Jets QB Kellen Clemens against the Browns last season. The Jets lost the game 24-18 at the Meadowlands. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
As Mike Nugent’s overtime kick sailed through the uprights against the Kansas City Chiefs last December, a dismal 4-12 season was finally put to rest. Hopes of building off a surprising playoff birth had ended and a long offseason was ahead. But Jets management decided against staying quiet during the winter months.
Gang Green spent close to $140 million in new contracts, bringing in high-profile veterans such as guard Alan Faneca, nose tackle Kris Jenkins, linebacker Calvin Pace, fullback Tony Richardson and offensive tackle Damien Woody. In addition, the Jets drafted Ohio State standout defensive end Vernon Gholston (sixth overall) to help improve a pass rush that ranked 25th in the NFL last year with just 29 sacks.
With a revamped roster, the Jets will return to the gridiron tomorrow, as they open their preseason schedule at the Cleveland Browns.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to start banging heads against somebody who isn’t wearing green and white. It will be a good measuring stick for us to see where we’re at,” quarterback Kellen Clemens said.
Although Jets head coach Eric Mangini adamantly stated “No” when asked if he had decided on how long he plans to play his starters tomorrow, whatever rotation Mangini decides to use will receive a tough test.
The Browns were seemingly the opposite of Gang Green in 2007. They were coming off a disappointing season (4-12 in 2006) but surprised doubters with a 10-6 record and narrowly missed their first playoff birth since 2003.
Under head coach Romeo Crennel, the Cleveland offense developed into one of the league’s most feared units, ranking eighth in the NFL in total offense (5,621 yards) and scoring (402 points). Quarterback Derek Anderson and wide receiver Braylon Edwards connected on a team-record 16 touchdowns last season and running back Jamal Lewis was the league’s fifth-leading rusher with 1,304 yards. If there was a weak link on the Browns, it was their defense, which ranked 30th (359.6 yds/gm) overall. With the additions of defensive end Corey Williams and defensive tackle Shaun Rogers via trade this offseason, the unit was upgraded significantly.
In facing the Browns, the Jets will be facing an offensive and defensive system much like their own. Mangini noted that Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer worked together on the San Diego Chargers' staff in 2005 and both teams also feature “similar” defensive systems.
“There’s going to be a lot of carryover there, and in a lot of ways it will be like a 'green-and-orange game' because there are so many things that we both face throughout camp, head coaches very similar, both gravitationally challenged, so I think it’s going to be good,” Mangini said.
But with the start of the regular season still a month away, what benefit can the Jets' find in a meaningless preseason game? Well, Mangini knows that a strong performance will help the team not just now, but also in coming weeks.
“It’ll be good to get those situations and also to have a carryover facing a lot of 3-4 teams this season, especially in the division, so it will be positive for our guys,” Mangini said.
For the veterans especially, the start of preseason is a welcoming site.
“We are excited,” quarterback Chad Pennington said. “I think as the veterans, once the preseason rolls around you know that the dog days of training camp are slowly winding down. [We] start to get into more of a game-week type schedule, some game-type atmospheres and game-type situations,” he said.
On the other hand, Thursday’s opener will surely be a memorable event for the first-year players. After battling against teammates in training camp, the opener will give the rookies a feel for live-game action. The game will surely be met with a mix of emotions.
“We actually get to throw the Jets uniform on and have a real game, even though it’s preseason,” tight end Dustin Keller said. “At the same time, it’s my first NFL game. I’m really hyped about it.”
Thus, for Gang Green, Thursday will surely be a learning experience. While the two teams met last December as Cleveland prevailed 24-18 at the Meadowlands, both rosters now feature a plethora of new faces. After the long offseason and spending most of training camp running through light-contact drills, Mangini knows that the opener will be a “shock to the system.”
Jets ‘O’ vs. Browns ‘D’
All eyes will be on the Jets’ quarterback battle between Kellen Clemens and Chad Pennington. Mangini has not decided on a starter yet but both quarterbacks should expect an equal number of reps under center. While the Browns drastically improved their run defense by adding Rogers and Williams, they did not address their secondary concerns. The Browns secondary finished 24th (230.1 yds/gm) in the NFL in 2007, but Cleveland only signed journeyman cornerback Terry Cousin. If Gang Green wants to throw the ball downfield, a weak Cleveland secondary might be the team to do so against. Expect wide receivers Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery put up some nice yardage in their limited action.
Jets ‘D’ vs. Browns ‘O’
Sure the Jets defense should be greatly improved, but the Browns feature one of the NFL’s best offensives. With a Pro-Bowl quarterback and Edwards, tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth as receiving targets, the Browns will surely put up points in bunches this year.
Special Teams Battle
The Jets’ and Browns’ units are as special as they get. Both Mike Nugent (29-36 FG attempts) and Phil Dawson (26-30) are among the top kickers in football and each team’s return game always puts fear in opponents. The Jets' Leon Washington returned three kicks for touchdowns in 2007. Who beat Washington out for the AFC Pro Bowl nod? Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs, who led the Browns in kickoff and punt return yards and scored three touchdowns.
Key to Victory
With Thursday only being a preseason game, it’s tough to really point toward one area as being “key.” Especially in Week One of preseason, both coaches won’t feature their starters for more than a half. Unless one side truly dominates during the first half, the victor will ultimately be decided by the backups. With any NFL game, the turnover battle will be an important factor as well.
With Brett Ratliff and Ken Dorsey likely to be at quarterback for each team late, this game could go either way. But from what backups like wide recievers David Clowney and Paul Raymond have shown during training camp, the Jets have plenty of depth to come through late.
Jets 21, Browns 17
Gametime is Thursday at 7:30 EST. Local TV coverage on WCBS 2 and Radio on 1050 AM ESPN Radio. Be sure to check back to JI for a complete recap!
INTRODUCING JI BLOGS! Brand new for 2008, get even more inside the team by checking out all of the talented Jets Insider.com Bloggers with their own opinions, perspectives and spin on all Jets happenings.
TRAINING CAMP PHOTO GALLERY: Want to see the largest collection of exclusive NY Jets training camp photos on the internet? JI has it!