Secondary Slippage

By Mark Cannizzaro Head Writer
August 23rd, 2005
The way CB Derrick Strait has been playing, the Jets may regret cutting Ray Mickens. (Jets Photo)
The way CB Derrick Strait has been playing, the Jets may regret cutting Ray Mickens. (Jets Photo)
Two preseason games. Two opposing quarterbacks. Two near-perfect passer ratings.

This is not what the Jets' defense, which fancies itself as one with potential to be among the best in the league is seeking, but this is what their defense has yielded through two games.

In Week One against the Lions, Detroit starting quarterback Joey Harrington went 9-for-9 for 100 yards. Last Friday night, Minnesota starting quarterback Daunte Culpepper completed 11-of-13 passes for 146 yards against the Jets' starting defense.

The good news from both of those games is that the Jets won those games _ 10-3 over the Lions and 28-21 over the Vikings.

The bad news is that Harrington and Culpepper were a combined 20-of-22 for 246 yards.

Regardless of how confident in his group defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson is, those numbers are eye-opening and have to be cause for some concern.

The Jets' secondary is one with terrific potential because of its youth, speed, athleticism and aggressiveness. It too, can be cause for some concern because of that youth and inexperience.

Depending on who wins the starting safety job alongside second-year starter Erik Coleman, there will be a first-time starter at one of the safety positions.

And, as great as Ty Law has been in his career, we haven't yet gotten a good look at how far back he is from that foot surgery. He's expected to start and play 10 to 12 plays Friday night against the Giants. Still, though, until he shows that he's still Ty Law, the Jets are dealing with at least a slight unknown factor at that cornerback spot, too.

Derrick Strait was thought to be a good enough nickel back so that the Jets could release veteran Ray Mickens. Strait, in his second season, played sparingly last season and bit on an out move on a long Culpepper pass on third-and-24 in the Vikings game. So there is inexperience at nickel, as there will be in the dime package.

"Is it a concern?'' Henderson said, repeating a question. "Yes. Anytime they can throw the ball vertically down the field, that's a concern. If they're throwing the ball laterally then they're just eating up yardage and I'm not worried about that as much as long as we get off the field when we're supposed to.

”That was our problem more than (Culpepper) completing passes. Hell, we had it third-and-24 and we bit on an out. We misplayed the defense.''

Henderson, though, believes the inconsistency is merely a part of it being preseason, not to mention that Jets have yet to be whole on defense through two preseason games.

"I think it's preseason games,'' Henderson said. "In the first game we talked about the (9-for-9) with Harrington, but someone forgot to talk about how he got sacked when they were moving in to score.''

Indeed, after Harrington had moved the Lions down to the Jets' 20, Bryan Thomas sacked Harrington and then, on the next play, Shaun Ellis and James Reed combined for another sack to move Detroit out of field goal range.

"In that game, too, we didn't have four starters in,'' Henderson said. "We didn't have (Eric) Barton, we didn't have (Dewayne) Robertson, we didn't have number 94 (John Abraham) and we didn't have Ty Law.

"(Against the Vikings) we got the ball thrown vertically down field, which was unfortunate. We can't do that. But I don't think it's the quarterback that is the issue. I think it's our own (mistakes).''

Hopefully for the Jets' case, those mistakes will disappear with the appearance of the entire starting unit on Sept. 11 for the regular season opener in Kansas City.

That'll surely be a day when some questions are answered.


HEAD COACH HENDERSON With the Jets' annual preseason set-to with the Giants looming Friday night and recollections of the Jets-Giants brawl-fest during the scrimmage nearly three weeks ago in Albany emerging, the notion that Jets' defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson hurt his chances of becoming a head coach for his boisterous outbursts from the sideline is preposterous.

Henderson, we all remember, got into a little shouting match with Giants' head coach Tom Coughlin that day when Coughlin suggested that the Jets' defenders were mugging his offensive players.

A report after that incident quickly speculated that Henderson, who this week revealed he called Coughlin to clear the air, might now have trouble getting a head coaching job because he'll be perceived as an out-of-control hot head.

Let’s present this question: If the Jets go, say, 11-5 and win a couple playoff games and Henderson becomes a sought-after assistant coach by teams seeking new blood for their vacant head coaching positions, do you think any of those teams will care that Henderson got into a little verbal altercation with Tom Coughlin back in August?

Don’t think too long and hard about that, because it won’t be a factor.

Part of the reason a team is going to like Henderson as its potential head coach is for his fiery attitude. That’s his strength. That’s a reason why Herman Edwards brought him in to be his defensive coordinator.

And, to Henderson’s credit, he vows to not change just because one report speculated that his method might ruffle some feathers.

Henderson, even though he shouldn’t have gone after Coughlin the way he did because Coughlin is a head coach and he’s an assistant, should not change his stripes. He did the right thing by calling Coughlin to clear the air.

”If my style fits then it fits,” Henderson said. “I can only be me, guys. There's one thing my dad always told me. Be you. If you're you then you're going to be you. I can't be anyone else. That's how I coach. The question about the G.M.'s and the League? I can't answer that.”

Regarding the incident in Albany, Henderson said, “Why would I have to turn back time? I'm OK with me. I wasn't being disingenuous. I was being me. I wasn't trying to be disrespectful or anything.”

Trust us on this one: If the Jets have a good year and Henderson’s defense is at least as good as it was last year or even better, teams will look at him as a head coach and they won’t give a damn about what happened in Albany on a hot August Saturday.

FIFTH SENSE The Jets finally gave up on speedster receiver Jonathan Carter, and it was, indeed, time. They’d seen enough. Carter, a nice kid, had his opportunities. He had that incredible game in Indianapolis that teased us all, returning a kickoff for a touchdown and catching a long bomb for a touchdown.

From there, though, Carter never got better or even came close to realizing his potential.

And, for the fifth receiver, the Jets simply must find a player who can contribute on special teams, something Carter wasn’t going to do now that the team lost confidence in him as a kick returner.

It’s very possible that, with Carter gone, draft pick Harry Williams hurt and Chas Gessner dropping more passes than an inexperienced diner waitress fumbles cups of coffee, the Jets’ fifth receiver might be on someone else’s roster at the moment. The same way they originally picked up Carter, who was claimed on waivers from the Giants in 2002, may be the same way they replace him. They’re surely eyeing other teams’ rosters to see if someone with potential (youngster or veteran) gets cut.

ABE WATCH CONTINUES Whenever John Abraham returns _ and it’ll surely be before he has to lose any money in fines (which is Tuesday, Sept. 6 _ he’s going to be nothing more than a part-time player.

Herman Edwards has been playing this the right way by not panicking. It’s a shame, but the Jets are almost resigned to the fact that Abraham will never be a complete defensive end, which means rushing the passer and stopping the run.

If they could combine defensive end Bryan Thomas’ run-stopping and Abraham’s pass rushing ability, then what you would have is a true Pro Bowl defensive end, not one who merely gets in because he racks up a bunch of sacks.

The Jets are surely not going to get as complete-game John Abraham when he returns, because he won’t be in football shape.

They’ll use Bryan Thomas on first down and other run situations and Abraham will become as situational pass rusher. The question then is this: Do you give a situational pass rusher $18 to $20 million in guaranteed money?

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