The New York Jets learned a lot about what to expect in 2017. Here are the top five players rising and falling based on training camp and the first two games of the preseason.
The second exhibition game in Detroit raised more questions than answers going into the New York Jets 2017 season. It was a brutal one to sit through, watching the biggest rebuild/overhaul in the history of New York professional sports.
On the sidelines, head coach Todd Bowles looked lost, with that same deer-in-the-lights stare that has not left his face since that soul-crushing lost to Rex Ryan’s Bills that ended the 2015 season, and set back this franchise indefinitely.
There were a few terrible signs from the sidelines. They proved that Bowles has not learned much from last year’s mind-numbing meltdown. It also means that he may not be coaching for his job after all.
For all the talk about the Jets starting offensive line getting manhandled by the Lions, there were actually three substitutes. It’s not a bad thing Bowles truly believes that Jonotthan Harrison, Ben Ijalana and Brandon Shell are all neck-and-neck” with Wesley Johnson, Kevin Beachum and Brent Qvale. But please, coach, tell it like it is. There is no shame in starting capable backups in early exhibition games.
Another bad sign was Bowles’ lack of flexibility in his game plan. By not thinking on his feet, the coach deprived valuable field time game-action to Christian Hackenberg in the second-half. Then he compounded the problem by barring Josh McCown —the most mature and milquetoast member of this roster — from speaking to reporters about what just transpired.
Here are five songs from the Red Hot Chili Peppers catalog that best describe the noxious conditions these Jets currently face.
Next: 5. Give It Away
5. Give It Away
BALLER: Josh McCown
The 38-year-old veteran quarterback has been nothing short of a revelation. He proves himself daily as both a coach in the locker room and on the field. Josh McCown is a leader of men — something Bowles is touted to be.
There’s no competition for the starting job at this point in time; the savvy vet is light years ahead of his much-younger challengers. He commands the huddle, fires precision short passes, and can really air it out. Too bad he has no one to block for him, to move the pile, or to catch the football.
If McCown can remain upright, this team can certainly win four or five games. But if the offensive line falters at a key moment, this season could be over and fast.
FALLER: Christian Hackenberg
After Gang Green’s most recent exhibition — in which Bowles literally threw Christian to the Lions — Hackenberg is squarely back as the third-stringer behind Bryce Petty. At least Hack should be carrying the clipboard, if Bowles doesn’t mess up this decision, too.
New offensive coordinator John Morton has gone out of his way to state that Christian’s rookie year was a waste, and that he is now a rookie that should be ready to compete in 2018. Somehow, this Jets regime’s actions with McCown and Hack feels similar to the previous regime’s star-crossed 2012 season with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow.
Sure, Hackenberg played in Detroit with a sieve of a blocking scheme and butter-fingered receivers. An argument can be made that he had no chance. But some facts don’t lie, and the second-year arm out of Penn State has played in two exhibitions yet has generated zero points.
At some point this season, we will see Hack in a game. It will be interesting to see.
Next: 4. Fight Like A Brave
4. Fight Like A Brave
BALLER: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Sure, he saw some playing time last season with Gang Green. But 2017 is Austin Seferian-Jenkins‘ first real season with the team. The behemoth tight end has seemingly settled his battle with the bottle, and has shown up ready to reclaim his first-round value as an elite NFL tight end.
If Jenkins can solve his well-reported immaturity and chemical abuse issues, he can certainly be a top-ranked tight end in this league. He’s got the size, the speed, and the blocking, route-running and catching skills to be down-right Gronk-like.
The Jets have not had a game-changing tight end in decades, going back to Rich Caster, Jerome Barkum and Mickey Shuler. Most of us are only old enough to remember horror shows like Johnny Mitchell, Kyle Brady and Jace Amaro. (Does that make Dustin Keller the greatest Jets tight end of the last 20 years?!)
FALLER: Jalin Marshall
Not a tight end, but this receiver is worthy of mention for his spectacular rise and fall. The former Buckeye must still be kicking himself for quitting college, and going undrafted with two years of eligibility remaining. If he played at Ohio State through the end of this season, Jalin Marshall would’ve been a Top 50 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Last year, Jalin Marshall made the Jets with a stellar 2016 training camp. Then he seemingly frittered it all away with an injury-filled and mistake-prone rookie season. He turned out to be one of the bigger disappointments in a disappointing season.
Marshall starts 2017 with a four-game suspension. But he has played so miserably to date, he may not make the final cut — even with his quality-deprived receiving corp.
Next: 3. Strip My Mind
3. Strip My Mind
BALLER: Dexter McDougle
Reviled former general manager John Idzik was ecstatic after snagging the former Maryland secondary star in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Dexter McDougle ‘s college coach Randy Edsell was so moved by his leadership qualities that the school named an award in his honor.
McDougle has been dogged by injuries. In college, he battled through a fractured shoulder issue. In his rookie year, he tore his ACL and last year he struggled through hamstring issues on the practice squad.
The coaches love McDougle, and this is his first time playing injury free. In the first two preseason games, he has been their best cornerback and biggest special teams contributor. His motor is off the charts.
The Jets revamped their cornerback unit in the offseason, and McDougle was a 53-man afterthought. There are nine bodies at camp, and only four or five can make the team. If the Jets cut him, he would make a perfect Patriot. Think they don’t know that in Foxboro?
FALLER: Buster Skrine
One of the more nauseating memories of last season was watching some combination of Calvin Pryor, Marcus Gilchrist, and Buster Skrine either falling flat on their face or standing hands-on-hips after blowing some vanilla deep-coverage scheme. At last month’s Green & White Scrimmage at MetLife Stadium, the offense’s only big play came on another Skrine tumble in coverage. Enuff Z’nuff!
If the team was looking to shave salaries in the preseason, they would’ve been better off cutting Skrine and keeping Eric Decker. But they couldn’t do that because they need to create salary cap space, so they renegotiated Skrine’s salary in the offseason.
This year he is scheduled to make $8.5 million. Now they’ve got the worst receiving group in the league with no veteran leadership, and a glut of young hungry cornerbacks who should make the team.
Next: 2. Taste The Pain
2. Taste The Pain
BALLER: Julian Stanford
Due to the state of the offense, the Jets defense will be spending a lot of time on the field this year. The good news is that the defense is a position of strength.
Nowhere can the defensive development be seen more than with the speed and depth at linebacker. The David Harris situation was ugly. But Calvin Pryor-for-Demario Davis may turn out to be one of Trader Mike’s finer moves. Darron Lee is saying and doing all the right things but hasn’t exactly lit up the field in these two exhibitions.
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Stanford, a local baller from Wagner with Staten Island roots (via his Wagner track and field star wife Tiffany Dawson) played well for Gang Green in limited action last season before breaking his ankle.
The second-ever Wagner grad to play in the NFL (after Richie Kotite) has stood out throughout minicamp, training camp and exhibition play. After brief stays with Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, the undrafted free agent seems to have a home with Gang Green.
FALLER: Lorenzo Mauldin
The Jets expected Lorenzo Mauldin, going into his third season, to develop into one of the top pass rushing backers in the league. But he has been a huge disappointment, and his 2017 season has started with criminal arrest, injury time and lack of production. If it was up to this writer, they’d plant Jordan Jenkins on one side, and cut Mauldin in favor of some mix of Josh Martin, rookie Dylan Donahue and/or ex-CFLers Freddie Bishop/Frank Beltre.
This training camp’s feel-good story Connor Harris has been all over the football playing in limited scrub time against the future UPS drivers of the world. He has shown tenacity and a high football IQ and seems destined for the practice squad or elsewhere.
Next: 1. Knock Me Down
1. Knock Me Down
BALLER: Elijah McGuire, Marcus Murphy
With an inept offense and an overworked defense, the Jets really need to succeed at field position, between the kicking and return game. Too bad that Gang Green hasn’t had a decent special teams program since the retirement of legendary coach Mike Westhoff.
Most diehards remember the breathtaking returns of Leon Washington and even Antonio Cromartie and the late Joe McKnight. Right now, they desperately need someone to just advance the ball on punts and kickoffs, and not fumble or get strip-sacked.
Back in May, Elijah McGuire, the sixth-rounder out of Louisiana-Lafayette was targeted for the potential return position, and he struggled mightily in post-draft team workouts. But the scrappy scatback has shown flashes in offensive sets (despite weak stats to date), so there may be enough on the rookie’s plate already.
Former Saint Marcus Murphy had a nice kickoff return back to the 40 that got called back. But the third-year blazer out of Missouri was inactive last season for all but three games due to his football security issues — so that is a huge concern. But expect Murphy to be the favorite for the job moving forward.
FALLER: Frankie Hammond, Lucky Whitehead
Frankie Hammond had a clear path onto this roster. But the former Florida Gators’ receiving skills have not stood out among the weakest receiver unit in NFL memory, and his fumble-itis in the return game against Detroit is a real game changer, in terms of how the front office is thinking.
Despite some rosy prognoses, Lucky Whitehead‘s broken foot will likely end his 2017 season. Even if he’s placed on the “Injured Reserve-Return” list, the unlucky Whitehead cannot have the same game-changing impact he made with the Cowboys.
Expect similar observations for the remainder of the year. This is gonna be an excruciating season, Jets fans.
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