When the bullets fly through the electric Arrowhead Stadium air for real Sunday in Kansas City, will we see the Jets team we expect to be amongst league's elite come winter time, or will we see a work in progress that leaves us with an alarming amount of unanswered questions?
Herman Edwards, who should know best, isn't even sure himself.
"There are some young guys that are going to have to play a lot,'' Edwards said. "Ty Law all of a sudden is going to start. Is he in shape to go 77 plays? I don't know that. John Abraham is going to play. How many plays can John Abraham play? I don't know that.
"All of a sudden our punter and kicker now are going to be in a real game, big-time football game,'' Edwards went on. "How are they going to react to that? We're going to have a safety that's going to be a young player. How is he going to react to that?
"That's part of the process. That's what you look at. I don't know if they're concerns, but I don't know that. I haven't seen it live. I haven't seen that. I have no history of that. It's not a concern; it's just that's what it is. That's the reality of it. And the only way you find out is you have to go do it.
"I live by faith, not by sight. I feel that these guys will come in there and they'll do a good job.''
There's reason to believe if you're a Jets follower. There, too, is reason for some consternation _ the kinds of things Edwards brought up.
The atmosphere inside the Jets' locker room is decidedly upbeat, particularly on the part of some key veterans.
"There's just a good feeling around here,'' receiver Wayne Chrebet said. "There's a good atmosphere in the locker room. There's a lot of excitement. We haven't really shown it on the field yet, but I'm anxious to see what we're going to be like when we're throwing the whole entire offensive playbook at them come Kansas city.''
Law, the Jets' newcomer who's faced the Jets twice a year while with the Patriots for the last 10 seasons, said the Jets were always on the Patriots' radar as a team on the verge of overtaking the New England supremacy.
"They were always a play or two away from being THAT team, that team to beat,'' Law said. "They would always stick in there real tough with the good teams. And then against some of the teams you expect to them beat, they would come up short.
"You never knew what to expect from them. They were kind of like that ghost team that would sneak up and bite you and do some things that got your attention.''
Jonathan Vilma, the Jets' second-year linebacker with 10th-year leadership skills, said, "What excites me the most is our (high) expectations. Our expectations last year were to get to the playoffs, and we got to the playoffs. This year our expectations now are to get to the AFC Championship and then to the Super Bowl.
"We're not saying playoffs are a given, but we're taking into account that we were good enough to get to the playoffs and do what we've got to do. Now, let's take another step, take it to another level.
"I expect us to be one of the best if not THE best defenses out there,'' Vilma went on. "We lost a couple key guys and gained a couple key guys, but the bottom line is we have the nucleus back _ the same defensive coordinator (Donnie Henderson) and the same scheme. The only thing we can do is get better.''
With that, the following is a position-by-position break down and forecast for the 2005 Jets and where we think they'll land come January.
QUARTERBACK: Chad Pennington is back health-wise, but is he completely comfortable with the new offense that Mike Heimerdinger has brought in?
At this early stage, we don't think so. But that will change for the better as the season moves forward, because Pennington is a student of the game and a quick learner. Put those two INTs against the Giants out of your mind. Pennington's past has shown us he's a good decision maker.
In case Pennington does get dinged and has to miss some time, the Jets are in better shape at backup than they've been in years. If Bill Parcells had Jay Fiedler in 1999 when Vinny Testaverde went down in Week One, he'd have led the Jets to a 10-6 record and the playoffs. If Fiedler was the Jets' backup last year, there would have been a lot less stress than there was with Quincy Carter at the helm for three games.
Prediction here is that Pennington stays pretty healthy and returns close to the form he was in before getting hurt.
And Fiedler provides as good a safety net as there is in game at backup quarterback.
RUNNING BACK: Everyone wants to know when Curtis Martin's legs are going to tire. Well, based on his career-best output last season and the way he's looked in preseason, don't count on it being this year.
The challenge to the Jets' coaching staff will be how they incorporate backup running back Derrick Blaylock into the game. He must be used _ not only to keep Martin fresh in December, but because he, too, is a weapon, particularly as a receiver.
The question in this group is this: Who's the short-yardage specialist? The Jets don't really have a big bruiser back to burst a hole open on third-and-one. Fullback Jerald Sowell isn't that guy. The departed LaMont Jordan was good in that role, because he'd often break big runs in those situations thanks to his deceptive speed.
Blaylock is more similar to Martin in style, though he is a tougher inside runner than you think.
Prediction here is that Martin not only continues to make people marvel, gaining some 1,500 yards, but he'll also be the best short-yardage back the Jets have because of his slashing ability.
RECEIVER: Laveranues Coles is an upgrade from Santana Moss as a starting receiver. He should combine well with Pennington again the way they did in 2002 before he left for Washington.
Justin McCareins, reunited with Heimerdinger and in his second year with Pennington, should be better than he was a year ago, which was pretty good.
Look for Wayne Chrebet to be reborn under Heimerdinger's offense. He should no longer be forgotten the way he was in the Paul Hackett era, but he should become the third-down weapon he was when he was younger, because Heimerdinger will let him roam underneath and get open.
This should be the year when Jerricho Cotchery breaks out to some degree, though that's going to be difficult if the Jets are going to Chrebet often on third down. That remains to be seen.
TIGHT END: This is the wildcard of the Jets' offense. When Doug Jolley was acquired on draft day everyone assumed he'd become the Frank Wycheck of the Jets' offense the way Heimerdinger used Wycheck in Tennessee. Jolley, however, was unable unseat incumbent backup Chris Baker for the starting job, so who knows what his role will be?
Baker is a better blocker, which is more critical to the Jets' offense with Martin running the ball often and Pennington needing as much protection as possible. If Jolley isn't a 45 to 50-catch TE then the trade out of the first round seems like a bit of a waste, doesn't it?
OFFENSIVE LINE: The nucleus is there with Adrian Jones the major added part at right tackle in place of the free agency departed Kareem McKenzie. Jones has had a strong summer of development and he should make the Jets forget about McKenzie. The concern with the blocking is whether Martin misses departed tight end Anthony Becht, who was a strong blocker in the running game.
The issue on the line is age and depth. Center Kevin Mawae has been a workhorse and someone almost taken for granted to be in the lineup. There is always a concern about left tackle Jason Fabini's back flaring up. And right guard Pete Kendall is also a veteran whose body needs a break periodically.
The team thankfully signed veteran T Scott Gragg late yesterday and this tremendously helps their depth problem. Gragg, the best tackle left on the market, is a steady behemoth of a man at 6’8” and 320 Lbs and he should see a lot of playing time once he learns the Jets' playbook.
Marko Cavka's fractured wrist in the preseason finale at the time was a killer, because he was the key swingman at tackle. With Gragg now on board, Cavka now goes to injured reserve. Jonathan Goodwin, who had a good year last year, is the swingman at guard and center and is dependable, though not dominant by any means. Canadian Steve Morley was acquired the other day from Green Bay to be a swing tackle, but he’s a project.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Can we please have defensive ends Shaun Ellis and John Abraham healthy and in sync together at the same time? They can be dominant, depending on how long it takes for Abraham to work himself into game condition. Right now, he's a part-time player.
The big question on the interior line is this: How much will Jason Ferguson's free agency departure adversely affect defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson and Vilma?
James Reed is the new starter at nose tackle, which looks like a downgrade from Ferguson. After all, who's going to double-team Reed the way they doubled Ferguson? Probably no one, which leaves an extra offensive lineman to muscle up Robertson and/or Vilma.
LINEBACKER: Vilma is the man. Eric Barton is an emotional sparkplug on the defense, making a lot of big plays and firing his mates up. Victor Hobson, who slimmed down this summer, needs to make a big step forward. Depth is an issue here, too, though Mark Brown shared the job with Hobson late last season. Rookie Ryan Myers had a great preseason, but hasn't experienced the regular season yet.
DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD: Everything revolves around Ty Law and whether he's still, well, Ty Law. If Law is still the shut-down cornerback he's been then the Jets have a hugely-improved secondary. David Barrett is solid on the other side at corner. The growing pains will take place at safety, where rookie Kerry Rhodes will start next to second-year Erik Coleman. Both are error-prone at times, so look out for the occasional big play, Jets fans.
Another thing to watch is how well Derrick Strait play nickel now that Ray Mickens is gone. Where, too, will rookie CB Justin Miller end up? Don't be shocked if he overtakes Strait at nickel before long.
SPECIAL TEAMS/KICKING: Mike Westhoff has a band of new, speedy youth for coverage teams. He, too, has Blaylock, who's an all-around special teams leader. The players to watch, though, are rookie kicker Mike Nugent and rookie punter, Aussie Ben Graham. Neither has played an NFL game for real and there could be growing pains here, too.
The prediction, though, is that the Jets' kicking game finally becomes a weapon for them. Graham might be something special and Nugent has the chance to be another Adam Vinatieri.
COACHING: Biggest move of the offseason was Herman Edwards ridding the team of offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, who was always an odd fit here. Heimerdinger is the most compelling story on the team, depending on where he take this offense. Defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson might become a head coach after this season if he takes the defense to the next level and the team has playoff success. Edwards absolutely must be better in clock management situations. Quietly, Heimerdinger should help in that area.
PREDICTION: The Jets stay healthy in the key areas and they have just enough to overtake New England for its supremacy in the AFC East. The division is improved with Buffalo much better than it was a year ago, so these teams will beat upon each other and no one will have a run-away record. Look for the Jets and Patriots to be around 10-6 or 11-5 and the Jets will prevail as AFC East champions. Look for Mike Nugent to get the season started off on the right foot, so to speak, with a game-winning field goal in Kansas City Sunday.