10 Reasons New York Jets Fans Should Be Optimistic About 2012-2013 Season
New York Jets fans are a pessimistic lot, and really, who can blame them?
After four decades of disappointment, wasted draft picks, epic blunders and clueless head coaches; one wonders if the team will ever reach the promised land.
The 2009 and 2010 seasons gave fans some of the greatest highlights the franchise has seen, as they got tantalizing close to their first Super Bowl since 1969. However, the 2011 team saw a decided step backwards.
As rookie camp gets underway for the 2012 season, Jets fans need something on which they can grasp to show that there is hope for the future.
There are a ton of question marks surrounding the team as it goes forward, but the groundwork has been laid for a successful season.
If Jets fans can ignore their basic instincts and take an optimist's approach to the 2012 season, there is a lot to look forward to for the upcoming season.
Mark Sanchez Will Improve
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This factor may be wishful thinking, as Mark Sanchez got worse towards the end of the year rather than better, but expect a rebound year from Sanchez in 2012.
There are a ton of question marks surrounding Sanchez, including his ability to progress through reads, his decision making, whether his teammates trust him or not and the lingering specter of Tim Tebow, but there is also reason to think Sanchez will improve.
First, this is his fourth year playing in the NFL. People seem to forget that he started just one full season at USC, so his learning curve in the NFL should understandably be slower than someone with more experience.
Sanchez hasn't played in an offense with a true identity and was not helped by Brian Schottenheimer's haphazard game plans and play-calling.
With Tony Sparano on board, the Jets should expect to be a consistent run-first team, and that will help Sanchez tremendously.
In last season's debacle against the New York Giants, Sanchez was asked to drop back to pass over 60 times against a pass rush they couldn't block. That won't happen anymore.
The locker room discord between Sanchez and Santonio Holmes seems to be resolved as they have been seen together multiple times during the offseason, and with players like Nick Mangold and Dustin Keller firmly in Sanchez's corner, expect better support from the inside in 2012.
The situation with Tebow could turn out either helping or hindering Sanchez's development. Tebow could be a nice supporting weapon to help Sanchez's offense run more efficiently or the whole project could end up as a colossal train wreck.
There are certainly a number of questions surrounding Sanchez coming into his fourth season. His situation is something that will just need to play out to see what will happen.
Sanchez haters will tell you how he will go down in flames and crumble under the shadow of Tebow. The truth is that we will just have to see.
Expect Sanchez to have a better season in 2012. For everyone's sake, including his own, he better.
More Speed on the Defense
As much as Rex Ryan will tell you otherwise, the Jets have not had a dominant defense the past two seasons.
Their team defense stats will tell you that they have been very good, but when the defense needed to come up big, it rarely did.
The team hasn't been able to get to the quarterback without blitzing; they haven't been able to keep up with good receiving tight ends and they are often beaten by screens and misdirection.
With players like Bart Scott, Bryan Thomas, Eric Smith and Calvin Pace plodding around on defense, they simply could not keep up with any team who had decent speed.
That all looks like it could change in 2012.
Draft choices Quinton Coples, Demario Davis and maybe even Antonio Allen or Josh Bush will be injected into the defense, instantly making the unit younger and faster.
Davis in particular is a high-motor, sideline-to-sideline player who is expected to display speed that will pop off the field.
If Muhammad Wilkerson and Aaron Maybin continue to develop and play a bigger role in 2012, they will also add to the improved team speed.
The Jets have done a good job stopping the run, and Ryan has been able to scheme his way to an above-average showing. However, it will be improved defensive speed that finally makes this unit elite.
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Say what you will about Tim Tebow and the trade that brought him to the Jets, but the bottom line is that he is a weapon the Jets did not have at their disposal last year.
And since when is having an additional weapon a bad thing?
There are questions about Tebow for sure, and the Jets are walking the razor's edge of a full-blown quarterback controversy at any minute, but if used right, Tebow could be a real headache for opposing defenses.
In each of the past three seasons, the Jets have ranked in the bottom third of the league in third-down conversion percentage. It seemed that all defenses needed to do to stymie the Jets on third down was take away Mark Sanchez's primary read, causing him to panic.
Or they could just count on getting to the quarterback with whoever Wayne Hunter was supposed to block.
If the Jets use Tebow on third-down packages, they could see an increase in their conversions. While Tebow isn't going to be expected to convert on third-and-long, you'd have to think he has a decent chance to convert anything three yards or shorter.
Tebow's short-yardage proficiency should also bode well for the Jets in the red zone and even possibly on two-point conversions.
The Tim Tebow trade has the potential to blow up in the Jets' face and submarine the career of Mark Sanchez. However, I am going to go with a best-case scenario here and say that Tebow will be an efficient weapon in short yardage.
A True Identity on Offense
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Rex Ryan loves to tell everyone that his Jets are a "ground and pound" team. He badly wants his unit to jam the football down the throats of the defense and dominate time of possession.
So then why did Mark Sanchez drop back to pass over 60 times when they played the Giants last year?
The truth of the matter is that Brian Schottenheimer and the offensive assistants tried to tailor their game plans to take advantage of their opponents' weaknesses.
While that may sound good in theory, it led to no consistency in the offense and hindered the development of key players.
This year with Tony Sparano in charge, you can forget about the days of Sanchez dropping back 50 times in a game.
Sparano is a disciplined play-caller who has shown that he is committed fully to a strong running attack. That needs to be the Jets' identity, and if they are effective, it will create a domino effect and make their defense better as well.
The NFL is a passing league for sure, and if the Jets don't improve in the passing game, it might not matter how much they run.
But in 2012 expect to see a consistent and creative run game and for the Jets to finally have an identity.
Rejuvenated Special Teams
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In 2011, the Jets' special teams unit flat out stunk. Joe McKnight did have his moments in the return game, but their unit was plagued by key fumbles, poor tackling, inconsistent kicking and untimely penalties.
By Mike Westhoff's standards, that was totally unexpected and completely unacceptable.
First, the Jets need to decide on their return men. McKnight should be back to his near-Pro Bowl form, and if the Jets re-sign Jim Leonhard, he needs to be returning punts.
After that, fans can expect an infusion of new talent on special teams. Late-round draft picks Josh Bush and Antonio Allen reek of special teams aces, and even Demario Davis might be asked to play a role.
Hopefully, Eric Smith's role in the secondary decreases this season, allowing him to play a bigger role on special teams, a role in which he thrives.
Then there's the kicking game.
Westhoff never really endorsed the performance of T.J. Conley, and Nick Folk was inconsistent at best. The team jumped on kicker Josh Brown after he was made expendable when the Rams drafted a kicker in the sixth round and invited kicker Brody McKnight to camp.
They undoubtedly will have a keen eye on punters around the league as well.
The awful performance of the 2011 Jets special teams was hopefully an aberration and was atypical of a Westhoff unit. Expect them to bounce back in 2012, which will be Westhoff's final year as an NFL coach.
Better Health on the Offensive Line
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The Jets' offensive line was brutal in 2011, and it wasn't all Wayne Hunter's fault.
Mike Tannenbaum did nothing to address the lack of depth on the line for the entire season, and that came back to haunt the Jets.
While their unit remained largely intact during 2011, they dealt with some serious health problems throughout the year.
The biggest injury was a high ankle sprain by Nick Mangold. While he returned quicker than expected from the problem, it took him a few weeks before he was back to full speed.
Matt Slauson basically played the entire season with one arm and required extensive surgery to repair a torn labrum, rotator cuff and biceps muscle in the offseason. The fact that he played out the entire season seemed to be a minor miracle.
Brandon Moore battled hip problems all year, and D'Brickashaw Ferguson was never quite himself.
While the Jets linemen can't be expected to stay perfectly healthy throughout an entire campaign, you'd have to think they'd have better luck on the injury front when it comes to their offensive line.
The Locker Room Air Has Been Cleared
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The problems of the toxic Jets locker room in 2011 have been well documented.
It seems that a year-long divide in the locker room fractured the team beyond what anybody realized, even Rex Ryan.
The funny thing is that in 2010, the Jets basically had the same personnel, but none of the locker-room issues.
The big difference between the two seasons were that in 2010 the Jets won, while last year was a disappointment.
Anyone who has been around team sports knows that issues that start out as small problems tend to blow up beyond repair when they aren't addressed.
While the Jets meltdown and public finger-pointing at the end of last season was ugly, it will lead to major changes in philosophy.
Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes have been making public efforts to repair their broken partnership and seem like they are making real progress in their off-field relationship. Sanchez even went as far as to ask Holmes to be his Valentine last February 14 via Twitter.
The Jets seem to be doing the right things in order to improve their team chemistry since last season's debacle. Whether they can stick together on the field and through the ups and downs of the season, though, remains to be seen.
Wayne Hunter's Banishment from the Offensive Line
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One would have to think Mike Tannenbaum has a brain in his head.
While there have been plenty of players who have improved dramatically from season to season in the NFL, it's hard to see Hunter becoming a viable lineman on a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
This might be wishful thinking, but there is no way Hunter can be the starting right tackle in 2012.
Hunter's reign of awfulness was a major factor in Mark Sanchez's panicked approach, and as the 2011 season wore on, it was clear the quarterback harbored no confidence that he would be protected when he dropped back to pass.
According to Mike Florio, the Jets have been trying to shop Hunter, but not surprisingly have found no takers.
It is likely that the Jets are going to take a real look at Hunter and see if Tony Sparano can work some coaching magic, but if Hunter doesn't show marked improvement, he can't be anywhere near the starting lineup.
Brian Schottenheimer Is in St. Louis
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The only thing bad about Brian Schottenheimer being in St. Louis is that he didn't end up further away from the team, like in Siberia.
Offensive coordinator is usually a thankless position as they are the first scapegoat when things go bad with the offense.
Fans usually have irrational animosity towards their team's offensive coordinators, but it's hard to say the Jets fans' gripes were unfounded.
The team's play-calling was inconsistent at times and utterly idiotic at other times.
Too often the Jets were passing the ball when they should have been running, and it never seemed that Schottenheimer's play-calling matched the image in which Rex Ryan was trying to build his team.
Tony Sparano will bring more consistency to offensive game plans and will not be overwhelmed by the responsibilities at hand.
When the Jets' season went down in flames, fans were united in wanting Schottenheimer gone. They got their wish as he has shipped off to St. Louis.
He even took Matt Mulligan with him as an added bonus.
An Easier Schedule
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Predicting how hard or easy a schedule is one year in advance is a tricky situation, and efforts to estimate how a team will do are usually fruitless.
However, the Jets' 2012 schedule seems to be quite manageable.
They are slated to take on the Chargers this year, who are always tough, but that game will be played on December 23rd at MetLife Stadium. Historically, the Chargers aren't as dangerous when they have to travel across the country and play in cold weather.
What seems to be beneficial to the Jets is that they have less prime-time games than they have had the past two years and are currently slated for nine, 1 PM Sunday games.
Being on a more regular schedule than they have been in past years will help, and the fact that they have just one trip west (at Seattle, Week 10) is beneficial as well.
Every year there are surprise teams and key injuries, so schedule difficulty sometimes isn't what it appears to be, but having just three 2011 playoff teams on their non-division schedule surely helps matters.