Under the guidance of a new manager and heading into the 2013 NFL season, the New York Jets are now all about one thing: Internal competition.
General manager John Idzik, coming from a similar Seattle environment, is promoting competition for roster spots wherever possible. Perhaps more so than any other NFL team right now, the Jets roster is full of questions.
Quarterback and running back are just two of the positions where the competition is wide open. All across the board on both offense and defense there are emerging battles.
I discuss the ongoing battles position by position and project the most likely winners to lay out how the Jets starting lineup is going to look when the season begins.
To me, the most important position battle for the New York Jets this offseason is at quarterback. There are three different guys at three very different points in their careers.
First, you have Geno Smith, a rookie second-round pick who wants to prove himself. Second, you have Mark Sanchez, who has spent all four of his pro seasons as a starter and wants to keep his starting job. Finally, you have David Garrard, who has already had a long and successful NFL career and wants one more year in the sun.
From a statistical standpoint, Garrard is the favorite. He has had a long and solid career, including a Pro Bowl appearance in 2009. In every year he has played substantially (more than four game appearances), he has had a QB rating over 80. For comparison, Mark Sanchez in his best season had a QB rating of only 78.2.
The major concern with Garrard is health. He suffered season-ending injuries in each of the last two preseasons. If Garrard manages to stay healthy, he should be the starter. But there is no guarantee at all of his health.
As far as Week 1 goes, Garrard is my predicted starter, because I think he will manage to stay healthy at least that long. Whether or not he will survive the season? That is a whole other question.
Greg McElroy and Matt Simms remain in the competition as well, but they are heavy underdogs.
Projected Winner: David Garrard
The quarterback competition might be the most important, but the running back competition will be the most intense.
The Jets have four running backs on the roster who could end up with the starting job. Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight remain from last season, when they were both arguably better than former starter Shonn Greene. Chris Ivory was traded for, and Mike Goodson was a free-agent signing. As of yet, there is no clear favorite.
McKnight, known mostly for special teams, wants to become a mainstay at running back. According to Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post, McKnight is fired up. McKnight said:
Words can’t even describe how badly I want to be that guy. I’ve got an edge, a fire to me... so I can show everybody that I can play. When I’m out there practicing it’s like I’m [ticked] off. I’ve got to play the game [ticked] off. That gives me the edge and keeps me on top of my game.
Ivory has arguably the highest ceiling, though he has had injury problems in the past. In the end, there may not be a single winner. Doubtless, the Jets will use running back by committee. Whether they will primarily use two backs, three or even all four is yet to be seen.
Currently, I have my (metaphorical) money on Ivory to win in whatever sense of the word a running back competition can be won. The Jets invested in him by trading for him, and he should be the most effective back if he can stay healthy.
Projected Winner: Chris Ivory
Offensive guard is generally not viewed as the most critical position on the football field. Nonetheless, the Jets situation at offensive guard is fascinating this summer.
Both of last year's starting guards are gone. Matt Slauson is now on the Chicago Bears. Brandon Moore is a free agent who does not appear all that likely to be returning. In the place of those two veteran Jets are a slew of players hoping to start.
To begin, there is Brian Winters, the Jets' third-round draft pick. He has the highest ceiling in terms of future impact, but adapting to Marty Mornhinweg's offensive system could take time for a rookie. Then there is Willie Colon. Colon won a Super Bowl with the Steelers in Pittsburgh, where he has spent his career to date. He recently joined the Jets as a free agent. Colon should be able and ready to go, but no doubt he will need to prove that.
Then there is Stephen Peterman, another free-agent pickup who is an underdog but still part of the competition. To go with him is Vladimir Ducasse. Ducasse was originally a second-round draft pick of the Jets. He has taken a long time to develop, but this could be his year. He saw increased usage in 2012, especially in running situations. He has always been more effective in the running game than in the passing game. Obviously, he will need to show that he can pass protect if he wants the starting job.
Rounding it all out are rookie draft picks Oday Aboushi (potentially a tackle) and Will Campbell.
The current favorites in my opinion are Colon (the best now) and Winters (the most promising for the future).
Projected Winners: Willie Colon and Brian Winters
Safety is a fascinating position this summer for the Jets. Both of their starting safeties from last season (LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell) are gone. Prior to the draft, safety was a position of need and seemed like a possible target for draft picks, but the Jets spent their draft picks elsewhere.
One reason that the Jets had that flexibility was because of the signing of Dawan Landry. Dawan, who happens to be the brother of LaRon, is a veteran who is likely to take the free safety spot, though that is far from guaranteed.
Looking past Dawan, there are multiple options. Antonio Allen and Josh Bush both began to show promise in 2012. I expect both of them to be part of this summer's competition. Ultimately, their positions in September will be determined by how well they perform this summer and in the preseaon.
Another possibility is Rontez Miles, an intriguing undrafted rookie free agent who could compete for the free safety spot.
Head coach Rex Ryan tends to mix it up in the defensive secondary, so the Jets could end up going with a sort of safety by committee.
At the moment, the most likely result looks to be that Dawan Landry will get the bulk of the snaps at free safety and Allen will start at strong safety. Whatever happens, there will probably be three or even four players getting regular snaps.
Projected Winners: Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen
There are other positions where competition will occur, though of a less well-defined nature. In Rex Ryan's hybrid defense, the starting job is not always given to a single player. Often it comes down to snap percentages across multiple formations.
In terms of inside linebackers, there is generally a rotation, with either one or two players on the field depending on the formation. David Harris, Josh Mauga and Demario Davis are all in the mix. I project that David Harris and Demario Davis will see the most playing time.
At outside linebacker, it is interesting because Quinton Coples will likely be taking more snaps at the rush linebacker position, a variant of outside linebacker. Coples should see starter-level snaps. In addition to him, Antwan Barnes and Garrett McIntyre are likely to see the most snaps, though it is not clear if either will truly start.
Finally, there is the cornerback situation. To fill the hole left behind by Darrelle Revis there are most notably Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson and Dee Milliner. Ryan makes significant use of three-cornerback formations. However, at least for Week 1, I expect Wilson and Cromartie to be the starters. Milliner could claim the starting job, but I do not foresee Ryan being overly hasty with his development.
All of this is subject to change as the offseason progresses. More news is sure to come.