The Jets finally get to mix it up with players other than their own tomorrow night in Cincinnati. Seeing the Bengals should bring positive memories, as the Jets posted back-to-back wins at the end of the 2009 season that allowed a run to the AFC Championship game. The Jets also won their last regular season meeting against the Bengals in 2010, 26-10.
But after a disappointing 2011 season, the Jets have waited a long time to get back on the football field.
There is no reason to over-analyze a Week 1 preseason game, but live action against another team will shed some light on what is to come in 2012. There are three groups of players to focus on Friday night.
1. Offensive Line
On Wednesday, the Jets rewarded Matt Slauson with the starting Left Guard position to finalize the offensive line starters. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Slauson, Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore and Wayne Hunter (from left to right) is the group. The Bengals finished their 2011 season ranked 7th best in total defense and 5th in sacks. Friday night is a tough early test for an offensive line that had its shares of problems last season.
All eyes on: Slauson, Hunter
To no one’s surprise, Slauson and Hunter are the largest question marks of the offensive line group.
The Jets showed their lack of confidence in Hunter by trying to trade for Panthers Tackle Jeff Otah, but a failed physical sent Otah back to Carolina and gift wrapped Hunter a starting spot. Hunter took plenty of heat at the end of the 2011 season for being the weak link of the offensive line. Many people didn’t expect Hunter to have a starting role this season, but his chance at redemption starts Friday night.
Slauson won the competition against Vladimir Ducasse for a starting Left Guard spot. Slauson has started every game for the past two seasons and didn’t miss one snap in 2011 (other player to do this was Ferguson). Even so, he is not as highly regarded in comparison to Mangold and Ferguson. Slauson had multiple surgeries this offseason but has not showed any lingering effects.
2. Wide Receivers
“Probably doubtful,” was the quote Rex Ryan used when asked if Santonio Holmes will be available Friday night. Jeremy Kerley has been nursing a hamstring injury and has missed the majority of training camp. With Holmes and Kerley both out, rookie Wide Receiver Stephen Hill gets the nod to be Mark Sanchez’s primary target. Chaz Schilens, Patrick Turner, Dexter Jackson and undrafted free agent Royce Pollard will be other names rotating spots.
All eyes on: Schilens, Turner, Jackson
With Holmes being the primary target when healthy and Hill assuming the other starting spot, the Jets will have to find out what talent they have when they reach deeper in the depth chart. Schilens has impressed early in camp and will fit well when Hill needs a breather. Turner is another big target (6’5″, 220 lbs) on the outside who will see plenty of snaps against the Bengals.
Jackson will man the slot position while Holmes and Kerley sit out. This preseason might be his highest exposure point, as Ryan mentioned Holmes will be moving around from the outside to slot position depending on the package. Jackson has a chance to impress coaches with the extra snaps he will see due to other players being injured.
Lastly, keep an eye out for Antonio Cromartie on the offensive side.
How Ryan uses the trio of LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell and Eric Smith will be interesting. All three players plan on seeing significant minutes depending on packages and situations. It will be interesting to see Ryan find the right combinations between the three. There will most likely be moments where the safety groups looks out of sync, but let Ryan have some time figuring out the formula before the panic button is pressed.
All eyes on: Landry
Landry only played in 8 games in 2011 was still rehabbing his Achilles injury in the beginning of camp. Ryan says he expects Landry to play in the opener, so watching Landry get through a game pain-free will be a huge plus for the Jets defense.
All in all, it will be hard to judge the offense since it is not at full strength. It would’ve been interesting to see what packages Tony Sparano has for this offense, with talks of Holmes bouncing around from outside to slot, but that will have to wait. As long as the Jets don’t look absolutely awful, look forward for this team taking the field again.
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