Jets vs Bengals: 10 Burning Questions for New York on Friday Night
After a turbulent offseason filled with coaching changes and eyebrow-raising personnel decisions, everyone is itching to see how this new-look 2012 Jets will look.
Here are 10 burning questions for the Jets' preseason opener against the Bengals.
How Much Wildcat Will the Jets Use?
Withstanding yet another Matt Slauson touchdown, the Jets' use of the Wildcat is going to be the headline of this game.
The Jets have not been clear (on purpose) as to just how much Tebow will see the field. It will be interesting to see how the Jets approach this game in terms of Wildcat snap numbers—do they scare opponents into thinking that they are going to run the package twenty times a game, or do they neglect to use it at all to maximize its effectiveness in the season opener?
Whatever they do, they would be wise to neglect most of the different facets of the package to keep an element of surprise under their sleeve for regular season games.
My gut is that they use a few Wildcat plays just to work out the kinks and confirm to the rest of the league that they are indeed serious about using the package. However, they must be careful to not use the package so much that it starts to take away valuable reps from Sanchez.
Can Quinton Coples Hold Up in the Run Game?
Initially, the Jets had grand plans for the use of their first-round pick, but have since backed off their expectations of the rookie.
Now working with the second team, Coples is expected to be used in pass-rush situations, which stem from his difficulties in the run game, as Ross Tucker noted:
Jets 1st Rd pick DE Quinton Coples needs some work as run defender. Needs to be quicker off ball & better hand placement.
— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) August 3, 2012
These issues are hardly unique for rookies, especially those as talented as Coples. In college, these guys can get away with poor technique, and the new mental aspects of the NFL-game cause them to play slower.
The Giants took a similar approach with Jason Pierre-Paul, and he turned out just fine. Plus, that tweet occurred over a week ago, so perhaps Coples has made some strides in his technique since then.
The faster Coples can get used to playing the run at the NFL level, the sooner he will be inserted back into the starting lineup.
Is Bilal Powell's Training Camp Just Smoke and Mirrors?
Perhaps the most impressive player in training camp has been running back Bilal Powell, which comes as a surprise to those who watched him shrink in the spotlight in limited action against the Broncos last year.
Powell has been impressive enough to earn reps with the first team, which makes one wonder if Powell can not only take over for McKnight on third downs, but even perhaps push assumed starter Shonn Greene for carries.
Still, Powell needs to show that he can replicate his performance in game situations before he truly starts to rise up the depth chart.
But if Powell does show anything close to what the camp reports are putting out, the Jets may have themselves as nice one-two punch at running back, which they will desperately need in a season when they are trying to revert back to being a run-heavy offense.
Can LaRon Landry Play in Coverage Against Jermaine Gresham?
Because the Jets were not able to land their prototypical coverage safety in free agency or in the draft, they will be reliant on veteran LaRon Landry to replace Eric Smith at free safety.
While Landry is certainly a massive upgrade over Eric Smith in coverage (joining just about every other defensive back in football), he is still a more natural in-the-box style defender. He has experience playing as a free safety, but his best days as a Redskin come from when he was able to play in his more natural role as a strong safety.
Landry will get his first test against Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham, who is a former first-round pick that has steadily improved over the past two years. He is not quite on Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham's level in terms of being a matchup nightmare, but he is still a tough man to cover and will be a perfect guy for Landry to get his feet wet.
If Landry struggles all night against Gresham, the Jets may want to consider using rookie Josh Bush to help out in coverage.
Is Vladimir Ducasse Truly and Improved Player?
The Jets opened camp with a bit of a surprise by digging up the right guard competition, citing the fact that Ducasse has shown enough improvement to earn another shot to wrestle the job away from Matt Slauson, who won the job back in 2010.
However, Slauson once again proved to be the much better option and appears to have his old spot back before the first preseason game, raising questions as to how much Ducasse has truly improved over the past few months.
Ducasse's issues have always stemmed from a lack of mental awareness, which will be on display against a foreign opponent in live action.
If Ducasse plays well, than the Jets' decision to try Ducasse back at left guard will be justified. Otherwise, the move will just look like a desperate, last-ditch effort to get something out of the former second-round pick.
Has Stephen Hill Grasped an NFL Offense Yet?
While Hill is certainly not the first player to come out of school with limited route-running experience, there are intramural flag football teams with more complex route designs that what he ran at Georgia Tech.
Hill has the physical ability to get the job done at the NFL level, but he needs to show that he can run a complete route tree before he established himself as a legitimate deep threat in the NFL.
He will face an array of veteran corners on the Bengals who will know how to take advantage of rookie mistakes, so this will be a good test for Hill.
Is D'Brickashaw Ferguson Back to His Old Self?
Since entering the league in 2006, Ferguson has established himself as one of the top pass protectors in the game.
However, he had a miserable 2011 season by his standards. He let just above-average pass-rushers beat him around like a rag doll.
Ferguson will get a heavy dose of some of the up-and-coming pass-rushers on the Bengals like Carlos Dunlap. If he plays well, if could be infectious and help solidify other parts of the line; if he doesn't, it will continue a rather disturbing trend.
Is Muhammad Wilkerson Ready to Play at an All-Pro Level?
There have been glowing reviews from Jets camp about the performance of the former first-round pick, with some coaches saying that Wilk has been the most dominant player on the field (outside of Revis).
Wilkerson has all of the athletic ability to make a Jason Pierre-Paul type jump to the upper-echelon of the league with an additional offseason under his belt.
He will have his hands full, going against a rather stout Bengals offensive line, so an impressive performance will validate what the coaches have been saying about him since OTAs.
Who Will Seperate Themselves as a Receiver?
Between guys like Patrick Turner, a favorite of Rex Ryan's, and seventh-rounder Jordan White, who has looked good in camp, other bubble players like Eron Riley have an opportunity to steal a roster spot as well.
The Jets need a player from this group to step up, and this Friday' game will be a great opportunity for these guys to gain some separation from the rest of the pack.
How Will Mark Sanchez Play?
This is the single most important aspect of this first preseason game (outside of everyone staying healthy).
After a turbulent offseason that put Sanchez's ability to be an NFL starting quarterback into question, this will be Sanchez's first chance to show the world that he is not going away quietly.
On the flip side, he could also take one step further towards proving his detractors right and begin the Tebow-as-a-starter talk before the regular season begins.
While it is important to keep in mind that this is still a preseason game, the Jets' embattled quarterback could sure use some momentum headed into the regular season.