Photo property of Christa Levitas and used by permission for TheJetPress.com
The New York Jets have already begun organized team activities as they prepare for a long summer ahead. In an exclusive sit down, The Jet Press spends time with sportswriter Christa Levitas.
The New York Jets are hoping to replicate their success of last season. Led by a strong defense, solid rushing attack and some great quarterback play in 2015, they ended the year at 10-6. They missed the NFL Playoffs by just a single game but there is hope this upcoming season to replicate and even exceed everything they did last year.
It’s really hard to predict what exactly will transpire this upcoming season with the Jets, but I enjoy getting the insight of my fellow sportswriters and analysts to see what they think as well. Just like I did during the 2016 NFL Draft, I decided to have another sit down with Christa Levitas, draft specialist and sports writer for Locker Room Update.
As we discuss the aftermath of the draft, what will go down at quarterback and who will ultimately step up at wide receiver, it’s important to know that while the core of this team will return, it’s dynamic will be much different. Thanks to the free agency period, draft and recent acquisitions, this team will have to pull through adversity to ensure they stay the path and end their NFL Playoff drought even with a tougher schedule this time around.
Without further ado, here’s an exclusive sit down with Levitas as we discuss the top 10 burning questions facing the Jets this upcoming season.
Next: 10. Expectations for Darron Lee
10. Expectations for Darron Lee
LTJ: Greetings again, Christa! Once again, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to sit with me and discuss the top 10 burning questions with the Jets. Let’s get right to it…
Do you think Darron Lee will have a huge rookie season or will he need time adjusting to life in the NFL?
CL: I think Darron Lee will play an integral part on the New York Jets defense. Todd Bowles has mentioned during the beginning of the offseason how he wanted to get faster. Lee ran a 4.47 during the combine and was tested as the fastest linebacker prior to the NFL Draft. His speed even beat most of the wide receivers that competed in the 40 in the combine.
Although, Bowles made it clear that Lee won’t start and will serve as a primary backup to Erin Henderson. I expect him to be used similar to how the Arizona Cardinals utilize Deone Bucannon. He adds another dimension to the Jets defense which is more speed and versatility. I think one thing that Lee may need to improve on in the NFL is his technique in coverage which was one of the weaknesses I saw at Ohio State.
Urban Meyer moved Lee around on defense when he played for Ohio State. He has the talent, has sideline to sideline speed, can contribute on special teams and has the ability to blitz. I think the biggest learning curve for Lee will be covering those big physical tight ends in the NFL.
LTJ: I agree with you in that I don’t think he’ll be a three-down starter on defense but used in a situational role at linebacker. Since he’s versatile enough to either blitz or cover well in man-to-man coverage, I can see the Jets using him mostly to get after the quarterback or as extra protection against teams trying to convert third downs. If anything, he’ll have a good season as he’s eased into a starting role over the next few years.
Next: 9. The new and improved rushing attack
May 25, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) watches Matt Forte run with the ball during OTA at Atlantic Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
9. The new and improved rushing attack
LTJ: The Jets in my opinion, upgraded their rushing attack this offseason. With Matt Forte, Khiry Robinson and Bilal Powell now the new three-headed monster at running back, can the Jets have a top five rushing attack?
CL: I love what the Jets did in the backfield. Forte is a versatile back who can do it all in the backfield. He can block and catch out of the backfield. Robinson was an underrated pickup from the Jets who has the ability to extend and make plays. He is a bruiser type running back who is not afraid of contact. Powell has the ability to play special teams and adds more speed to the running back corps. I think a lot depends when they are used, health plays a big factor as well.
LTJ: Looking at what each running back brings to the table, this will be the true strength of the Jets’ offense. Everyone makes a huge deal as to who will be under center for the Jets in 2016 but I love how offensive coordinator Chan Gailey gets the most out of his players. Ultimately, the Jets will return to their roots of being a ground-and-pound kind of offense and win lots of football games because of it.
Next: 8. The huge question mark at quarterback
May 25, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) responds to questions from media during OTA at Atlantic Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
8. The huge question mark at quarterback
LTJ: Speaking of which, when it comes to the quarterback situation, what do you think will ultimately happen? Who starts Week 1 under center?
CL: Right now as it stands, the Jets currently have Geno Smith, Bryce Petty, and Christian Hackenberg under contract at the quarterback position. There are reports that Ryan Fitzpatrick wants to continue playing football and the Jets want him back. For both sides the feeling is mutual however, both sides have yet to come to a deal.
If the Jets went into training camp right now, I would have to say the quarterback job would be handed down to Geno Smith. Smith has more experience and knows the system more compared to Petty and Hackenberg. I expect the Jets to come to terms with Ryan Fitzpatrick eventually where he will be named the starting quarterback or add as more competition for the Jets quarterback competition.
LTJ: I just don’t see Fitzpatrick returning since he’s set on his asking price and the Jets don’t want to budge in what they originally offered. I hope both sides come to an agreement since he can pickup exactly where he left off from last season but at the end of the day, it’s all about business. I’m perfectly fine with Smith under center as I think he could finally thrive with a much better supporting cast around him and the overall new leadership coaching him along the way.
Next: 7. Predicting starting linebackers
Nov 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets inside linebacker Demario Davis (56), New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams (92) and New York Jets inside linebacker David Harris (52) rush the line In the first half at MetLife Stadium.The Jets defeated the Dolphins 38-20. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
7. Predicting starting linebackers
LTJ: The overall pass rush of the Jets got a major overhaul this offseason, especially at linebacker. Who starts for the Jets when it comes to their linebacker corps?
CL: David Harris and Erin Henderson will start as the two inside linebacker for the New York Jets. Harris is a thumper who has done a good job leading the Jets in tackles. Erin Henderson was a free agent pickup last year who ultimately fit the system better than Demario Davis did. Henderson has good coverage skills which is an asset to Todd Bowles system. Darron Lee will serve as a backup to Henderson who will be moved around on defense. I expect Lorenzo Mauldin to start, Bowles mentioned how he will start him at Will linebacker and Jordan Jenkins the Jets third round pick at SAM linebacker. Both of whom should add more speed on defense.
LTJ: Wow, great minds think alike, Christa! That’s exactly what I predict as well as I can’t wait to see all the younger talent in the Jets’ linebacker corps shine this upcoming season. I predict Mauldin will have a breakout season since he did so well last year in a limited role, imagine what he could do with more reps as a starter? I’m truly excited for all these guys to make the Jets’ defense one of the top units in the NFL once the regular season arrives.
Next: 6. Predicting No. 3 wide receiver
May 25, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (81) during OTA at Atlantic Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
6. Predicting No. 3 wide receiver
CL: My guess right now would probably be Quincy Enunwa. Devin Smith is still dealing with a difficult knee injury and it’s unknown at this point when he will be able to make his return. Charone Peake is an unknown at this point who can breakout if he lands on the final roster. Enunwa was used like a hybrid last year and has the ability to contribute on offense in two ways. Experience and his ability to be used multiple ways might give him the advantage over the rest.
LTJ: I’m thinking it’ll come down to Enunwa or Smith. I love Peake but don’t see him emerging as the next best wide receiver behind Decker and Marshall. If anything, Enunwa could have a big year since most coverage will be on Decker/Marshall and it would enable him to get favorable matchups. If Smith however can return from injury and live up to the potential we all saw at Ohio State, he would bring such a dimension on offense. Hoping he returns healthy and ready to make some noise.
Next: 5. Predicting biggest impact player
Jan 3, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Detroit Lions during the second half at Soldier Field. The Lions won 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
5. Predicting biggest impact player
LTJ: Out of all the free agent acquisitions for the Jets this offseason, which one will have the biggest impact heading into the regular season?
CL: There are a lot of free agent’s pick-ups I really like. My choice has to be Matt Forte. The Jets lost Chris Ivory during free agency and Forte is a back who has the ability to do it all offense. He should take pressure off of whoever is the starting quarterback for the New York Jets. He has the ability to block, catch out of the backfield and pass protect. If Forte can stay healthy, he will have a big year for the New York Jets.
LTJ: I agree, that’s why I see the Jets using their ground game as their featured measure of attack on offense this upcoming season. If they can run the ball effectively, it sets the tempo for the entire game. They will eat up a lot of clock and wear out defenses, that’s why I don’t get why everyone is freaking out for no reason as to who will be the starting quarterback of the Jets. The Jets’ offense will be centered around their ground game and not quarterback play, they spent a ton of money on their rushing attack for it to be a strength again.
Next: 4. What will happen with Muhammad Wilkerson?
Jan 3, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) chases Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bills beat the Jets 22-17. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
4. What will happen with Muhammad Wilkerson?
LTJ: How do you see the Muhammad Wilkerson situation playing out this summer?
CL: This will be an interesting situation to see as it unfolds during camp. Wilkerson already skipped OTAs. Although the Jets put the franchise tag on Wilkerson, he has yet to sign his tender. Since he’s not officially under contract, he is free to miss time away from camp. It may be an ongoing situation since Wilkerson as he is looking for a long term deal and the Jets can negotiate a contract with him until July 15th per Dom Cosentino, a beat writer for the Jets. After that time has passed, they cannot negotiate with him until after the regular season.
LTJ: I can immediately tell Wilkerson is frustrated with all these contract negotiations over the past few years. He’s easily their best and most consistent defensive player on the team but just like the Fitzpatrick situation, it’s just a part of the business. Ultimately, I see him signing the franchise tag and more than likely leaving next season via free agency. Trust me when I say, he’ll get a team willing to pay top dollar for his services and it won’t be the Jets.
Next: 3. Predicting hardest game of the year
Dec 6, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) calls a play during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
3. Predicting hardest game of the year
LTJ: Out of all the regular season games the Jets will be playing in 2016, which will be their hardest game of the year?
CL: This is a difficult question, If I had to choice it might be the first game against the Cincinnati Bengals simply because it is the first game headed into the season and this is the first game where it counts where you see the progress the players made during training camp, OTAs, come into action.
LTJ: Interesting pick there but for me, I’ve always lived by the rule that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Both games against the New England Patriots will be the true test against the Jets since well, they’ve been dominating the team and AFC East for the past decade. If the Jets really want to make a statement, they need to sweep them in 2016 to prove they’re serious contenders.
Next: 2. Can the Jets be AFC East champions?
Jan 24, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
2. Can the Jets be AFC East champions?
LTJ: Can the Jets keep up with the New England Patriots in pursuit of the AFC East crown?
CL: Can the Jets kidnap Tom Brady? (laughs) It will be a difficult task, one thing that may work to the Jets favor is their four-game suspension. The Jets have to take it one game at a time, keep adding the pieces to the puzzle and just go out and win as many games as possible.
LTJ: LoL good one, Christa, hope you realize that if anyone kidnaps Brady, they’re going to immediately assume it’s fans of the Jets. Either way, out of all the other teams in the AFC East besides the Patriots, the Jets are in a good position to compete against them for the division. Like you said, it’s all about taking things one week at a time and making sure to win those division games as they’re the most important. Ultimately though, I don’t see the Jets being AFC East champions in 2016 but like last year, pushing the envelope for a Wild Card spot if anything. The Patriots will continue being the best of the AFC East.
Next: 1. What will be the final record of the Jets?
May 25, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles answers questions from media during OTA at Atlantic Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
1. What will be the final record of the Jets?
LTJ: What will be the final record of the Jets at the end of the upcoming season? Do they make the NFL Playoffs?
CL: My prediction is 8-8 to 9-7. This team has had a good offseason and has talent on both sides of the ball. The biggest question mark is the quarterback position and how productive he can be this season.
LTJ: I predict like I did last year, 10-6 but the Jets will make the playoffs as a Wild Card entry. I think the Jets will focus more on their ground game and making their defense top notch against opponents which will bring in some nice results. The schedule is tougher but again, defense wins championships and if it all comes together, the Jets will have a flat out scary defense in 2016.
Once again Christa, it’s truly a pleasure in your company and I appreciate you spending time with me breaking down your thoughts on the Jets for our readers here at The Jet Press. Everyone, please follow Christa on Twitter or check out her work at Locker Room Update to get all her latest articles and to stay connected.