New York Jets football 2018 began in earnest at last weekend’s rookie minicamp — and there was a lot to like on the practice field.
Excitement was in the air May 4-6 at One Jets Drive, for the 44 tryout players, 12 undrafted free agents and six draft picks brought in by GM Mike Maccagnan. So this New York Jets minicamp involved much more than just watching their highly-touted first-round draft pick air it out.
From that tough process, only five UFAs and two tryout players secured invites to this summer’s camp. The vast majority of these participants will either seek other football options or resign themselves and get a day job.
There were warm, fuzzy feelings flowing in the cool breeze of Florham Park. Even stone-faced head coach Todd Bowles could be seen beaming, over what he observed on the North Jersey sod.
Here are the five most encouraging signs from this year’s Jets rookie minicamp. Rest assured, a few of these lesser-known players will provide game-time solutions for the franchise moving forward.
5. Kick in the Eye
Special teams coach Brant Boyer has endured his share of barbs and raspberries. But he should receive a mulligan for the lack of back-of-the-roster talent. He’ll likely lose solid 2017 ST demons like aging LB Bruce Carter and injured Charone Peake. But former Dolphin Neville Hewitt and fourth-round TE Christopher Herndon IV offer real upside.
Texas A&M kicker Taylor Bertolet, who spent time with the Rams and Broncos, was the only other tryout player signed to this roster. The four-year College Station starter will compete with recently signed booters Cairo Santos (ex-Chiefs, Bears) and Nick Rose (ex-Redskins, Chargers). They will vie to replace Chandler Catanzaro, who didn’t re-sign ’cause he hated the cold weather.
Sixth-rounder Trenton Cannon made his mark at rookie camp. The blazing back out of D-II Virginia State could be the Jets’ most explosive return-man since Antonio Cromartie. Former Falcon free agent signee Andre Roberts is another proven burner. But he’s in his early 30s, which does not fit the youth movement.
You’re starting to hear that sixth-rounder Parry Nickerson, heir apparent to Buster Skrine at the slot, can’t play on special teams because of his tackling deficiencies. Great, just what we need, another headhunting secondary-man who can’t tackle (see Juston Burris, Calvin Pryor). Another 2017 pick who better look over his shoulder is Elijah McGuire, who’s a similar under-sized player as Cannon, but he’s a situational running back who can’t return kicks.
You are witnessing the dawning of a new Jets era — with young talent and tough competition at every position. For Gang Green, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Next: 4. Run to the Hills
4. Run to the Hills
Converted D-lineman Lawrence Thomas proved effective in his part-time role as the Jets 300-lb. fullback. But the Motor City behemoth better start dealing with his job security here in New York.
Most draft experts projected Oklahoma fullback Dimitri Flowers as an early Day Three selection. NFL pedigree should matter, but the son of Bills 2000 first-rounder Erik Flowers and cousin of current Seahawk Tre Flowers, went undrafted.
Flowers is a tantalizing prospect with a real chance to unseat Thomas on Opening Day. The 6’2″, 250 lb. priority free agent exhibits great versatility; as a blocking and receiving H-back/fullback.
Jeremy Bates would be able to be creative with his backfield weapons, between Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell, and everything the flexible Flowers could bring to the table. Don’t set your hopes too high, Jets fans, but if Flowers blooms, this may not be another brutal season after all.
Next: 3. Hold the Line
3. Hold the Line
The Jets still have to address their linebacking corps. In Coach Bowles’ 3-4 blitz-heavy schemes, there are still huge LB question marks on both the inside and the outside.
Jets’ 2016 first-rounder Darron Lee has to show he’s not playing out of position at ILB. Veteran free agents Avery Williamson and Kevin Minter must adequately replace overachieving Demario Davis. Jordan Jenkins has stepped up on the weak-side, but there’s still no fear-inducing pass rushers between the solid Josh Martin, unproven Dylan Donahue, underwhelming Lorenzo Mauldin, and UFA Brandon Coleman. Recently re-signed David Bass may be the best of ’em all.
Maccagnan did not address LB in this year’s draft (expect that position, as well as O-line, to be targeted in the next draft). But he may have discovered back-of-the-roster gems at minicamp, with the signing of undrafted free agents Frankie Luvo, and long-shot tryout invite Anthony Wint.
Luvo, a gritty 6’3″, 245 lb. edge-rusher from Samoa via Washington State, annihilated opposition last season for Washington State, with an explosive 12 tackles for losses, 6.5 sacks, and 2 INTs. Wint, an undersized, overachieving headhunter outta Florida International with 336 tackles in 45 games, displays a bit of that Bart Scott-like motor. Here’s yet another example of the Jets grand plan, of developing players at key positions — in order to compete in 2019, and beyond.
Next: 2. Back to the front
2. Back to the front
Last draft, the Jets desperately needed to address the safety position and drafted two highly rated future Pro Bowlers. This time around, fans howled over the GM’s decision to expend draft capital on their woeful defensive line. But Gang Green rooters need to view the bigger picture.
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It was not so long ago that the Jets had one of the league’s top D-lines with Leonard Williams joined by Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Snacks Harrison. Before the draft, Leo was gonna lineup this season with Steve McLendon, Mike Pennel, and Xavier Cooper.
The GM may have addressed the future of the defensive front, between Canadian-bred small-college third-rounder Nathan Shepherd (Fort Hays State) and local product sixth-rounder Folorunso Fatukasi (U Conn). It may seem like both 6’4″ 320 lb. linemen fill the same slot, but Shepherd is an answer to replace Mo Wilk, while Fatukasi plugs gaps like the 30-plus McLendon.
Also, check out the tape on undrafted free agent Texas Tech disruptor Mychealon Thomas; “Big Mike” dominated top-tier competition, and should find an NFL career, with the Jets or elsewhere. There is very little room for error — but in the word of Maccagnan, please trust the process.
Next: 1. Drop the bomb
1. Drop the bomb
Sam Darnold delivered as promised. Sure, he flubbed a few snaps under center and misfired on some mid-range gimmies. But those snafus were mostly from linemen, and to receivers, already out of the league. Such over-analysis of the draft’s third pick won’t mean a thing moving forward.
In front of a sea of TV cameras and beat reporters, the USC QB scored high grades — from his nice footwork and soft touch on the long ball to his leadership abilities and media skills, Darnold is ready for the spotlight. The prized pupil of “quarterback whisperer” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates will further develop learning sage wisdom from aged gunslinger Josh McCown.
Coach Bowles could not commit to injured Teddy Bridgewater — it’s likely he’d just be throwing light passes and not actual team drills. Such doublespeak makes the decision to cut ties with Bryce Petty rather than Christian Hackenberg all the more perplexing.
The ideal solution would be a full “redshirt” season for Darnold — if for no other reason than to protect him from his new team’s upgraded but still gelling O-line. Feel good about the future, Jets fans. This organization finally got its franchise quarterback.