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Top 5 trouble spots to address in preseason

Aug 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Tony Washington (12) breaks a tackle by New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner (27) and New York Jets strong safety Rontez Miles (45) during the second quarter of a preseason game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Tony Washington (12) breaks a tackle by New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner (27) and New York Jets strong safety Rontez Miles (45) during the second quarter of a preseason game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /
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Aug 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Tony Washington (12) breaks a tackle by New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner (27) and New York Jets strong safety Rontez Miles (45) during the second quarter of a preseason game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets escaped their preseason debut with a win, and no major injuries.  But those sixty minutes on the MetLife turf exposed a few problem spots to deal with come September.

So far, so good. The 28-23 preseason opening win by the New York Jets means little in the scheme of things. But fans can take comfort in knowing that this current roster is profoundly stronger than  it was last season, and there are many positions of strength on this team — so strong that many young talents might not make the final 53 and/or will get swooped up by other organizations before general manager Mike Maccagnan can sneak them on the practice squad.

Related Story: Top 3 story lines for New York Jets vs Washington Redskins

A winning culture all comes back to “situational football” — which all comes back to coaching — and second year head coach Todd Bowles should take a major step forward this year.  And intense red zone practices, like with battles between Darrelle Revis and Brandon Marshall, has only improved this team.

There’s also been a lot of chatter about those brutal first six opponents they face.  But to be fair, those same adversaries will look at the Jets as formidable opponents, too.

If quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has blossomed into that elite player he believes himself to be, this is his best team ever.  And if offensive coordinator Chan Gailey now possesses enough key pieces, like it seems that he does, expectations should be sky-high.

Having said that, here’s five glaring holes to address — starting this Friday in Washington against the Redskins.  We will soon know if this “win-now” veteran squad has what it takes to be more than a .500 team — or if they’re indeed destined to make a serious playoff run.

There’s no good reason the Jets can’t compete right now but they must take care of these top five trouble spots before the regular season arrives.

Next: 5. Hold It, Now Hit It

Aug 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) attempts a pass against Jacksonville Jaguars during first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

5. Offensive Line

Be afraid, be very afraid, Fitzpatrick. D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s retirement coupled with Breno Giacomini injury has created major concerns at the tackle position.

In the preseason opener, the combination of New Brunswick, NJ’s Ben Ijalana and John Idzik 2014 practice squadder Brent Qvale performed well enough on the edge stepping in for Breno at right tackle.

But Brick’s left guard replacement, free agent signing Ryan Clady, looked rusty at best — literally getting blown off the ball on one play.  The former Boise State Bronco will have to make major strides in order to return to his two-time, first-team All-Pro form in Denver; before foot and knee injuries wrecked his career.

There’s no depth on the line either.  Dakota Dozier, Wesley Johnson, Craig Watts, Kyle Friend, Michael Liedtke and last year’s fifth-rounder Jarvis Harrison played un-spectacularly, to put it politely.

And while we’re at, sixth-lineman, blocking-machine Kellen Davis will undoubtedly retain his starting tight end position — as that great anticipated blossoming of Jace Amaro is not going as planned.  2014’s supposed second-coming of Mike Ditka, who came into camp this year taut and lean, had zero receptions on three targeted passes against a field of future CFL players and UPS drivers.

Former special teams coach and Jets Post Game Live  commentator Mike Westhoff has been harping on the fact that at training camp, the offensive line just cannot move the pile.

In all fairness, few offensive fronts look good when they’re practicing against possibly the best defense in the NFL. Especially when they’re blocking for likely roster casualties such as Romar Morris or Dominique Williams (or recently imported journeyman Antone Smith) instead of opening holes for 2016’s proven NFL starters, aging Matt Forte and oft-injured Bilal Powell.

Next: 4. Shut 'Em Down

Aug 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (55) during the second half of the preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium. The Jets won, 17-23. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

4. Outside Linebackers

With the departures of the aged Calvin Pace and the ineffective Quinton Coples, there remains huge question marks surrounding 2016’s anointed starting outside linebackers.  The faster that second-year stud Lorenzo Mauldin and third-round rookie Jordan Jenkins learn to wrap up the run game, the faster they will acclimate as NFL starters.  Neither outside linebacker stood out against Jacksonville — though Jenkins made a few nice plays.

Expect major input from CFL standout Freddie Bishop, and possibly from two-time, all-Ivy Leaguer Columbia Lion Josh Martin.  The fierce Bishop seems a perfect fit to the Bowles system, although he did miss a key tackle in the opener.  Third-year Jet Trevor Reilly seems to be on the outside looking in — and last week’s inactive status due to leg injury did not help his cause.

So the final two outside linebacker spots will come down to Martin, Reilly and two converted defense ends, fourth-year vet Mike Catapano straight outta LI’s Chaminade HS (FWIW, both he and Leonard Williams share the nickname “The Big Cat”), and 2015 practice squadder Deion Barnes.

The linebacker corp will remain strong on the inside.  Critics have pointed out that David Harris and Erin Henderson got pancaked a few times against the Jaguars by ex-teammate running back Chris Ivory, but don’t read too much into that.

The inside starters will be ably backed by newcomer veteran Bruce Carter and exciting No. 1 draft pick Darron Lee.   It will be up to Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers  to maximize the unique skill set of the small, speedy former Buckeye’s inside threat. Both of which resulted in some monster tackles against the Jaguars.

With so many tough roster decisions to be made, general manager Mike Maccagnan may opt to not keep a fifth inside linebacker.

Local Wagner star Julian Stanford and 2015 undrafted free agent Taiwan Jones will be playing for their roster spot against the Redskins, and beyond.

Next: 3. On The Corner

Aug 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) during the second half of the preseason game at MetLife Stadium. The Jets won, 17-23. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) during the second half of the preseason game at MetLife Stadium. The Jets won, 17-23. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /

Aug 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) during the second half of the preseason game at MetLife Stadium. The Jets won, 17-23. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

3. Cornerback depth

With aging warrior Revis out of action healing his troublesome right wrist and Buster Skrine seeing limited snaps, the Jets’ secondary depth got exposed in the preseason opener.

In other words, the Jets were very soft on the outside without Revis, and there were way too many open receivers in the first half against Jacksonville’s starters.

Marcus Williams, a 2014 undrafted free agent, continues to perform competitively — so for the entire first half, Blake Bortles and Chad Henne picked mercilessly on 2014 top ten draft pick Dee Milliner.

The Milliner issue is particular troubling because they really need him to contribute this year.  But he struggled so mightily against Jags’ rising star receiver Allen Robinson, it was not even a fair competition.  You gotta wonder what the person who drafted Milliner — John Idzik, now a Jaguars’ mid-level exec — was thinking watching this annihilation from the visiting owner’s box.

Juston Burris played much of the second half, and put his hands on lots of footballs and got in people’s faces.  You got a glimpse of what kind of player the rangy rookie fourth-rounder out of NC State can be; a big physical kid good enough to throw into some key nickel packages this season.

And then there’s Doug Middleton, a head-hunting undrafted free agent safety from Appalachian State who at this point has earned a roster spot. He’s making a strong case for Gang Green carrying one less cornerback.

Next: 2. Can You Deliver?

2. Four quarterbacks

This is a make-or-break year for Fitzpatrick — both in terms of this season, and the salary he expects for next.  He did make a few nice look-off passes to Quincy Enunwa in his limited reps. It will be fascinating to see if the Fitzmagic of 2015 can be rekindled in 2016. He’s certainly got the locker room respect and the confidence of his receivers.

But there’s got to be a logical reason that neither ten-year-vet Ryan nor his mouthy passing target Brandon, have ever made the NFL Playoffs.

When the chips were down, neither player rose to the occasion during that mind-numbing season finale loss to Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills — with displays of ineptitude that won’t soon be forgotten.

Geno Smith got off to a rough start, and almost destroyed young Jalin Marshall on a pass route over the middle.  But then Smith came back nicely, throwing a gorgeous over-the-shoulder touchdown pass to seventh-rounder Charone Peake before halftime.

But is Geno really as Charley Casserly recently said, the best backup quarterback in the league?  And just what does that comment say about the current state of the league?!

Bryce Petty played his best ever game for the Green-and-White.  He did not deliver eye-popping stats — its hard to when you’re running for your life with third-string blockers — but through it all, he displayed poise and confidence in the pocket.

Petty might be the odd-man out, so he needs to give the Jets a really good reason to juggle four quarterbacks on the roster. But this is Bryce’s time — his regular season is right now — and he’s delivered with a solid job so far.

Some fans and pundits expressed disappointment not seeing any fourth-quarter snaps from second-round pick Christian Hackenberg, but his time will come.

Next: 1. Kick in the Eye

Aug 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Jalin Marshall (89) returns a kickoff during the second half of the preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

1. Special Teams

This aspect of the game has always been the Jets’ Achilles heel.  Fiery new special teams coach Brant Boyer is the team’s fifth coordinator in five seasons. But if last Thursday at MetLife was any indication, the new guy just might keep his job for a while.

Jeremy Ross, now on his seventh NFL team, and undrafted free agent talk-of-camp Jalin Marshall each made highlight-reel-worthy kickoff and punt returns.

Nick Folk is coming off last year’s injury  but that was mid-season, so he had plenty of time to recover.  Folk still remains very consistent.  Duke rookie Ross Martin, who had only missed one kick in camp going head-to-head with Folk, went 1/3 in field-goal attempts when it counted.

Sixth-round pick Lach Edwards, a former Australian Rules Footballer who attended Sam Houston State, averaged 42 yards per punt. Two of his kicks laid nicely inside the 20.  Edwards already looks like an upgrade to Ryan Quigley, last year’s under-achiever now booting for the Jaguars.

Most of the special teams upgrade goes back to the work of Maccagnan, who has overhauled the bottom of the Jets moribund roster with a jolt of young, fast, high-motor talent.

If the Jets can develop an effective special teams game, it may help them win one or two close games that they usually lose, where field-position comes into play.

must read: Grading current special teams situation

Gang Green has the better part of a month to get things right.  The difference between playoff contention and staying at home on the couch is the organization’s ability to address the roster’s most pressing needs.

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