New York Jets Training Camp: 6 Early Storylines to Watch
In a season with heightened expectations, the New York Jets enter one of their most crucial training camps in recent history.
In just a short month, they need to see massive improvement in their young starting quarterback, work a dozen rookies onto the roster and fill several key roles on the team—including at some important starting positions.
Not only are there players fighting for jobs and roles on the team, this is a must-win year for Rex Ryan and his coaching staff as well.
As a result, there are a handful of compelling storylines to follow in Jets camp this year as they try to get over the hump of mediocrity and back into the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Geno Smith's Performance
On a team that has not enjoyed a top-tier franchise quarterback since the days of Joe Namath, Geno Smith's play will remain at the forefront of all Jets news until he establishes himself as the unquestioned starter.
Forget about the idea of a competition between Smith and Michael Vick. Based on a tweet from ESPN's Rich Cimini indicating the percentage of first-team snaps Smith is scheduled to get, the Jets have every intention of starting him on opening day.
Now, all that matters is Smith's performance, as he must display tangible proof of improvement over last year to suggest that he can develop into the franchise-caliber player the Jets need.
Rex Ryan is obviously hoping that Smith plays so well that a "competition" between Smith and Vick would be irrelevant.
However, rigging the competition makes the Jets vulnerable to the nightmare scenario in which Smith is forced into the starting role despite being outplayed by Vick at the risk of dividing the locker room.
Simply put, this is a perform-or-else year for Smith, and training camp is the first step in establishing himself as the long-term starter for the Jets.
The Wide Receiver Battlefield
With so many players competing for so few spots, the wide receiver depth chart will sort itself about as smoothly as the big bang.
Eventually, the dust will settle and normalcy will return to this position, but change is inevitable for a position that has been a huge problem area for several consecutive years.
The only two receivers that are virtually guaranteed a spot on the roster are Jeremy Kerley and free-agent signing Eric Decker. Fourth-round picks Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans figure to be locks as well, but in such a crowded group, no outcome should be ruled out.
Not only did the Jets bring in five WRs through the draft and free agency, but Clyde Gates, Stephen Hill, David Nelson, Saalim Hakim, Greg Salas, Vidal Hazelton and Michael Campbell will return to compete for roster spots.
In addition to battling for mere roster spots, these players are vying for the starting job opposite Decker.
The sheer size of the receiver depth chart will force the Jets to carry as many as seven receivers, but there is no getting around the fact that there will be deserving players left on the outside looking in.
The Running Back Rotation
The Jets will build their offense around their stable of running backs, but finding the perfect balance between their top three runners will be a task that is much easier said than done.
The combination of Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson and Bilal Powell is among the best in football, giving the Jets a perfect mix of power, speed and everything in between.
However, keeping all three runners happy without sacrificing the effectiveness of the offense is an impossibility.
Ivory figures to retain his role as the workhorse back on running downs while Johnson figures to take over as a spell back, catching passes and spreading defenses out with his threat to score from anywhere on the field.
Meanwhile, Powell can fill in for just about any role and gives the Jets a starting-caliber player in reserve in case either Ivory or Johnson goes down with an injury.
This newfound surplus of talent is a problem many teams are envious of, but how the Jets manage so much talent at one position will be a fascinating storyline to watch this preseason.
Oday Aboushi's Ascent
After spending the entirety of the 2013 season on the inactive list, it was easy to write off fifth-round pick Oday Aboushi as an afterthought headed into this season—especially with Breno Giacomini coming in to solidify the right tackle position.
However, since he began the anticipated transition to guard in the spring, Aboushi has turned heads.
With Willie Colon sidelined as he recovers from surgery, Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger suggests Aboushi has shined while working with the first team.
The Jets are still counting on Colon to return to the starting lineup at some point before the season, but Aboushi at least planted the idea of playing him over fellow sophomore left guard Brian Winters, who struggled mightily as a rookie.
Slater reporting that Winters is getting work at both guard positions indicates that the Jets want to be as flexible as possible with their offensive linemen and able to make changes in personnel whenever necessary.
As much as the Jets would not like to bench a former third-round pick, winning games and keeping Geno Smith upright remain the top priorities.
Aboushi has only been impressive for a few practices, but the Jets have to be excited about the possibility of discovering a young, starting-caliber player on the roster to give them extra depth at a position of uncertainty.
Michael Vick Adjusts to His New Role
Despite Michael Vick's status as the most expensive backup in the league, Seth Walder of the New York Daily News reports he has been as outspoken as anyone about the lack of a true quarterback competition between him and Geno Smith.
Vick's candid attitude about the situation certainly shows a level of maturity we have not yet seen from him, but being a backup to a youngster for the first time in one's career is much easier said than done.
Vick has held a clipboard in the past, but under much different circumstances.
Playing second fiddle to Donovan McNabb near his prime or taking a backseat to a near-flawless Nick Foles after injury is one thing, to be regarded as a reserve from the get-go is a completely new situation for the 34-year-old.
So far, Vick has said all of the right things to walk the thin line between maintaining a level of competitiveness and not ruffling any feathers, but this is only the beginning.
We will see how well Vick takes being the backup when the lights come on for preseason games.
The Return of Rex Ryan
Now entering his sixth year on the job, Rex Ryan is a much different coach and person on both a psychological and physical level.
The slimmer, healthier Ryan also represents a much tamer version of himself. Last season, on the heels of an embarrassing 6-10 season, Ryan hardly seemed like the same person. Perhaps at the order of his new superiors, he refused to make any bold proclamations that would stir headlines and unwanted attention.
After proving himself once again by leading his team to the most impressive 8-8 record in recent memory, Ryan has started to act like his jolly old self again, making proclamations that most coaches would not dream of saying to the public:
Rex Ryan is officially Rex Ryan again; he says Jets aren't worried about Pats, Pats should be worried about Jets http://t.co/4amV049SsT— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 20, 2014
This style of coaching may rub some traditionalists the wrong way, but for a coach that is entering a win-or-else season, he may as well do things on his terms.
Even if you don't agree with his methods, it impossible to deny his refusal to comply with the norm.
Ryan is already declaring how great his team is before the buses have pulled up to Florham Park. Who knows what other juicy headlines he'll have up his sleeve when the pads come on and the hitting gets underway?