New York Jets: What We've Learned Through Week 1 of Training Camp
Now well over a week into training camp, we are starting to collect concrete facts about where the roster is as the Jets approach their first live preseason game.
Much was learned in a recent intrasquad scrimmage, where the Jets defense played to its annual script of dominating the day. This defensive dominance has revealed that the offense, despite adding a handful of weapons in the offseason, has a long way to go before they are close to reaching their potential.
Here is what we have learned about the New York Jets in the second week of training camp.
Greg Salas Will Be Difficult to Cut
With so many new faces at the position, the Jets are going to be faced with some tough decisions when it comes to trimming down their receiving corps this September, particularly when it comes to journeyman Greg Salas.
A Philadelphia Eagles-transplant by way of the St. Louis Rams, Salas has slowly emerged as one of the most impressive performers at camp so far. While the rest of the receiving corps has been largely underwhelming, Salas has been a lone bright spot, shining in Saturday's scrimmage, according to Dennis Waszak of The Associated Press.
In a night that was dominated by defense, Salas led the team with five catches for 54 yards. Despite one drop, he made a few spectacular catches that caught his quarterback, Michael Vick, by surprise:
Vick talked up Greg Salas: There was one ball I threw to the middle and I'm surprised he caught it. #jets— Kimberley A. Martin (@KMart_LI) August 3, 2014
Vick and Salas share a commonality in that they both have a background with Marty Mornhinweg's offense from their days with the Eagles. Salas' extensive experience in his system gives him a slight advantage over some of the rookies and free agents trying to make the squad.
As impressive as he was in the scrimmage, it will still be a challenge for Salas to make the roster. Three drafted rookies and two free agents leave little room for average-sized receivers who don't have any outstanding physical traits.
Either way, if Salas continues to play this well, the Jets may have no choice but to make room for him on the 53-man roster.
Michael Vick's Legs Are Live
Vick may be 34 years old, but you would never know it based on how well he has been able to move in training camp.
Vick showed off his trademark elusiveness during Saturday's scrimmage, generating two big plays with his feet. Rex Ryan, who has been burned by Vick's legs in the past, is even more aware of the fact that Vick still brings an extra dimension of speed and mobility to the table.
Michael Vick (2 long runs): "I feel fast. At 34, it's amazing I feel as good as I do." Ryan: "The dude can flat out fly." #nyj— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) August 3, 2014
One of the reasons why Vick feels so good is because he simply has not taken many hits over the past calendar year. He appeared in just one game since he injured his hamstring in October 2013, taking two snaps in spot duty against the Chicago Bears that December.
The injury cost Vick his starting job with the Eagles, but it may have tacked on a couple of extra years to his career.
It will take a lot more explosive plays to steal the job away from Geno Smith, but any idea that Vick is too old to perform at a high level can be thrown out the window.
Stephen Hill Is Showing Some Life
In what may be the biggest summer of his young life, Stephen Hill needs to put on a show to ensure that his spot on the team is reserved for at least one more season.
While he has not yet blown away the competition, Hill has made enough plays to suggest that he may be worth keeping around after all. He generated one of the few explosive offensive plays during Saturday's scrimmage:
Offensive standouts (oxymoron tonight): Greg Salas and Michael Vick's legs. Stephen Hill had the one big catch. #NYJ— Chris Lopresti (@CLoprestiWFAN) August 3, 2014
This all-or-nothing style of production has been a pattern of Hill's in his two NFL seasons. While capable of generating explosive downfield plays with his combination of size and speed, he is not nearly consistent enough with his hands or route running to be the starting-caliber receiver his second-round selection would suggest he is.
Still, the fact that Hill is showing signs of life and not giving up on his rocky career is an encouraging sign. He will need to continue to step up his game and translate it to the real games, but this is a solid first step in Hill's career-rehab process.
Jason Babin Addition Has Huge Potential
As disappointing as it was to lose Antwan Barnes to an ACL injury in Week 5 of last season, it opened the door for the Jets to elevate their pass rush to deadly levels with the addition of Jason Babin.
Less than three years removed from an 18.5-sack season, Babin has already flashed what he is capable of doing in the Jets' already talented defensive front. He wreaked havoc on the offensive side during the scrimmage, notching two sacks, per Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com, and an array of pressures:
Jason Babin got a lot of pressure on the QB throughout the Jets scrimmage.— Dan Leberfeld (@jetswhispers) August 3, 2014
Even at age 34, the sky is the limit for Babin in a defense that is tailored for him to succeed. He is the final puzzle piece on a defense that is loaded with talented pass-rushers and run-stuffers who will put him in one-on-one situations to do what he does best: rush the passer.
The addition of Babin is looking more and more intelligent by the day, as the Jets lost linebacker Jermaine Cunningham to an Achilles injury during the scrimmage, per Cimini.
It remains to be seen whether or not Babin's questionable character becomes an issue, but for now, the Jets have to be enthralled with the potential of their pass defense with Babin in the fold.
Defense Is Ahead of the Offense
A familiar story is developing in Jets camp: The defense is light-years ahead of the offense, and it could not be more apparent during Saturday's scrimmage.
Even with an array of new toys to play with on offense, they were only able to generate two field goals in a dozen possessions, per Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com notes. The offense stalled on a goal-to-go situation, getting stuffed on three straight runs before sacking Geno Smith to finish off any hopes they had of reaching the end zone.
The Jets' marquee additions did not quite produce as much as expected. Eric Decker caught one pass, while Chris Johnson had 14 yards on five carries. Vick generated two explosive runs but was less impressive through the air, going 7-of-13.
This is great news for a defense that is undergoing a fair amount of transition, but this is a tired storyline for a team that has been so offensively inept under Rex Ryan. Offenses do tend to take more time to develop timing and chemistry and are usually a few steps behind the defense to start, but a more balanced-looking team would have been welcomed during Saturday's scrimmage.
Safety Is a Deep Position
In a year's time, a position that was once regarded as a weakness on the team has developed into one of the deepest spots on the roster.
Not only has first-round pick Calvin Pryor given the safety group an injection of young talent, but the players at the bottom of the roster are developing nicely as well. According to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com, Rontez Miles had an interception and a sack in Saturday's scrimmage.
Miles' top competition, Jaiquawn Jarrett, has also enjoyed a good start to camp. Even 2012 sixth-round pick Josh Bush has shown enough improvement to warrant praise from Ryan:
Rex adds that he's happy w his safety group, even w/o Pryor. Said he's pleased w Bush, Jarrett + Rontez. "It's an outstanding group." #jets— Kimberley A. Martin (@KMart_LI) July 31, 2014
Combining the depth the Jets have at the top of the roster with Pryor, Antonio Allen and Dawan Landry leave the Jets with too many safeties to squeeze onto the final roster.
The rest of training camp will determine who the final four or five safeties are, but it appears as if the Jets cannot do wrong when they eventually do trim their roster in September.
Top Rookies Off to a Slow Start
While relative unknowns like Greg Salas and Rontez Miles have shined, the top prospects from the Jets' rookie class have stumbled out of the gate.
Calvin Pryor's concussion kept him out of the scrimmage, per Seth Walder of the New York Daily News. Jace Amaro has had a particularly rough start while he combats a case of the drops and knee tendinitis, per Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com. Minicamp star Dexter McDougle has cooled off from his boiling-hot start to the spring, getting beat badly by the likes of Stephen Hill.
Stephen Hill beat rookie CB Dexter McDougle badly for a TD in a 7-on-7 drill. #nyj— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) July 29, 2014
The Jets should in no way be alarmed by the relatively slow starts of their top rookies, but there is no getting around the fact that it has been a disappointing first week for John Idzik's second draft class.
These players still have plenty of time to heal up and sort out their game before opening day, but it is starting to become apparent that relying on these three players to produce early on would be a bad gamble to make.
Wildcat Refuses to Disappear
There are only a few constants in life: death, taxes and the Jets trying to force an ineffective Wildcat package into their arsenal of plays.
Despite the fact that the Wildcat fad ended around the same time flip phones did, the Jets have not put an end to their annual quest to find a Wildcat package that works consistently. Rex Ryan is a brilliant football mind, but for some inexplicable reason, he has refused to accept that the rest of the league has already figured out how to stop it.
They tried a combination of Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson on one occasion during the Green and White scrimmage and were left with predictable results:
Ivory and Johnson in the same backfield for a Wildcat play. Loss of 1. Some things never change. #nyj— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) August 2, 2014
Based on their history, the odds that the Jets will bury this ancient package amidst remarkably ineffective production is slim to none. Get used to seeing more odd combinations of non-quarterback packages this season, whether you like it or not.
Good Vibes in the Wide Receiver Room
As a whole, the wide receivers have been unimpressive so far in training camp—but they are at least improving the atmosphere in the meeting room.
Replacing the moody Santonio Holmes with Eric Decker as the head honcho has completely changed the vibe among the pass-catchers, Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com reports. Decker is still relatively young at age 27, but his maturity far exceeds that of Holmes, who was always an awkward fit with the Jets:
The current group of receivers is closer in age than the Holmes group, resulting in more interaction between the players in the meeting room. Holmes wasn't a loner—he tried to help younger players if he was in the mood—but, for the most part, he was high-maintenance.
Compared to last year's group, this crop of receivers is not much more talented than last year's, but they have improved by leaps and bounds in the chemistry and depth departments.
They are still a year or so away from completing the reconstruction of the wide receiver position, but they are at least headed in that direction from a morale standpoint.
Dee Milliner Has Yet to Impress
Through the first week of training camp, second-year cornerback Dee Milliner has made more noise with his mouth than his play, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.
While the Jets are counting on Milliner to emerge as a shutdown cornerback a year removed from being a top-10 draft pick, Milliner has had another quiet start to training camp. Former Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff has not held back his true feelings about their prized cornerback prospect:
Ex-Jets special teams coach Westhoff on Milliner: "I'm not sure he’s the best CB up here in Cortland. And I might include the University."— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) July 31, 2014
Forget about becoming or replacing Darrelle Revis—Milliner is having a tough time handling the likes of Clyde Gates.
Based on the lack of action in his side of the field, Milliner did have a solid outing in the scrimmage—but the Jets have to be a bit concerned about Milliner's development considering how much they have invested in him.
Milliner is still a young player and has some time to improve before the start of the season, but the days are disappearing fast for Milliner to transform into the top-tier cover man the Jets need him to be.
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