New York Jets: What We've Learned Through Week 3 of Preseason
With just one exhibition game left, we know just about everything there is to know about the top half of the New York Jets' roster as the team prepares for Week 1.
Despite the loss, the Jets' impressive showing in the first half of Friday's "dress rehearsal" against the New York Giants has yielded positive vibes in Florham Park ahead of the season opener. The fact that Geno Smith was sharp and steady for a half of football against opposing starters certainly gives the team a jolt of energy at the right time.
Here is what we learned about the Jets through the third week of the preseason.
Significant Development in Geno Smith
The Jets are far from being in perfect shape heading into the season, but they can exit this preseason with confidence simply because their young quarterback, Geno Smith, has shown significant signs of development in just about every facet of playing the position.
On the field, Smith's stats speak for themselves. He committed just one turnover in his three starts, improving massively in the turnover ratio that plagued his rookie season.
Jets QBs through 2 preseason games: Geno Smith: 14-19, 131 yds, INT, rush TD Michael Vick: 8-15, 87 yds, TD pic.twitter.com/Dv3aTYYI9s— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 17, 2014
Smith has been accurate, composed and poised. He was stellar in his preseason finale against the New York Giants—even his incompletions came on impressively thrown passes.
He may have been handed the starting job before camp (behind the scenes), but to his credit, he has given the Jets no reason to think about replacing him anytime soon. According to Seth Walder of the New York Daily News, Smith seems to be a more confident player in his second season, carrying himself more as leader than he did in his rookie year:
Calvin Pace on Geno Smith: "To me, everything he’s done he looks confident doing it." #nyj— Seth Walder (@SethWalderNYDN) August 24, 2014
None of this will mean anything if Smith does not carry these positive vibes into the regular season, but the Jets must be content with how he seems to have developed in just one season.
Darrin Walls Is a Stopgap CB Solution
The Jets' secondary is miles away from being a finished product, but it did take a step closer to respectability on Friday night after witnessing the play of backup cornerback Darrin Walls.
Getting his first chance of the preseason to start with the first-team defense, Walls more than held his own on the outside. He has allowed just six receptions out of 16 targets, allowing just a 37.5 completion percentage.
Walls has yet to prove that he can play at a high level in the long term, but he has hardly been given the chance.
With Dee Milliner and Antonio Allen sidelined with injuries and Dom Cosentino of NJ.com reporting that Dimitri Patterson is missing in action, Walls has gone from being an afterthought to a vital member of the secondary.
If Walls play well in his new opportunity, the Jets may be getting an unexpected starter out of their ugly cornerback situation.
Offensive Line Coming Together
As good as Geno Smith and the running game looked against the New York Giants on Friday night, they did not have such good production on offense on their own.
The Jets' offensive line did not just have a good night—it flashed dominance at times.
Against the Giants, Smith was not sacked once. He had plenty of time and room to throw on nearly every dropback, allowing him to get into an unshakeable rhythm.
Both first-team running backs, Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson, put up impressive rushing averages (8.3 and 4.7 yards per carry, respectively).
Most importantly, the Jets got improved production out of second-year guard Brian Winters. In 123 preseason snaps, Winters has allowed just one quarterback hurry.
Winters is coming off a rocky rookie 2013 season—signs of at least adequate play from Winters is all the Jets need to field a quality offensive line this season.
Stephen Hill Is Running in Place
Another year, another disappointing summer for former second-round draft pick Stephen Hill.
Once again, Hill seemed to finally be getting the hang of playing receiver in the NFL after a strong few spring practices. Despite getting more preseason snaps than any other receiver on the Jets, though, Hill has little production to speak of—just two catches for 29 yards, to be exact.
For Hill, the issue is no longer getting open. Rather, his inconsistent ability to reel in catchable passes has led to both quarterbacks showing a lack of trust in Hill.
After all, why put the success of a play in Hill's hands when Eric Decker's work just fine?
Because of his age (23), draft status and upside, Hill still stands a good chance to make the team over some of the other inexperienced receivers.
He will see the field this season for no other reason than the fact that there simply are not many reliable receivers on the team not named Decker or Jeremy Kerley.
However, the Jets will need to ease their sky-high expectations for Hill and come to the realization that he will likely never be the top-notch receiver they thought he would become after trading up to draft him in 2012.
Defensive Line Starting to Wake Up
It took three weeks, but the Jets' highly touted defensive line finally played near its potential on Friday night against the Giants' new-look offensive line.
Muhammad Wilkerson and Jason Babin both recorded sacks on Eli Manning in the first half. Quinton Coples had an impressive night with five tackles (four solo) that included one for a loss. Sheldon Richardson had his best game of the preseason as well, coming up with four tackles and penetrating the backfield with relative ease.
To this point in the preseason, the Jets' defensive line was getting by more on reputation and hype than actual production.
After being bullied by the Cincinnati Bengals' front last week, we finally got a look at what the Jets' defensive front is capable of this year with so many young players continuing their development.
Given the team's glaring weaknesses in the secondary, anything but a stellar performance week in and week out from the defensive front would cause Rex Ryan's proud unit to fall far away from the elite category of defenses.
Tommy Bohanon Wins Fullback Competition
After three weeks of competition across the roster, we have our first official position competition winner. Incumbent fullback Tommy Bohanon has outlasted competition from San Diego State rookie Chad Young, who was released by the team on Sunday, per Brian Costello of the New York Post.
The fact that the Jets decided to roll with the more experienced Bohanon is hardly a surprise, but this competition was much closer than one would assume with Young not surviving until at least the final round of cuts.
Young actually had more snaps than Bohanon in the preseason (44 to 37).
Bohanon worked more with the first team, but the Jets would not have bothered to give Young so much work if he was not qualified for the job.
According to Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press, it was Bohanon's strong summer that ultimately made the difference:
Bohanon also beats out Chad "Juggernaut" Young for the FB spot. T-Bo had a pretty good camp. #Jets— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) August 24, 2014
The good news for Young is that, because of his relatively high volume of preseason work—for a backup fullback, at least—a team in need of a young fullback may give him a call.
LeQuan Lewis on the Rise
For as many bad breaks as the Jets have encountered in terms of injuries in the secondary, a nearly equal number of relatively unknown players have elevated their play in their new, expanded roles.
Taking the place of the concussed Antonio Allen mid-game, LeQuan Lewis put on a performance that drew praise from Rex Ryan after the game, per Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com. "The New Guy" (as his teammates call him) leapfrogged Ellis Lankster on the depth chart—a move that could wind up being permanent.
Playing a team-high 47 snaps, Lewis allowed just four catches—one of them was a touchdown that Ryan insists was a result of busted coverage elsewhere in the secondary.
At the start of camp, Lewis was nothing more than an afterthought whose ceiling was the practice squad. With injuries piling up in the secondary, Lewis could prove to be valuable depth in an otherwise thin secondary.
Jacoby Ford Is Not Impressive Enough
With space on the receiver depth chart coming at a premium, Jacoby Ford needed to be more than just a capable return man to warrant his own spot on the roster. Randy Lange of NewYorkJets.com reports he was among the first wave of cuts on Sunday.
While he was given plenty of opportunities in the preseason to return kicks, Ford simply did not make enough impressive plays to win the coaching staff over.
He muffed a punt in Wednesday's practice and repeated the mistake two days later in the preseason matchup against the Giants.
Ford hardly contributed as a receiver, netting just three receptions in three games.
Rex Ryan on Jacoby Ford's release: Had plenty of chances, had "better options" than Ford. #nyj— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) August 24, 2014
Going forward, the Jets will use Saalim Hakim as their primary return man. Not only is Hakeem younger with more upside, but he is also cheaper because of his age. Over the Cap indicates he'll make $495,000 this season.
btw, Jacoby Ford received a $65,000 signing bonus as part of his one-year, $740,000 contract. #nyj— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) August 24, 2014
If he makes the team, Clyde Gates also has experience returning kicks. As unimpressive as he has been on special teams, Jeremy Kerley is a fallback option as a punt returner.
For Ford, not finding a spot on one of the worst receiving corps in football is hardly a positive prognosis on his future in the NFL. It will take a fair amount of injuries for him to find another job in the league.
Jace Amaro Emerging as a Weapon
Few rookies were off to a worse start to training camp than second-round rookie Jace Amaro. The highly touted Texas Tech tight end struggled with picking up the offense, catching the football and staying healthy.
After Friday's four-catch, 37-yard performance against the Giants (that included a touchdown), Amaro is light years beyond the rookie struggles from earlier in camp.
He has even developed into a capable blocker, allowing just one quarterback hurry in protection.
The Jets have leaned heavily on Amaro this preseason while Jeff Cumberland nurses his Achilles tendon. In response, Amaro has elevated his play to live up to his second-round hype—so far.
If Amaro continues to play this well into the regular season, it will only be a matter of time before he replaces Cumberland as the top tight end on the roster. At the very least, his presence will help alleviate the lack of a quality No. 2 receiver opposite Eric Decker.
Matt Simms Won the No. 3 Job, Not Because of His Dancing
Having received nearly every rep with the third team this preseason, Matt Simms has all but locked up the third-string quarterback job. Chris Lopresti of WFAN reporting that rookie Tajh Boyd has been atrocious takes the guesswork out of the equation.
When Simms is eventually named the No. 3 quarterback, it will be because of his 111.0 quarterback rating against the Giants—not because of what he did between whistles:
Playful celebrations should be encouraged, but this is an atrocity. If Jimmy Graham was fined $30,000 for a celebration that actually features some athleticism, Simms' "dance" is grounds for suspension.
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