The Jets enter the 2013 in a weird place. It is both a known rebuilding year and a make or break year for head coach Rex Ryan.
A weird premise for a new general manager to enter the picture, start a rebuild of a team, and keep the previous regime’s coach, but that was the decision Woody Johnson and his new GM made. So Ryan enters this year as a lame duck coach, with no clear-cut way of knowing what standard he has to set to keep his job.
As for what we do know – lets take a short look at the personnel before this season begins and then take a guess at how this season will go.
We start with Rex Ryan and the Jets’ strong suit. Ironically, this will probably be the defense Rex has always needed for his system – a strong front line. Mo Wilkerson is a burgeoning superstar on the end. Rookie Sheldon Richardson looks like the real thing on the other side. Up the middle, Kenrick Ellis may finally get a chance to show what he has got, but also Damon “Big Snacks” Harrison made the case to get more and more snaps as the preseason moved on.
The Jets decided to move Quinton Coples, after a strong season on the line, to linebacker. That should help Rex’s blitz schemes, but we will have to see what his coverage skills look like. For now, Garrett McIntyre will man the position until Coples’ return from injury. The Jets also added more speed at linebacker, replacing the fossilized Bart Scott with 2nd year ILB Demario Davis, who had 36 tackles in limited time last year. Still, keeping the diminishing Calvin Pace and watching as David Harris struggles through the preseason, some may wonder if the LBs will struggle this year. We may see a lot more of the Nick Bellores and Ricky Sapps of the world over the course of the season.
Finally, the secondary, which has to overcome the much publicized departure of quite possibly the most talent Jet of all time, Darrelle Revis.
Last year, Antonio Cromartie stepped up big time, almost making people around the NFL forget about Revis after he tore his ACL. Nothing less, though, will be acceptable for the Jets this year. With 1st round pick Dee Milliner manning the other post and Kyle Wilson still stinking up the joint at Nickel, the pressure will be on Cromartie to have another Pro Bowl caliber season. With the losses of Laron Landry and Yeremiah Bell, two of the leading tacklers on the Jets last season, and the replacing of them with inferior talent in Landry’s brother Dawan and sparingly used 7th round pick Antonio Allen, will put even more of a load on Cromartie’s back.
As always, Rex Ryan has his defense ready. This one will have a completely different shape from those of his prior years, but one that may be tailored more to Ryan, if the secondary can hold up.
If there is one person on the Jets that everyone can depend on, it is Nick Mangold. Since his first season in the league, he has been the best center in the NFL. Year after year the pieces around him have changed, but he has stayed the same.
You cannot say the same thing of D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who had an off-season last year. That said, after overcoming his early career struggles, Brick has been a star for the Jets at LT, perhaps the 2nd most important position in the league. We can believe that he will return to that level once again.
From there, it is a mixed bag. Willie Colon and Austin Howard are both serviceable and capable of having good seasons. Colon was a 3-year starter with the Steelers before tearing his Achilles, then triceps. He will have to show he can stay healthy through a season, but if he does, this will be a good signing by Idzik. Austin Howard was a step up at RT for the Jets, but anyone would be after spending a season with Wayne Hunter there. That said, he was very inconsistent and at times, not any better. Now entering his second full season with Gang Green, he will have to grow for this line to be consistent.
Then we come to left guard, where the much mocked Vlad Ducasse will finally enter a season as starter. From all accounts, he has improved and had a strong camp. That said, he is Vlad Ducasse; “much improved” still does not get him to “NFL starter” just like that. He will be on the left side where he can be better hidden, but if things start to go wrong, perhaps Brian Winters will be called upon to take his place.
All we have to do is look at Thursday Night’s game to see something the Jets lack. The Denver Broncos have three good to great receivers with a rising tight end. On the other hand, The Baltimore Ravens lost several of their weapons and are left with one above average receiver and an untrustworthy tight end. When you do not have weapons offensively, no matter how good your run game is, if you go down to a good team you are not coming back.
In the passing league we live in these days, you have to possess weapons for the quarterback. The Jets have long had this problem. For only 12 regular season games and 3 playoff games did Mark Sanchez ever have two great receivers and a good one – that was Braylon Edwards in his prime combined with Santonio Holmes (coming off a suspension) and a still above-average Jerricho Cotchery.
As we see in the NFL, both bad and good quarterbacks, including Super Bowl-winning QBs, have trouble if they are lacking weapons.
Santonio Holmes is still recovering from a Lisfranc injury. Stephen Hill has yet to prove he has the hands to make it in the NFL. Jeremy Kerley has been playing over his head for the past two years. Clyde Gates just learned how to run routes within the last few months. Ryan Spadola is a great story with even better preseason, but he has yet to play in a regular season game – David Clowney once had a great preseason too. Kellen Winslow could be a savior at tight end, if his knees hold up. And finally, we have been waiting on Jeff Cumberland for three years, a guy brimming with talent, but still needs to put it all together on the field.
Best case scenario: Holmes is back to his Super Bowl playing prime and Hill learns how to catch and play every down hard, creating an outside tandem that can combine with the inside and short game of Kerley. That is also the longest shot of happening scenario.
While all these guys have potential, at their very best, to create a good set of skill players, that would be the most optimistic of futures. In reality, Geno Smith may only have a slightly better situation than Mark Sanchez ever had on his best day. In this NFL, hope and potential do not make great wide receiver corps.
At least Chaz Schilens is gone.
Goodbye, Shonn Greene. [Did you know Shonn Greene has never had a single regular season run over 40 yards in his career? Good riddance]
Enter the oft-injured, but talented and powerful runner, Chris Ivory. Over his career he has averaged an insane 5.1 yards per carry. Of course, he has only been able to get on the field for 24 games over three seasons in the NFL due to injuries and a host of other running backs with the Saints.
Injuries have plagued him once again, opening the door for average RB Bilal Powell to be the opening day starter. That does not figure to last long once Ivory gets his reps. Powell may even fall as far as 3rd on the depth chart after Mike Goodson works his way into the rotation following his suspension. That will be dependent on Goodson staying clean between now and his return.
The backfield looks like it can be one of the Jets strengths, but much will rest on Ivory’s ability to shake off his injury-prone status. If the Jets are to be successful at all, the running backs will have to be the support system Geno Smith needs going forward. This three-headed group looks like a big positive for the Jets going forward.
Ah yes, we have arrived at the most talked about position, quite possibly in all of football: Who will play quarterback for the New York Jets?
Well, we know now. It is Geno Smith.
The much debated “competition” has taken a semi-permanent turn after Mark Sanchez seemingly won the job, only to be put into the 4th quarter of a preseason game and injured.
So the de-facto loser of the competition, but player the Jets organization wanted to “win” the job from the beginning is in firm control of the job. Smith will now have the job and the opportunity to keep it without Sanchez looming as a replacement for at least a few weeks.
While the Jets refuse to end the competition, with a few average or better games (or even just taking care of the ball) it will ensure a full season of starts for Geno.
What can we expect?
Too many people assume moving on from Mark Sanchez at all costs was the most important direction the Jets have gone. Few have broached the possibility that things could actually be worse.
If you take a minute and look around the league, there are plenty of QBs who have done less with more and have done nothing at all or worse with anything. Take a quick look at the disaster in Arizona last year where the Cardinals started the incompetent trio of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, and Ryan Lindley. How about Oakland now, who are choosing between a guy who has twice been acquired by teams to be their starter and now benched and Terrelle Pryor, who no one assumed was an NFL-quality QB.
There is no reason to believe Geno Smith will be as bad as these examples. He has a much stronger college pedigree at West Virginia, as well as NFL-quality skills and attributes.
But prior history has three precedents we should fear.
The first, which we have discussed plenty here previously, was back in 2009, when the Jets handed Mark Sanchez the starting job without having him beat out Kellen Clemens. Geno Smith had similar low-expectations heading into competition, but the difference is Sanchez actually played well in 2009.
The second was fan desire to see Clemens beat out Chad Pennington for the job in 2007. The similarly 2nd round pick in 2006 had a stronger arm than Pennington and fans were ready to move in a new direction. Of course, when the Jets eventually got rid of the most accurate passer in NFL history, he was a runner up for the league MVP. Clemens is on his way out of the league after just 12 games started.
The final one is the 2010 draft. Like this year, there was no obvious first QB pick and even more, there were questions as to whether or not a QB would go first or DT Ndamukong Suh. Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford won out and has been an average QB in the NFL.
Considered a weak QB draft in the first place, Bradford stands as the only QB in that class to still be starting in the NFL, only 3 years later. If you continue to look at that class, barely any of them even have jobs anymore, especially after the Patriots release of Tim Tebow. Only Joe Webb and Jimmy Clausen still have jobs.
And Clausen is the QB we need to discuss. Taken by the Panthers in the 2nd round, he was expected to be their QB of the future. After an uneven and ultimately disappointing rookie campaign, the Panthers wound up with the top pick in the 2011 draft. Faced with the possibility of wasting the previous year’s 2nd round pick, the Panthers chose to do so and selected Cam Newton, a franchise QB, out of a much stronger QB class.
2014 is shaping up to be a very strong QB class and the Jets may be faced with a similar situation.
This is a rebuilding team with a rookie QB who has many question marks attached to him. The Jets must balance trying to win games while the season still has hope with seeing what Geno Smith has. They must determine his worth and future in only 16 games, because if given the same future the Panthers once had, they must not be afraid to erase the chalk board and start again.
So Geno Smith will start, and Rex Ryan’s era in New York may be ending. It will be a year of learning and struggle for the Jets. Potential is there, but so are many unknowns. Perhaps Geno Smith will live up to expectations and past the lack of confidence the Jets have on him and become the Franchise QB the Jets have yet to find.
A lot has to go right for the Jets this season and the fans and the team have to hope their good luck from previous Ryan years returns.
If not, we are going to find out just how much Woody Johnson and John Idzik love Rex. This is a 4-5 win team based solely on the dominance of Rex Ryan defenses. If the offense comes together, this could be a sneaky pick for going .500 in a weak AFC.
That said, we cannot be even remotely confident in the offense. Sometimes change is made just to make change. Did John Idzik believe Geno Smith was the future franchise QB when he selected him, or did he just need someone capable of dislodging four playoff game winner, Mark Sanchez, from the starting job?
We shall find out.
One thing is for sure: It will be a shame if Rex Ryan goes out this way. A man who brought the force to change the culture for the Jets in a way that was just as strong as Bill Parcells over a decade and a half ago. Without the personnel and coordinator support on offense, his teams always struggled in an area always seen as a weakness for him. He always gave a top defense to the table and led the Jets to four road playoff wins behind a shaky QB, almost an impossibility in this NFL. Rex also brought an important atmosphere which led to his early success – that he and the Jets would not back down to anyone.
Time, rebuilding, and mistakes may take him down instead.
I hope I’m wrong. Rex Ryan has proven everyone else wrong before. What’s one more try? Make me wrong, Rex. Please.
2013 New York Jets Prediction: 4-12, top 3 draft pick.