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Top 5 observations from training camp

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 12: Austin Seferian-Jenkins #88 of the New York Jets celebrates from the sideline in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 12, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 12: Austin Seferian-Jenkins #88 of the New York Jets celebrates from the sideline in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 12, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 12: Austin Seferian-Jenkins #88 of the New York Jets celebrates from the sideline in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 12, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 12: Austin Seferian-Jenkins #88 of the New York Jets celebrates from the sideline in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 12, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

From training camp to the first exhibition game, a few conclusions about the New York Jets can finally be drawn.  Here are the top five field-level insights.

The bar has been set so low that this could be the most forgettable season of all the forgettable seasons of the New York Jets.  On paper, the offense has a shot to be worst-ever.  But the organization is teeming with young defensive talent — on display in their MetLife exhibition opener with a team-record-tieing eight sacks against the Tennessee Titans — and they will rue losing a few future NFL starters after the 53-man cut.

Head coach Todd Bowles seems like a changed man.  He knows that he is coaching for his life, and thanks to his new high-energy coaching staff, bodies are flying around the field.  The gridiron press has projected a tank-job season of abject misery.  But that is a far cry from the youthful energy and undisputed attitude these eyes have seen in Florham Park and East Rutherford thus far.

However, for Bowles to excel, he needs the talent to run his complex Cardinals secondary schemes.  Rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye look incredible thus far.  But second-year stud Doug Middleton will be sorely missed after tearing his pectoral muscle in a meaningless fourth-quarter special-teams play against Tennessee.  (Third-year practice squadder Ronald Martin stepped in nicely with an athletic goal-line INT, and will now be relied on heavily.)  At cornerback, free agent Morris Claiborne has shown flashes of his projected greatness; sophomore Juston Burris has all the tools, but he needs to seize the starting job from Marcus Williams.

So if Bowles wants to retain employment near his hometown of Elizabeth, NJ, the time is now to demonstrate those proclaimed assets as defensive guru and leader of young men.  One positive sign was seeing the third-year head coach read his troops the riot act, after a disturbingly sloppy and unfocused Monday practice following that gift-wrapped victory off New Jersey Turnpike Exit 16W.

There’s good reason to believe that this Jets team will exceed expectations.  Don’t expect the playoffs, but in a pitifully thin AFC East, look for Gang Green to finish this season with four or five wins, and to place outside of the Sam Darnold sweepstakes.  That would be so Jet-like.

Here are five song titles from New York-bred punk rock misfit Glenn Danzig that best capture the attitude of Jets fans during this dirty black summer.

Next: 5. Left Hand Black

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 12: Josh McCown #15 of the New York Jets calls out the play in the first quarter against the Tennessee Titans during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 12, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 12: Josh McCown #15 of the New York Jets calls out the play in the first quarter against the Tennessee Titans during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 12, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

5.  Left Hand Black

The Jets quarterbacking position is not nearly as weak as everyone expected.  The team’s three right-handed gunslingers (two from the state of the Texas) would likely rank in the Top 25 of the 32-team league, not dead-last.  That’s huge news going into a season of diminished expectations.

Josh McCown has been great for this young team’s development.  He’s already proved to the anti-Ryan Fitzpatrick, an enthusiastic leader of men with no petty axes to grind.  McCown continues to play his usual above average — but can he remain upright, for even half a season?  The 38-year-old’s injury history certainly does not bear that out.

Christian Hackenberg had the best game of his pro career — which is probably not saying much.  It was hard to tell how much of that growth (17-24, 119 yards, no INTs) was due to the fact that the play calling was so dialed-back and vanilla.  But one thing’s for sure: the Penn State product displayed poise and composure in the face of a blizzard of botched assignments, dropped passes and stiff competition.

Bryce Petty‘s career seems to be in a free-fall.  And getting hammered by third-string future UPS drivers is doing no favors for the former Baylor product’s future.  Expect the organization to part ways with their 2015 fourth-round project if something better falls after the September 2 cuts.

FWIW, in terms of addressing Gang Green’s pressing quarterback needs, here is my Jets mock draft taking Cowboys camp standout quarterback Cooper Rush in the sixth round.  After Dallas’ first exhibition, there were whispers of the Central Michigan UDFA’s arrival as the second coming of Tony Romo.

Next: 4. 7-7-7

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 12: Alex Tanney #11 of the Tennessee Titans is sacked by Julian Stanford #51 of the New York Jets in the second quarter during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 12, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 12: Alex Tanney #11 of the Tennessee Titans is sacked by Julian Stanford #51 of the New York Jets in the second quarter during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 12, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

4.  7-7-7

Gang Green’s front seven is slowly re-establishing itself as one of the NFL’s best.  But expect a late-season trade of their best player Sheldon Richardson — even if the whole point of this darn sport is to amass the best talent available.

Even though “experts” consider this to be the weakest roster in the league, the Jets will have to cut some quality talent.  There are nine defensive linemen in camp not named Williams, Wilkerson or Richardson.  Last year’s starter ex Steeler Steve McLendon may not make the final cut, between his salary and the emergence of 2015 seventh-rounder Deon Simon and former Packer Mike Pennel.  And last year’s defensive camp sensation Lawrence Thomas is locked in a fierce battle for the final spot with ex Dolphin/Patriot Anthony Johnson and recent pickups, feel-good story Devon Still and JUCO stud Jeremy Faulk.  (Expect some combo of Faulk, Claude Pelon, and Patrick Gamble to make the practice squad.)

As for the linebackers, the prognosis looks good.  On the inside, Darron Lee is coming up strong, and Demario Davis seems faster than during his first go-around with this team.  Of the outside linebackers, Jordan Jenkins is coming of age on the strong side.  But pass-rusher Lorenzo Mauldin will be challenged by a blend of Columbia product Josh Martin, fifth-rounder Dylan Donahue, and CFL standouts Freddie Bishop and Frank Beltre.

Wagner product Julian Stanford likely played his way back onto this team with a ferocious sack of Tennessee’s Alex Tanney (Division III’s  all-time passing yardage and TD pass leader at Illinois’ Monmouth College) that reverberated throughout the bowels of MetLife Stadium.  Stanford and veteran Bruce Carter (and likely practice squadder UDFA Connor Harris) will compete for backup ILB playing time.

How exciting does that sound, Jets fans?

Next: 3. Possession

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 12: Charone Peake #17 of the New York Jets is congratulated by teammates Elijah McGuire #35 and Brent Qvale #79 after Peake scored a touchdown in the first quarter against the Tennessee Titans during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 12, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 12: Charone Peake #17 of the New York Jets is congratulated by teammates Elijah McGuire #35 and Brent Qvale #79 after Peake scored a touchdown in the first quarter against the Tennessee Titans during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 12, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

3.  Possession

The offensive line— one of the biggest concerns going into camp — is shaping up.  Not only have the linemen held their own every practice against Williams, Wilkerson, and company, but against the Titans front, the Jets starters moved the ball down the field with relative ease.  A strong possession offense in ’17 will cure many of this team’s woes.

This writer has extolled the development of right tackle Brandon Shell.  But former Nebraska UDFA Brent Qvale — ex GM John Idzik’s best moves, along with third-rounder Brian Winters and sixth-rounder Quincy Enunwa — has done everything possible to command the starting position.

Big money signing Kevin Beachum has already shown that he has the quarterback’s back at LT — which will be huge for this team woefully bereft of offensive weapons.  Wesley Johnson still has the upper-hand at center, over Colts cut Jonathan Harrison.  That means benchwarmer Dakota Dozier may be on the outside looking in.

Project Craig Watts led the team last week with 56 snaps at guard, and Jeff Adams (like Josh Martin, also from Columbia) spent a lot of reps at backup tackle.  So whether or not Dozier makes the final cut, the roster depth is set with the aforementioned players, along with starting guards Winters and James Carpenter and capable backup tackle Ben Ijalana.

The 2017 season will be in the hands of this developing O-line.  Believe the hype.

Next: 2. Twist Of Cain

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – SEPTEMBER 11: Jalin Marshall #89 of the New York Jets returns a kickoff against the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium on September 11, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the New York Jets 23-22. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – SEPTEMBER 11: Jalin Marshall #89 of the New York Jets returns a kickoff against the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium on September 11, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the New York Jets 23-22. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

2.  Twist of Cain

Special teams coach Brant Boyer cannot be happy.  With the talent he has to work with, this unit could absolutely ensure the “tank job” that most fans are fearing.

The kicking game remains Gang Green’s weakest attribute.  This writer has advocated for punter Lach Edwards.  But the second-year Aussie outta Sam Houston State (McCown’s school, dozen-plus years earlier) should be called “Shank” for all the 20-yard boots that roll off his ankle onto the sideline.  General manager Mike Maccagnan has preached competition at every position, but Edwards hasn’t had to sweat bullets after being chosen Ryan Quigley‘s replacement two seasons ago.

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As for placekicker, Cardinals castoff Chandler Catanzaro has done little to win the job outright.  His competition, Ross Martin, a second-year undrafted free agent graduate of Duke currently employed by IBM, is savvy enough to walk away with Nick Folk‘s old job.

At least the return game shows signs of life.  Frankie Hammond had some twisting, turning returns against the Titans, and made a couple deft catches as a receiver.  That gave the Hollywood, FL product an inside track over unlucky Lucky Whitehead, even before the former Cowboy broke his foot.

Finally, roster bubbles Dexter McDougle and Jalin Marshall displayed promise as gunners in the return game.  The former is finally blossoming as a baller, but will likely get cut.  The latter has really hurt this team by getting suspended the first four games for steroids.

Next: 1. Dirty Black Summer

1.  Dirty Black Summer

More than other sports, football is about the intangibles.  That bodes well for this Jets season.

Bowles needs to win, and first-time offensive coordinator John Morton needs to shine.  The players are elite athletes and they are not “tanking it.”  Every one of them is fighting to save their NFL dream.  But an air of desperation might just be urgent kick-in-the-butt everyone sorely needs at One Jets Drive.

One cannot predict injuries, and the Jets certainly endured an injury wrecked 2016 season.  But if McCown can hold up and Hackenberg can hang in, the quarterback situation will not be dire.  The offensive line is grooming players, the running backs are a strength, and the tight ends are no longer the butt of jokes with a rehabilitated Austin Seferian-Jenkins and converted small-college quarterback Jason Vander Laan.

The defensive secondary shows promise, and the front seven is once again a strong point.  Too bad all of this news coincides with the one season that being lousy could possibly benefit the future of this forsaken franchise — by being bad enough to have a chance to select that elusive quality arm.

Must Read: Could Bryce Petty be on the roster bubble?

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