For the New York Jets, ever since the demise of Mark Sanchez, the quarterback position has always been a point of concern. In these past three seasons, New York has ranked 30th or worse in passing yards per game amongst the league. On top of that, they have thrown 56 interceptions in 3-year span to go along with just 43 passing touchdowns. However, 2015 could be the dawn of a new era for Gang Green.
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To help aid the quarterback situation, new general manager Mike Maccagnan made the decision to hire offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. As an experienced play-caller with a spread approach, he will finally give Jets fans their wish on the offensive side of the ball. Gailey asks quarterbacks in his offense to air the ball out in many shotgun sets with 3-4 receivers on the field.
With Brian Schottenhiemer, Tony Sparano, and Marty Mornhinweg calling the shots, Gang Green played conservative by running the ball and not taking many chances down the field. Most importantly, the addition of Gailey will help out starting quarterback Geno Smith who played in a spread offense for four seasons at West Virginia.
Dec 7, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) scrambles against the Minnesota Vikings in overtime at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings win 30-24. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Smith is coming off of back to back below average seasons that have many people questioning if he can handle the role as a starter in the NFL. In his rookie campaign, he threw only 12 touchdowns while turning the ball over 26 times. He did rush for 6 touchdowns, but no full-time starter should throw for less than one touchdown per game in a season. Last year, he tossed 13 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions. Although, he was benched in three of the 14 games he played in because of horrendous play.
Week 8 against the Bills, Smith was pulled after just one quarter in which he threw 3 interceptions. With moments like that, it’s hard to imagine that he is still the starter in New York. The acquisitions of Brandon Marshall and Devin Smith should help him get on track in 2015, but this is his last chance. If Smith begins to struggle once again, look for the Jets to turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick immediately.
May 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) drops back to pass during organized team activities at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Fitzpatrick is pretty much “plan B” for Gang Green at quarterback. If Smith crashes the Porsche, the 10-year veteran will most likely step in and finish the season. Fitzpatrick played under Gailey in Buffalo in 2010-12, so the two will certainly be on the same page if need be. In those three seasons, he threw for 10,232 yards to go along with 71 touchdowns and 54 interceptions.
During most of his time in Buffalo, he only had Steve Johnson, David Nelson, and Scott Chandler to throw the ball to. The Bills obviously never reached the playoffs in that stretch, but the stats show he can play well in a spread offense even with an incompetent and shallow receiving core. However, despite the success in Gailey’s scheme, Fitzpatrick will probably spend most of his time in New York teaching 4th-round pick Bryce Petty.
Jan 1, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Baylor Bears quarterback Bryce Petty (14) passes against the Michigan State Spartans in the 2015 Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Bears 42-41. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
As of now, Petty seems to be the long-term option in New York. If Fitzpatrick only sticks around for one year and Smith fails to impress yet again, the former Baylor Bear could very well be the guy in 2016. Given the fact that he has also played in a spread offense, Gailey might be the perfect coordinator for Petty if the opportunity presents itself. In his five years at Baylor (one redshirt), he was the starter for just two of them as he sat behind former 2nd-overall pick Robert Griffin III. In those two seasons, Petty threw for 8,055 yards with 61 touchdowns and a mere 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 20 touchdowns between 2013 and 2014 while completing over 62% of his passes.
Even though he is coming out of a Big 12 conference filled with weak defenses, those numbers show he can take care of the football and put points on the board. The rushing stats showcase his athleticism and the ability he has to make plays with his feet. In a division with talented defensive lines that can get after the quarterback in a hurry, it is important to have a guy that can escape pressure and avoid a sack. If Petty can show signs of growth in 2015, he will be the leading candidate for the starting job in 2016 if Smith disappoints.
May 8, 2015; Florham Park, NY, USA; New York Jets quarterback Jake Heaps (3) drops back to pass during rookie minicamp at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The last quarterback that remains on the roster is Jake Heaps. When Matt Simms requested to be released following the selection of Petty in the draft, this opened the door for Heaps. As an undrafted free agent who played his college ball at three different schools, he is a long-shot to make the final roster, let alone the practice squad. If one of the Jets’ three main quarterbacks were to get hurt for an extended period of time, expect Heaps to be the next man up on the depth chart. Other than that, there is unfortunately no realistic chance for him to make the final 53-man roster.
Overall, despite the additions of Fitzpatrick and Petty, the quarterback position still remains the Jets’ biggest weakness, all due in part to the inconsistency of Geno Smith.