This unconventional NY Jets camp battle is the most intriguing of the summer

Multiple players at different positions are fighting for the same role
Ashtyn Davis
Ashtyn Davis / Nick Cammett/GettyImages

As the July heat picks up and the NFL world moves toward the end of the offseason doldrums, fans don't have to squint very far to see the start of training camp on the horizon. For the NY Jets, training camp holds the promise of the new season and the high expectations of what must be accomplished in 2024.

Typically, training camp is an exciting time where fans debate positional battles, dream about the hotshot young player breaking out, and get a feel for what the team will look like going into the regular season.

The Jets, however, don't have too many positional battles this season compared to those of years past, a testament to the job general manager Joe Douglas has done fortifying the roster. Only safety is an open competition for starting spots, while No. 2 running back and No. 3 receiver are the other two competitions for prominent roles.

There is another unconventional battle for a crucial role on the NY Jets

To understand this battle, one must first understand how defense is played in the modern NFL. Historically, the two prominent base defensive alignments were the 4-3 and the 3-4 with the first number denoting the number of down linemen and the second representing the number of linebackers.

However, as NFL offenses became more pass-happy, the traditional base defenses more or less gave way to nickel defenses; typically sacrificing a linebacker for an additional defensive back. Usually, this comes in the form of a slot corner, but sometimes a safety fills the role.

This evolution is the impetus for one of the most important and unconventional battles in training camp for the Jets, which will be directly impacted by the safety competition. Specifically, we're talking about the battle between linebacker Jamien Sherwood, Ashtyn Davis, and/or Chuck Clark.

The 2022 and 2023 NY Jets took different approaches

In 2022, the Jets had signed veteran Kwon Alexander to be the third linebacker. He excelled in that role playing 49% of the defensive snaps, or 559 in total. After the season, the Jets let him walk and instead replaced his snaps primarily with safeties.

Early in the 2023 season, the Jets rotated their safeties (Tony Adams, Adrian Amos, and Jordan Whitehead) in that third linebacker role, however later in the season after Amos's release, safety Ashtyn Davis more or less claimed that role for himself.

That left linebacker Jamien Sherwood on the outside looking in. The Auburn product played just 17% of defensive snaps after entering the year as the presumptive third "starting" linebacker.

Entering training camp this season, both safety spots are up for grabs with Tony Adams, Chuck Clark, Ashtyn Davis, and recent safety convert Isaiah Oliver battling it out among others. The losers presumably will compete with Sherwood for the linebacker-safety hybrid role, with both Clark and Davis having experience playing that position.

Why this is an important battle

First, we'll learn if the Jets are going to primarily play three linebackers or three safeties in base defense situations. But more so, it will give us some insight into the futures of both Sherwood and Davis, both of whom are facing uncertain futures.

More than likely, the battle will come down to these two players with the winner possibly securing his future in New York while the loser may be looking for new employment next spring. Both players bring something different to the table and make an intriguing case.

Davis, a former third-round pick, had struggled in the past and at some points was looked at as a cut candidate. Primarily used as a deep safety earlier in his career he struggled mightily with awareness in coverage, pursuit angles, and tackling.

However, in limited snaps last season in the pseudo-linebacker role, he thrived and showed a nose for making big plays. Despite playing just 217 snaps in 2023 he snagged three interceptions and recovered three fumbles all while earning a 74.7 Pro Football Focus grade

Sherwood, a former fifth-round pick and converted college safety, also impressed in limited action. He displayed exceptional range as a tackler, tallying 24 solo tackles despite limited snaps while also posting a minuscule 5.7% missed tackle rate.

Per Pro Football Focus, his tackles were usually the result of him filling the right gap and blowing up a play, posting a whopping 10 stops which are plays that constitute a failure for the offense. Overall, he posted a 76.1 PFF grade, mostly on the strength of his run defense.

Both of these players have finally developed into contributors, even if it's not what the Jets had initially envisioned when selecting them. They impact the game in different ways, and the winner of this unique battle will play an integral role in the defense in 2024 while securing his future with the team.