybody could have handled it,” Mangini said. “I feel very strongly about Chad, and I think he’s done a lot of good things. He’s under contract, and we’re evaluating everything throughout the course of this week, and throughout the course of the off-season.”
Pennington’s name has been tossed around in far-fetched trade rumors throughout the end of the year. Chances are that if Pennington goes elsewhere, it will be with a franchise that needs a veteran presence behind center to balance out a younger team—pure speculation of course, but potential buyers include the Vikings, Bears, Chiefs and Dolphins.
Then, there is the WR Laveranues Coles saga. While Coles is signed for two more years, it is no secret that Coles and his agent feel they are due for a contract extension. Moreover, the prospects of Pennington leaving would certainly increase the possibility of Coles asking to leave town—after all, Coles returned to Gang Green from the ‘Skins to play with his best bud.
The issue with Coles, however, is that he is undoubtedly the team’s top threat, and is still under contract with New York. While carrying Pennington on the team as a backup would infringe upon the team in terms of money, Coles has a significant role on the team, meaning he is worth the money.
However, as mentioned, the problem is twofold with Coles. First of all, he will want a contract extension. Second, he wants to catch passes from Pennington.
“At a certain point in your career you want to know where you’re going to be at the tail end. I know I’ll be playing more than two years,” Coles said. “Eric has made it a point to let me know that he does want me here.”
Coles continued to talk about the situation with the uncertainty of Pennington, saying, “Chad is the reason I came back. Of course everybody knows he divvied up some of the money to bring me back. When I talk to Chad, that’s something we’ll discuss.”
Despite his outspoken nature, though, do not expect Coles to follow the example made by Kendall this off-season.
“It won’t get to that,” Coles said emphatically. “I’m not that type of person. I don’t think a player should hold out, but that is something my agent and I will talk about down the line.”
Moreover, don’t expect Coles to let the situation drag on until training camp.
“Of course this isn’t something I want to linger the whole off-season. The sooner the better. Worst-case scenario is I’m here next year playing under the contract, and that isn’t too bad for me. We just hope we get something done, and get something done soon. Hopefully by the end of January will come to some kind of resolution.”
Coles had his least productive year this season in recent memory, mostly due to a nagging ankle injury and mid-season concussion.
And, of course, there are the players who fell short of expectations. Justin McCareins, one of New York’s deep threats, encountered struggle-after-struggle in the off-season, much to the chagrin of Jet fans. Thus, it is quite possible that the soft-spoken wideout may seek out other options next year.
McCareins would not say he wants to be back in New York, but did acknowledge he has enjoyed his stay.
“Man I enjoyed being here. I enjoyed playing with this team. I obviously have a lot of good friends on the team, and I really expect the hell out of the coaches,” McCareins said. “Whatever happens, I’m the luckiest guy I know.”
After serving as the team’s deep threat last season, McCareins fell on the depth chart behind the likes of Brad Smith following a number of key drops earlier in the season. Thus, the possibility of the veteran seeking out a job that would get him more involved is not a secret.
“I’m not worried about the future or what team I’m on or whatever. I got a roster bonus, there’s a good chance things are going to change for me, and that’s the way it is,” McCareins said. “If I’m gone, I’ve enjoyed my time in New York, and if I’m still here, I’m going to do this best I can to help this team improve next year.”
Usually quiet around the media, McCareins spoke for a while today, both about football and other banter, perhaps foreshadowing the possibility of his stay in New York ending this season.
A 4-12 season is not something Gang Green fans are expecting again anytime soon. In order to see results, though, the Jets’ front office might need to make changes, not only in the staff, but also in player personnel. Thus, expect Gang Green to make plenty of moves to return to the playoffs next year, even if it means dealing some longtime Jets elsewhere.
Nose tackle Sione Pouha was the first player Mangini mentioned when asked about the lesser-named guys who made a solid impact this season with the Jets.
“I was really, really happy with Sione. I think that he made a lot of progress,” Mangini said. “He’s a guy that learned the position, and I was pleased with him in training camp the previous year when he got hurt—he learned it (nose tackle), identified some things he needed to improve at, and did that.”
Mangini also made mention of DL C.J. Mosley, DL Shaun Ellis, KR Leon Washington, TE Chris Baker, WR Jerricho Cotchery, C Nick Mangold and LB David Harris.
Highlights of 2007
Harris breaks out
In arguably the Jets’ individual performance of the year, LB David Harris stepped in and stepped up big in his first two starts as a New York Jet. Anchoring an improved defense after a season-ending injury to defensive leader Jonathan Vilma, Harris accumulated 17 tackles and a sack against the Buffalo Bills, and then 24 tackles against the Washington Redskins. Although New York lost each of the games, the rookie’s heroics gave the team—specifically its defense—a positive outlook for the second half of the season. Harris finished the season with 126 tackles—90 solo—and five sacks.
Jones reaches 1,000 despite O-Line
His yards per carry—3.6—were pedestrian. His touchdown totals via the ground—one—were downright mediocre. Yet, despite an inconsistent, seemingly regressing offensive line, RB Thomas Jones managed to have a better-than-solid season. In his first year in green, Jones finished the year with 1,119 yards rushing and 217 yards receiving, including seven games—four of which the team won—which he totaled over 100 all-purpose yards.
Cotchery avoids (sort of) sophomore slump
Granted, he has been around longer than two years. However, 2006 marked the inaugural season that WR Jerricho Cotchery showed he had the potential to be a great No. 2 wideout, and perhaps even a solid No. 1 option. Instead of falling off after year one of the Mangini Era that included 82 catches and 961 yards, Cotchery stepped up, particularly after the loss of WR Laveranues Coles, to finish with 1,130 yards receiving and 82 catches.
Quarterback situation goes unresolved
After the loss to New England in the postseason last year, it appeared as though QB Chad Pennington still had the potential to be a winning NFL quarterback. Leading an expectation-less team to the postseason, Pennington reminded fans of his uncanny awareness during the 10-win campaign. This year proved otherwise, though, as the veteran was yanked halfway into the season in favor of second-year quarterback Kellen Clemens. Instead of proving to be a savior, though, Clemens brought about more questions, finishing the year with just five touchdown passes compared to 10 interceptions and a very paltry 60.9 quarterback rating.
As per his usual persona, Mangini gave no inkling of a hint as to which of the two would be entering training camp next year as a starter, saying that the situation will be assessed and reassessed numerous times over the off-season.
Controversy at punter
In a thrilling end to the season, P Ben Graham and rookie P Jeremy Kapinos battled for the Jets’ job as fourth-down kicker. After Kapinos managed to perform admirably in Week 16, Graham took back the reigns in the final week to mixed reviews. Just as is the case at quarterback, time will tell which punter plays a key role in the success of Gang Green in 2007.
(Insert sarcasm here.)
Looking ahead to 2008
Jets learn their fate in the draft
By way of their Week 17 victory against Herm Edwards and the Kansas City Chiefs, New York slipped to No. 6 in next year’s rookie draft. The Jets will be selecting behind Miami, St. Louis, Atlanta, Kansas City and Oakland—although they do pick before the vaunted Patriots.
Projecting who New York will take is anybody’s guess, but their needs are undeniable—offensive line, defensive line, even quarterback is a possibility.
Schedule for 2008
New York learned their schedule for next season. Other than the yearly divisional contests, intriguing match-ups includes a home re-match against Herm Edwards—perhaps other former Jets—and the Chiefs, along with road games against LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers, Vince Young and the Titans, and Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawks.