New York Jets' Training Camp To-Do List
The offseason is officially over, as the 2015 season is becoming a reality with training camp beginning in the coming days.
The bulk of the roster is already set, but there is still much work to be done in terms of ordering depth charts, figuring out player roles and trimming down the team to 53 players within a month's time. With plenty of jobs to be won and movement to be made up and down depth charts, the Jets have their work cut out for them for the next month.
Here is a training camp to-do list for the New York Jets.
Name Geno Smith the Starter
With it being more obvious than ever that Geno Smith will be the Jets' starting quarterback on opening day, the sooner the Jets can end the charade of a competition they have cooked up, the better.
Assuming Smith does get the vast majority of the first-team snaps, as Rich Cimini of ESPN reports, everyone would see right through a fake competition if the Jets try to carry one out.
If Rex Ryan runs a competition that everyone knows is already predetermined, who is to say that some of the other competitions are predetermined as well? Touting Geno Smith vs. Michael Vick as an open battle will cost Ryan and general manager John Idzik a good amount of credibility (which has already taken a hit by forgoing a true competition in the first place).
The Jets have been dealing with uncertainty at quarterback on what seems to be an annual basis. The idea of spending another summer answering quarterback questions is a dreary proposition for some of the veterans who have endured the turmoil over the years.
The faster the Jets can move forward with one player, the more time and energy they can spend toward beating the Oakland Raiders in Week 1.
Develop a Plan for the Running Backs
On paper, the Jets' stable of running backs is as impressive as any in football—but how the team goes about using the skill sets of each of its runners will determine if this group can live up to the hype.
The name brands on the running back depth chart (Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell) give the Jets a nice blend of power, speed and everything in between. However, making sure all of these deserving runners are fed a fair amount of carries while maxing out their effectiveness is a task that is much easier said than done.
Johnson has already hinted about the possibility of there being some tension if he does not get the type of workload he has come to expect after spending virtually his entire career as a full-time starter, per Around the League's Dan Hanzus (h/t Dom Cosentino of NJ.com).
The exact number of carries each player will get will be determine by a very fluid, ever-changing algorithm that will depend on a variety of factors, including the opponent, the game plan, injuries and who has simply been the hotter hand. However, the Jets need to have some type of macro-level strategy to start the season and adjust the details as the season goes along.
If the Jets can find the right ratio of carries that maximizes the effectiveness of all three of their players, the Jets rushing attack can be among the best in football. Finding a ratio that feeds everyone a fair amount of carries to keep everyone content in his role would be a bonus.
Determine the Safety Rotation
Much like the running back position, new additions to the safety depth chart have left the Jets with a sudden surplus of talent at what was once a position of need. As a result, there will be some players who will see a significant decrease in playing time through no fault of their own.
Idzik did not use a first-round pick on a safety to redshirt for a year. The Jets are wasting no time getting the "Louisville Slugger" working with the starting group:
Rookie Safety Calvin Pryor is with the first team over Dawan Landry #nyj— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) June 4, 2014
As Brian Costello of the New York Post notes, veteran Dawan Landry has seen a significant dip in practice time with the first team to make room for Calvin Pryor, the Jets electing to use a combination of Pryor and up-and-comer Antonio Allen in lieu of the veteran.
However, Landry does not appear to be willing to give up his spot easily. Ryan pointed him out as one of the most impressive players of spring, and Landry figures to battle Allen every step of the way in training camp to keep his job.
All three safeties will see the field in some fashion, but the Jets need to determine exactly how each player will be used and the specific packages they will be used in. For example, the Jets could elect to use Allen, who was excellent covering elite tight ends last year, in man-to-man situations while keeping the reliable Landry on the field for deep zone coverage.
Also like the running backs, how each safety will be used will be game plan-specific, but the coaching staff needs to outline a plan for the season over the next month of camp.
Find a No. 2 Receiver
There is no question that the Jets receiving corps is in much better shape now than it was at this time last year, but the depth chart is still a long way away from being finalized. There is still a massive hole at the No. 2 receiver spot opposite Eric Decker that the Jets never managed to fill in free agency.
There is no obvious candidate to win the job, but the good news is that the Jets have so many young, talented receivers on the roster that they have to figure that at least one of them steps into the role. Between Stephen Hill, David Nelson, newcomer Jacoby Ford or their three draft picks, there are nearly half a dozen players who could potentially win the job.
The Jets would prefer if Stephen Hill finally developed into the receiver they thought they drafted in the second round in 2011, but they cannot count on a player who was replaced by David Nelson in the middle of last season.
Meanwhile, Nelson is developing a strong chemistry with Geno Smith, per Jane McManus of ESPN. Nelson does not offer much in terms of long-term upside, but he has proven to at least be a reliable fallback option in case none of the other receivers claim the role.
Of the drafted receivers, UCLA's Shaq Evans makes the most sense to be a starting outside receiver because of his size and hands. The smaller Jalen Saunders has been more impressive in camp, per Cimini, but his stature (5'9") limits him to the slot position. The same could be said for free-agent acquisition Jacoby Ford, who was brought in more for his punt-returning ability than anything else.
Only time will tell which player winds up on top, but this position battle figures to be one of the biggest camp storylines to watch with an unusual amount of players in play for such a prominent position.
Develop a Cornerback Contingency Plan
Ryan can talk all he wants about how confident he is in this year's cornerback group, but in reality, the Jets are dangerously close to enduring another disastrous situation at the most important position in Ryan's defense.
On paper, starting a top-10 draft pick (Dee Milliner) and a nine-year veteran (Dimitri Patterson) seems like an ideal situation, but the odds of the Jets getting 16 quality games out of either player are slim at best.
Milliner is a young, developing player who will only improve, but he was benched on three separate occasions last season. Even with improvement, there are still plenty more bumps in the road ahead for Milliner before he becomes a true lockdown cornerback.
Meanwhile, Patterson has missed a huge chunk of time over the past two seasons, appearing in just nine games in two seasons for the Miami Dolphins. He will also be making the transition to outside cornerback from his more natural position in the slot.
The good news is that the Jets have the resources in place to employ a contingency plan if need be. Darrin Walls played well in place of the benched Milliner last year. Third-round pick Dexter McDougle has shown a great deal of promise in spring practices, drawing comparisons to Darrelle Revis in his first few weeks, per McManus.
Over the next month, the Jets need to determine who will be in the on-deck circle at cornerback while they sort out the bottom of the depth chart.
Add a Blocking Tight End
Adding Jace Amaro to partner with Jeff Cumberland gives the Jets a dynamic receiving duo at tight end, but they still have a massive need for a blocker to round out the position. Both Cumberland and Amaro are poor and/or inexperienced in this area.
The second-worst run-blocking team in the NFL in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), adding a blocking tight end to seal edges is crucial if the Jets want to get the most out of Chris Johnson and their supercharged backfield.
The Jets do have one player on the roster with some upside as a blocker: former New England Patriot Zach Sudfeld, who, while still young at 25 years old, has very little experience (less than 150 snaps in 2013). Adding a veteran may stunt Sudfeld's development, but it would provide more instantaneous relief in an area that needs so much improvement in a short amount of time.
The market at this time of year for starters at any position is thin at best, but Idzik should keep a close eye on the waiver wire, continuing to add competition until the Jets find an adequate blocker.
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