Nov 3, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) pitches the ball as he is pressured by New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) in the first half during the game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
The Jets report to training camp in just 8 days so now is the time to start evaluating the roster to predict who makes it and who doesn’t. Today we’ll focus on defense and special teams, Thursday we’ll do the offense then I’ll have the season preview with a prediction of the team’s record next Monday. Football is almost here so now the fun begins.
Wilkerson, Richardson and Harrison were a top 5 defensive line in the league last year with Wilkerson netting 10.5 sacks and Richardson and Harrison stopping the run with reckless abandon. Kenrick Ellis would have been the starter but got Wally Pipp’d by Harrison after a knee injury late in training camp. By season’s end Ellis was playing very well and the snaps might be a bit more evenly distributed this year. Leger Douzable was a multi-faceted player that not only rushed the passer well but also was adept at stopping the run as well. IK Enemkpali is a situational pass rusher that is listed at defensive end but could rush from the rush linebacker position as well. He is 261 lbs. so he is a bit heavy for outside linebacker but undersized for defensive end. Enemkpali had 11 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and two interceptions in his final season at Louisiana Tech so he has a nose for the backfield. His role will be a special teamer who gets some pass rush reps toward the end of the year as he progresses. LaKendrick Ross isn’t even on the team yet. He was a player the Jets were interested in when the Supplemental Draft took place last week but ultimately did not use a draft pick on him. Ross is a free agent currently. He is 6’5″ 365 lbs. and bench pressed 225 lbs. 47 times. 47 times, let that sink in. He got 80 calls from 28 teams after his workout. He is a Rex Ryan kind of guy. Ross would be an excellent backup to Harrison or Ellis that could possibly see time in certain run stuffing formations. With Antwan Barnes back and playing defensive end in certain pass rush situations as well as Quinton Coples and Calvin Pace‘s ability to do the same the Jets should have enough depth to get Wilkerson and Richardson some rest and keep them fresh for later in the season as both faded down the stretch.
The success of this unit is going to be judged by the maturation of Quinton Coples. Is he the guy that lived in the backfield the last five games of the season, with all of his 4.5 sacks coming during that timeframe? Or is he the guy that had trouble adjusting to the position after missing time due to an ankle fracture late in training camp? Does his effort still ebb and flow or is this the year he puts it all together? Coples has lost weight this offseason in order to improve his quickness and his ability to play in space. If he lives up to his potential he is a 10 sack player if not then he might be in his last year here. Antwan Barnes added an extra dimension to the pass rush when he played early last season. He was quicker to the quarterback than anyone on the roster and demanded attention which made Wilkerson and Pace’s lives a lot easier. Once he went down for the season the pass rush was good not great. If he stays healthy he is a difference maker. Calvin Pace had 10 sacks last year. A lot of that was finishing plays after Richardson, Wilkerson or another player would flush the quarterback to him but give him credit for doing it. Pace also doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being a very smart player who sets the edge well against the run. Jermaine Cunningham, formerly of the Patriots, looks to finally being putting the pieces together of who he is as a player. He was a 2nd round pick of New England in 2010 out of Florida and found his way in Belichick’s doghouse after his 1st season. A suspension for performance enhancing drugs in 2012 sealed his fate in New England. After a brief stint in San Francisco the Jets picked him up last season and have been working with him. He has had a good set of OTAs and will be a player to watch in training camp. Garrett McIntyre is a versatile backup that has some pass rush ability. He is not very athletic and his roster spot will be challenged by rookies Trevor Reilly and Steele Devito. Both play special teams and hit hard. Reilly is an intriguing prospect that has pass rush upside but is 26 and coming off of a knee injury.
Dec 22, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan speaks with inside linebacker David Harris (52) during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Browns 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Harris and Davis are the unquestioned starters here but after a year’s apprenticeship Jeremiah George is being groomed to possibly takeover Harris’ spot. George played at Iowa State and had 133 tackles, 12 for loss, 3.5 sacks, six pass breakups and two interceptions in his senior season. He is undersized but he plays downhill, hits like a truck and is able to go sideline to sideline. At the very least he will be a special teams leader in year 1 but his speed and coverage ability will get him some defensive snaps. Harris had a good year in 2013. He had 124 tackles, which were his most since 2009, and continues to play downhill about as well as any linebacker in the league. Harris started off the season with improved coverage skills but as the year went on he tired and was exposed in space just like he was 2012. He is 30 now and starting to show the effects of his age but I think he has at least one more good season left in him. Demario Davis had an interesting 1st year as a starter. His role was supposed to be as a coverage specialist that eased some of the burden off of Harris and someone who used his speed to make plays. He ended up having a poor year in coverage but did very well against the run and was a better blitzer than expected. Davis had 107 tackles, a sack and an interception so the ability is there he just needs to refine his coverage skills and react more while thinking less. Nick Bellore is a solid special teamer and occasional backup in case of emergency. Nothing else, nothing more.
The most talked about position on the team and the biggest area of concern is at cornerback. Dee Milliner was as good as it gets in the last month of the season last year but got torched in the 1st 3/4s of it, Dimitri Patterson is a ball hawk but a habitually injured one, Ras-I Dowling is another reclamation project from New England that has stood out in OTAs, Dexter McDougle is a rookie coming off of a gruesome injury, Ellis Lankster has always been relegated to being more of a special teamer, Darrin Walls shows promise but can’t break into the starting lineup and Kyle Wilson is Kyle Wilson. They could keep Johnny Patrick as an 8th corner but I believe extra depth is needed in the trenches so he just misses the cut. I believe that Milliner is for real. His college tape shows the same ability as the last four games of the season did and the kid was a top 10 pick for a reason. Will he be Revis or Cromartie in their primes? Probably not but he has all the potential to become a Pro Bowl player in his career. I think Dowling will win the 2nd corner slot as he has always had the size and speed but now he is healthy and showing why he was a 2nd rounder. Patterson, Wilson and McDougle inside are a pretty good bunch and an improvement over last year’s group. Walls will continue to be the “closer” as Rex Ryan puts it meaning he will be 1st of the bench in case of injury or ineffectiveness and Lankster will play inside against smaller receivers when called upon. Everyone except for Milliner and Patterson can contribute on special teams. Whether the group is good enough is up for debate but if it isn’t looking right at camp expect a move to be made to bring in a veteran. Johnathan Joseph?
Jun 17, 2014; Florham Park, USA; New York Jets safety Calvin Pryor during New York Jets minicamp at Atlantic Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Calvin Pryor was the best available safety in the draft and just what the Jets needed. He is an extremely hard hitter that intimidates receivers coming across the middle, flows downfield and blows up backs, and can play center field. The Jets got beat on the deep ball so many times last season I lost count so change was needed at safety. Look for a lot of “Big Nickel” to be played by the Jets. That’s a 3 safety look with Pryor playing more of a linebacker role that can help coverage in 2 tight end sets as well as fill against the run, Allen covering the primary tight end and Landry playing free safety. Pryor has the ability to play any of the 3 roles in that set. Or they can play cover 3 and have all 3 safeties in the deep half of the field. Rontez Miles was a project that had all the measurables, and the qualities to play in the league but just came from a very small school (California University of Pennsylvania). This seems to be the year that he will crack the roster. He can hit hard and play deep as well. Josh Bush has been terrible since the end of OTAs in 2013. He was leading the race to start next to Landry over Antonio Allen but then he had a listless camp, lost the job and rarely saw playing time. I think Miles is hungrier and will take his roster spot. Jaiquawn Jarrett just isn’t that good and the team isn’t going to carry 5 safeties with the increased depth at wide receiver, offensive line and defensive line so Jarrett misses the cut.
K – Nick Folk
Folk got a long-term contract coming off a career season where he was as clutch as ever. No camp body is going to come in and take his job.
P – Zoltan Mesko
Mesko was terrific with the Patriots from 2010 to 2012 and before that collegiately at Michigan but had a bad 2013 with the Steelers and was cut there and then not re-signed by the Bengals leading to his current free agency. Mesko has been into Florham Park for a workout. If Quigley struggles in camp I expect Mesko to get the call to come in. Mesko has punted well in cold weather, is familiar with the stadiums in the division and is frankly a better punter than Quigley.
LS – Tanner Purdum
Because that’s his job and he does it well.
So that’s 28 spots plus three for the practice squad today so that leaves 25 for the offense. Who makes it and who gets cut (looking at you Clyde Gates)? For those answers tune in Thursday for part 2 of the season preview.