Training camp broke on Wednesday up at SUNY Cortland as the Jets held their last public practice there before moving back to the team’s facility in Florham Park. That was the 1st step in the ramp up to the season. The next steps are the most important and those are preseason games two and three. In the 2nd and 3rd preseason games the starters play a half or more and that’s a lot of time to evaluate players in game situations, especially those in positional battles. Teams also take the 2nd and 3rd games more seriously as a result. There still isn’t a ton of game planning done but more of the offenses and defenses are installed, which leads to more varied (and less vanilla) looks on both sides of the ball.
For the Jets, this game is especially important because the Bengals challenge the Jets in areas of potential weakness, which will show if the offseason changes are enough or whether they need to scan the waiver wire. When the Jets are on offense, the Bengals’ stout front seven will be a huge test for the Jets offensive line. The communication between Breno Giacomini and Willie Colon, the play of Brian Winters at left guard and the pass protection from the running backs will be focal points. The offensive line will not be perfect and Geno Smith (and Michael Vick later on) will have to show that his decision-making has gotten better and quicker like the reports have said and that his footwork remains solid under pressure. Will he actively try to stay in the pocket like he did in the Green and White Scrimmage and preseason game one or will he tuck and run, making the defense pay for blitzing? Will the Jets be able to open holes in the running game, a problem last week vs. the Colts? Who will step up opposite Eric Decker and claim the number two wide receiver role and what formations and combinations will the Jets use with their backs and tight ends to create mismatches that allow quick, easy throws for the quarterback? With Geno Atkins, Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict, Carlos Dunlap and Domata Peko in the front seven and ball hawks like George Illoka, Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall in the secondary it will definitely be a test for the Jets offense. Rookie Darqueze Denard, who has been having an excellent camp, is only the 3rd string corner which speaks to the depth of the Bengals. The Jets should be looking at potential cuts from the Bengals from that position.
On the other side of the ball, the Bengals skilledl position players (even without Marvin Jones who broke his foot over the weekend) will challenge the Jets’ make- shift secondary. The Jets will have to get to Andy Dalton quickly in order to prevent the same long passes that sunk the Jets in the 49-9 embarrassment last year in Cincinnati. In that game, A.J. Green had three catches for 115 yards and Marvin Jones had eight for 122 yards and four touchdowns. Shifty Giovanni Bernard starts at running back, with Green and Jones at wide receiver (Brandon Tate takes his place Saturday) and Tyler Eifert along with Jermaine Gresham at tight end. Expect plenty of Big Nickel (3 safeties with 1 functioning as a linebacker who can man-to-man cover a back or tight end). Both Bengals tackles Whitworth and Smith are banged up so the Jets need to take advantage in order to get off of the field. Huge tests for Antonio Allen starting at corner, Calvin Pryor seeing his 1st action at safety, Demario Davis‘ coverage and Ellis Lankster/Darrin Walls or whoever else starts at the other corner spot. I would like to see a sack from Coples and at least some pressure from Wilkerson and Richardson up front. Situational pass rushing from Jason Babin mixed into the starting unit would be a plus to see also.
We’ll know a lot more about the Jets after Saturday than at any point in the offseason. The “final exam” is the following week against the Giants but this is definitely the “midterm” and the Jets need to pass it, especially without any more injuries. I’ll have Quick Hits immediately following the game, then The Good, The Bad & The Ugly on Sunday.