Biggest Winners and Losers from New York Jets Camp so Far
With the first preseason game already in the books, players are starting to separate themselves on the Jets' depth chart.
Between injuries and surprising camp performances, there have been quite a few surprises in the order of the Jets' depth chart, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Here are the winners and losers of Jets camp just over two weeks into the season.
Winner: Austin Howard
While the Jeff Otah trade-fallout caused the Jets to groan in disappointment, it turned out to be the best thing possible for Austin Howard's young NFL career.
While the incumbent right tackle, Wayne Hunter, was sidelined with a back injury, Howard was given the nod to start the first preseason game at right tackle after a strong start to training camp.
Howard was decent in his debut, but while he did not necessarily knock around defensive ends, he was not a liability in protection either. In other words, he was very un-Wayne Hunter-like, which at this point is all the Jets can ask for.
Since Friday's game, Howard's performance has insinuated a full-blown position battle between him and Hunter, as he rotated with Hunter with the first team the following practice, per Manish Mehta of the Daily News.
It is still a long way to go before the season starts and a lot can change between now and then, but the Jets could possibly have a realistic alternative to Wayne Hunter at right tackle.
Loser: Jeremy Kerley
Since a fantastic rookie season playing as the slot receiver, Kerley has taken quite a fall from grace this summer.
After a disappointing OTA and minicamp session to go along with his hamstring issues, Rex Ryan grew frustrated with the second-year receiver and called him out in one of his press conferences.
Rex rarely directly calls out his players publicly without sugar-coating his words, so Kerley must be pretty far deep in Ryan's doghouse. The good news is that Kerley is using Ryan' words as motivation, as he told Jenny Ventras of NJ.com:
Any time the head coach calls you out, it’s a target on your back...I feel a little under pressure if he didn’t call me out. I’m hard on myself, so nobody is my biggest critic except myself. I definitely want to get back on the field, and I’ll do everything I can.
With Kerley nursing a hamstring injury, the slot receiver position that was once Kerley's to lose is now up for grabs.
While I doubt that Kerley has a Randy Moss-like personality that screams of being a diva, perhaps he got a bit complacent after being one of the few productive players on the Jets offense in 2011, and Rex took notice.
Winner: Bilal Powell
Based on practice reports alone, Bilal Powell would be a legitimate league MVP candidate.
In fact, Powell has been so impressive that he played over Joe McKnight in third-down situations in the first preseason game. While he looked decent in the game running the ball and in protection, he did not exactly live up to the hype that was perhaps unfairly put on him.
Still, Powell's jump up the depth chart is something we don't see often, and he is clearly one of the biggest winners of Jets camp so far.
Loser: Santonio Holmes
While he can take pride in the fact that he is the only receiver on the Jets' roster that is better than Antonio Cromartie (according to Antonio Cromartie), this has not been the smoothest of camps for Holmes, health-wise.
He will likely miss the second preseason game of the year because of a rib injury he suffered in the Green and White scrimmage.
Holmes' missed time this preseason is crucial not only because the Jets are installing a new offense, but he needs to be in complete synergy with Mark Sanchez as the only go-to receiver on the team. If he and Mark start off slow, talk of a rift between the two will undoubtedly rise up.
Winner: Yeremiah Bell
So far, Bell has made a seamless transition from Miami to New York. In the search for a more durable version of Jim Leonhard, the Jets may have found the perfect candidate in Bell.
Not only are the Jets' defensive coaches thrilled to have him on board, but Tony Sparano, who coached Bell in Miami, spoke glowingly about Bell to Dave Caldwell of The New York Times:
Well, first of all, this guy was really a special player for me. He has leadership ability and all of the intangibles that he has I think are critical to a football team, and he is the type of guy, Yeremiah, that can stand out in a quiet way.
In limited snaps in the first preseason game, Bell was able to make a quick break on the ball that led to a pass breakup, which is a great sign that he is becoming more comfortable in Rex Ryan's complex defense.
For a team that has made its mark on being outspoken, Bell is a perfect complement as a calming, quiet presence on the back end of the defense.
Loser: Eric Smith
As much as the Jets want to use him as a 12th starter on defense, they will have to at least wait until the end of preseason before they attempt to dupe the replacement referees.
Smith suffered an MCL injury and will be out for at least the remainder of the preseason. Even if he does come back in time for the season opener, it is going to be hard for Smith to operate at 100 percent at any point during the season, which is crushing news for a guy who courageously played through an array of injuries last year.
Luckily, the Jets spend two draft picks on safeties to give them some insurance, but they will miss Smith's veteran presence on the back end if this injury drags into the regular season.
Winner: Josh Bush
When one player goes down, another opportunity opens for the next man up. With Eric Smith now out of the picture for at least the next few weeks, Bush is going to have a ton of opportunities in preseason action to prove his work.
Most importantly, he has the trust of his veteran teammates. When asked whether he would feel comfortable with Bush, LaRon Landry replied with, "Yes I would."
Bush is the best free-safety prototype the Jets have on the roster, so if he can excel in his added reps, he could earn a bigger role in the Jets' defense.
Loser: Joe McKnight
While the rise of Bilal Powell is exciting for Jets fans, someone is going to have to pay the price in terms of playing time.
It would have been one thing if Bilal took over for Shonn Greene as a bell-cow back, but Bilal was in the preseason game on third-down situations, which is supposed to be McKnight's bread and butter.
While there have not been any negative stories about McKnight coming out of camp, this is supposed to be the year that Joe finally becomes LaDainian Tomlinson's replacement, not spending another year returning kicks.
The good news for McKnight is that he was, by far, the most explosive offensive player for the Jets that night, showing more explosion than either Powell or Greene while working with the second and third teams.
With more performances like the one he had Friday night, he could definitely earn his job back by the start of the regular season.
Winner: Quinton Coples
After reports emerged that Coples was being taken out of the starting lineup, the "b" word was started to get thrown around as Coples was being compared to Vernon Gholston.
But by the time Coples was done throwing around Cincinnati's offensive lineman all night long on Friday, nabbing a sack and a forced fumble, he silenced anyone who questioned his ability and physical dominance.
Not only was Coples the best player on the field for that game, he was arguably the most impressive rookie of the week (not named Andrew Luck).
Still, as good as Coples looked in game action, coaches want him to pick up his practice play. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine wanted Coples to wear his game jersey in practice, but the jerseys were not available.
Of course, no career is based on one preseason game, but the early returns are overwhelmingly positive for a player that was regarded to have high bust potential coming out of UNC.
Loser: Anyone Involved in Pass Protection
I purposely left Mark Sanchez off this list, simply because he was under so much duress in the preseason game that it would be unfair to evaluate him in such a situation.
Instead, the blame for the Jets' ineffectiveness in the preseason opener lies squarely on the offensive line and everyone involved with its performance, both coaches and players.
Despite the fact that Austin Howard had a solid outing in Wayne Hunter's place, blitz pickup was an utter disaster, and Sanchez clearly did not trust his protection. Whether it was putting an over-matched Jeff Cumberland on a defensive end or letting defenders waltz into the pocket with ease, the Jets offense is going to struggle if they don't find a way to improve things in a hurry.
The protection issues were so bad that Rex Ryan went as far to suggest that they could use Tim Tebow's durability and running ability as a way to slow down opposing pass-rushers, according to Manish Mehta of the Daily News.
Hopefully, things never get so bad that the Jets have to resort to such drastic measures, but the fact that Rex is already thinking about his options is not a good sign.
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