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New York Jets: Breaking down free safety position

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Dec 28, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New York Jets free safety

Calvin Pryor

(25) reacts against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

As any fan of the New York Jets knows, then general manager John Idzik chose Calvin Pryor in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Pryor was billed as the future of the Jets at the free safety position. Pryor came to the league with the reputation of being a huge hitter, and the knock on him was his coverage skills on the back end. The scouts proved to be right, and Pryor was less then spectacular in his rookie campaign.

Fast forward to the 2015 free agency period, and current general manager Mike Maccagnan goes out and signs Marcus Gilchrist to fix the position. Gilchrist comes to the Jets from the San Diego Chargers. Gilchrist was supposed to supply the Jets with a stead fast contributor at the position.  Unfortunately, Gilchrist is coming off a shoulder surgery and is now reportedly hoping to be back in time for camp. Not good news for the Jets.

Let’s take a look at the free safety position and see every option the Jets have at their disposal. The position is integral to any team, but especially for one who is rebuilding its defensive secondary and implementing a new system.

Next: Marcus Gilchrist

December 20, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers strong safety Marcus Gilchrist (38) before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi

Marcus Gilchrist

Gilchrist is the hands down favorite to start at free safety for the Jets this season. He comes over to the Jets as a four-year veteran and yet is only 26 years old. Gilchrist has the ball skills to succeed, though he won’t be mistaken for an elite free safety in NFL circles any time soon.

He measures in at 5’10″/198 pounds, adequate size for the position, but again not overwhelming by any measure. Gilchrist has good coverage skills and has bounced back and forth between free safety and nickel corner. His versatility has been a plus for Gilchrist, but here in New York, it’s likely he stays put at free safety. The Jets need him to round out their newly formed secondary.

The shoulder injury that required surgery this off season is a growing concern. With Todd Bowles installing his defense and an entirely new make up to the secondary, ideally you want your free safety involved from the start. Yes, Gilchrist has a playbook and he’ll be learning the terminology as OTA’s progress, but that doesn’t replace being out there and communicating. There is no replacing the communication.

It’s imperative that the Jets get Gilchrist out on the field as soon as possible. Shoulder injuries can be concerning for safeties, a re-injury while making a tackle is always a possibility. The Jets will need options beyond Gilchrist, let’s see what else they have.

Next: Antonio Allen

Antonio Allen

Behind Gilchrist the Jets are fine in the numbers department, but the talent takes a bit of a drop off. The two likely candidates to fill in for the injured starter would be either Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett. The depth behind them becomes even more at question in the form of Rontez Miles, and Durell Eskridge.

Antonio Allen is a converted linebacker from his collegiate days to safety in the NFL. Allen, measuring in at 6’1″/210 pounds, was developing nicely at the free safety position. He learned from Ed Reed and seemed poised to lock down the Jets free safety position for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately for Allen, the Jets’ secondary melted down last season at corner. Ryan moved Allen to cornerback and things went down hill from there. Upon returning to safety later in the season, it became apparent Allen’s confidence was shattered and his play had diminished across the board.

Allen has the tools, he has experience, and should be able to step in and provide adequate play until Gilchrist returns. The concern of using Allen is two fold. First nobody quite knows how badly his confidence has been shaken, or how long it will take him to develop back into the role of safety.

Secondly, Allen fits more of the role that Bowles likes to use at strong safety. Bowles would likely to prefer to use Allen and Pryor more like linebackers, blitzing them heavily and using their size to support the run stoppage. Allen payed much the same role in college and it”s likely he’ll return to that role under Bowles. Allen may be the guy to hold down the fort, but I’d have to believe Bowles would prefer to use Jarrett if he can.

Next: Jaiquawn Jarrett

Dec 14, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans wide receiver

Derek Hagan

(80) catches a pass against New York Jets free safety Jaiquawn Jarrett (37) during the second half at LP Field. Jets won 16-11. Mandatory Credit:

Jim Brown

-USA TODAY Sports

Jaiquawn Jarrett

Jarrett is a bit of an enigma. He was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, but proved to be disappointing and was released after camp in 2012. The Jets signed him to a future’s contract in December of the same year and Jarrett has made the Jets his home ever since. Ryan was very high on Jarrett, working into the system when the opportunities arose.

Jarrett comes with experience as he’s been a part of the Jets safety rotation for a couple of years now. Jarret had a breakout game last season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he recorded two interceptions, 10 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble.

The trouble with Jarrett has been staying healthy and playing consistent football. Jarret has the tools and the size; measuring in at 6’0″/196 pounds to handle the position. The concern is whether he can take the next step and show consistent performance on the field. Ideally, the Jets would love to see that happen now!

Next: Final Thoughts

Oct 5, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers strong safety Marcus Gilchrist (38) pressures New York Jets quarterback

Michael Vick

(1) in the third quarter of the game at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Final Thoughts

Ideally, Gilchrist will be healthy by the start of camp. He’s a veteran and will more then likely make up for any lost time and pick up the terminology rather quickly. That is the good news for the Jets. However, if his recovery is slowed for some reason, or if he were to injure the shoulder again it could spell trouble for the Jets’ defensive secondary going ahead.

Allen and Jarrett are both experienced safeties, but neither has proven they can handle the position long term as a starter. Both of the Jets backups are capable of filling in but with significantly less talent. The Jets will need one of these two guys to step up big time if Gilchrist isn’t able to go long term.

Camp could see additions made to the safety corps as well. If Allen and Jarrett remain “flashy” and don’t provide the consistent level of play Bowles is looking for, expect Maccagnan to be scouring the wires. The Jets have struggled in the turnover department for several years now, and a top talent at free safety will go a long way into remedying that situation!

Free safety is a must watch going ahead. Pryor moves back to his natural strong safety position this year, and while he may see some time at free safety, the Jets will need an anchor at the position. Whether Gilchrist can be that guy is yet to be seen. Allen and Jarrett must be coached up to step into the role when called on, and the Jets would be wise to continue to look for answers at the position.

That’s how I’m seeing free safety unfolding this summer. What’s your take? Do you have a favorite you’d like to see claim the roster spot? I want to hear what your take is! Let’s Talk Jet Football!!

Next: New York Jets: Predicting wide receiver depth chart

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