The Best Rookie Storylines at New York Jets' OTAs
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Many of the headlines from the New York Jets' OTAs don't directly involve rookies. It's necessary to extrapolate the implications for rookies from the story.
Injuries are the best example. For example, who benefits from the inability of first-team and second-team wide receivers to participate in these drills? Those who made the best impressions during rookie camp might see more repetitions.
Positional changes are another move that opens opportunities for rookies. If Quinton Coples' move to outside linebacker succeeds, playing time on defensive line should be available.
There are some obvious storylines for sure. Geno Smith's battle for a starting quarterback role is one. Sixth-round pick William Campbell's conversion to guard is a second. Dee Milliner's forced inactivity is a third.
Hopefully these slides will touch on the obvious and perhaps not-so-obvious rookie storylines as the Jets move through OTAs and prepare for training camp.
The source for Jets' depth chart information is ourlads.com.
UDFA Dalton Freeman Vies for Backup Center Role
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Caleb Schlauderaff has competition for his job.
Who's Schlauderaff, you ask. More importantly, what's his job? On that there's disagreement. The Jets' roster lists Schlauderaff as a guard, in which case he'd compete for a job with the likes of Willie Colon, Stephen Peterman, Vladimir Ducasse, Brian Winters and William Campbell.
Regardless of his actual position, Schlauderaff saw no action last year. This year, he faces a challenge for the backup center position: undrafted free agent Dalton Freeman, an AP second-team All-American from Clemson.
During rookie camp, Freeman played center on a line with third-round pick Brian Winters, fifth-round pick Oday Aboushi and sixth-round pick William Campbell.
... it is an impressive group, when you consider that you have three draft picks on that offensive line and the All-American from Clemson [Dalton Freeman] at center, who looked really impressive to me. It's a good-looking group. I was impressed with those guys.
This line is not going to start as a unit in 2013. Center Nick Mangold, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and right tackle Austin Howard will be difficult to displace. Veteran guards Willie Colon, Stephen Peterman and Vladimir Ducasse may be more vulnerable. However, they top the current depth chart ahead of Winters and Campbell.
However, if Freeman reinforces the impression he made during rookie camp at OTAs, he could be on his way to backing up Mangold come September.
Schlauderaff may have to find another role.
Dee Milliner Copes with Shoulder Injury, Agent Change
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
In contrast to Geno Smith, Dee Milliner's OTAs will be quiet.
The Jets' No. 1 draft pick is still recovering from shoulder surgery, which prevents him from participating in drills. Milliner must limit himself to off-field activities and hope the results pay off when he takes the field in training camp.
Consequently, the direct comparison of Milliner with former first-round pick Kyle Wilson will have to wait.
However, per the transcript, Milliner's current work is far from a trivial task, says Rex Ryan:
It's huge. Through the walkthrough, he's a very sharp guy. Firing the questions at him the whole time, in the meetings and stuff like that, and we're a little different, in the meetings we teach the entire system, so we'll ask him defensive line questions and everything else. He's sharp. But it is. He's got to nail down the mental part because he's not going to be able to physically do it. We'll see. Hopefully at training camp he's ready to roll. Clearly, he's showed in college he is familiar with the coverages. Several of the coverages that Alabama plays are some of our coverages as well.
Milliner may be postponing his evaluation on the field. However, by becoming the second Jets' draft pick to fire his agent, Milliner invites a different comparison with rookie quarterback Geno Smith. Will Milliner's new representation be as controversial as Smith's choice of Jay-Z's Roc Nation?
Smith's critics, like ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini, charge him with being too concerned with marketing before he makes his mark in football. What reaction will Milliner's choice inspire?
Guards Campbell and Winters Pair Up
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According to ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini, 2013 could be the first year since 2008 in which the Jets' offensive line has two new starters. He was referring to guard, where the favorites to start are veterans Stephen Peterman and Willie Colon.
It's a long shot, but those starters could be rookies: third-round draft pick Brian Winters and sixth-round pick William Campbell.
Winters played left guard and Campbell played right guard in a rookie camp offensive line that included UDFA Dalton Freeman at center and fifth-round pick Oday Aboushi at tackle.
Of the two guards, Campbell faces the greater challenge. He is returning to guard after being a defensive lineman during his Michigan career. So far, however, Ryan is impressed by Campbell's poise and, most importantly, his avoiding mistakes.
Jets' blogger Randy Lange transcribed Ryan's thoughts on Campbell:
"He's the kid that really intrigues me. Mike Devlin's an outstanding coach, but I'm surprised Campbell's not making mistakes. He seems like he's been doing it his whole life."
According to David Wyatt of Gang Green Nation, Ryan had this to say about Winters:
"You know what you are going to get with Brian Winters, and he'll look even better when you throw pads on him and he can start throwing people around."
Could Winters and Campbell be the starting guards in 2013? Here's what would have to happen:
- Left guard: Willie Colon's right knee would have to force him out of action. According to the Jets' current depth chart, Winters would replace him.
- Right guard: Stephen Peterman is the current starter based on his eight years of experience and Vladimir Ducasse's disappointing work to date. If Campbell continues to avoid mistakes, he may overtake Ducasse. Peterman might be a more difficult obstacle.
In other words, the most likely probability is that Winters and Campbell become backups. Winters would be more likely to start because of Colon's knee.
Injuries Open Doors for WRs Zach Rogers and Ryan Spadola
Zach Rogers runs with a catch against Mississippi State in 2012.
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The Jets began OTAs with four injured wide receivers: Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, Clyde Gates and Jordan White. This can mean more opportunities for rookies to showcase themselves. The causes of UDFAs Zach Rogers and Ryan Spadola could benefit.
On the left side, Holmes' foot injury will limit his repetitions through the end of training camp and perhaps beyond. Until his backup's, Gates, hamstring recovers, the top slot will belong to second-year receiver Titus Ryan, backed up by Rogers and another second-year player, Vidal Hazelton.
However, Ryan and Hazelton have no measured accomplishments. They might as well be rookies themselves. That could mean an opportunity for Rogers to move up the depth chart after he impressed coach Rex Ryan during rookie camp with his work in the slot and on punt returns.
Said Ryan, per the transcript:
... The guy that stood out at receiver was this young man from Tennessee, I thought he stood out, Zach Rogers, No. 15, he caught a lot of balls out there, slot receiver, I saw him return punts, and he did a good job on the special teams drills as everybody watched, you know, breaking down, form tackling, things like that, so he looked good.
Having his former college quarterback Matt Simms in camp can't hurt Rogers' chances. The pair combined for a 72-yard touchdown play during Tennessee's 29-26 overtime victory against Alabama-Birmingham in 2010.
It's a similar situation on the right side. Hill, the projected starter, is having recurring knee issues. His backup, Jeremy Kerley, is healthy but often plays from the slot. Since Jordan White is also out with an undisclosed injury, that leaves available repetitions for UDFA Ryan Spadola, the Lehigh receiver who caught 232 passes and scored 24 touchdowns in college.
According to Jets spokesperson Eric Allen, Spadola "had the typical ups and downs during rookie camp. [He'll] have to make some noise during OTAs."
If Rogers and Spadola make enough noise, they might be on their way to wearing green and white this fall.
Richardson Trying Multiple Roles
Position changes and injuries provide Richardson new opportunities.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
You would think being a first-round draft choice would be enough to get plenty of repetitions in OTAs. Injuries and experiments have provided even more options for 13th overall selection Sheldon Richardson.
The combination of the Quinton Coples experiment at outside linebacker and injuries to lineman Antonio Garay and nose tackle Kenrick Ellis should provide Richardson plenty of chances to find his optimal role in the Jets defense.
Depending on the situation, Coples could play either the line or linebacker. This makes positional flexibility vital for Richardson if he wants to have significant playing time in 2013.
Based on Richardson's rookie camp performance, Rex Ryan is optimistic, per Randy Lange:
Sheldon was good. I don't want to put expectations to high, but he was impressive, to say the least. We move them around, we can have a guy at nose, 3-technique, 5-technique, but there's several different things he can do. One thing we saw today was his explosiveness, another is his effort to the football. He loves to play, you can already tell that. You could've doubled that practice and he'd've been fine.
Ellis' injury has given Richardson more repetitions at nose tackle than he might have had otherwise. This sets up a three-way battle between Ellis, Garay and Richardson for two starting positions. At publication time, ourlads.com had Ellis starting at nose tackle and Richardson as right tackle, with Garay as Richardson's backup.
Regardless of the outcome, all three should see playing time come September.
Geno Smith Battles Off-Field Distractions
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Learning the West Coast offense and fighting for an NFL job are daunting challenges for anyone, even Geno Smith. Now, the NFL Players' Association is investigating Smith's recruitment by Jay-Z's sports agency, Roc Nation. Considering Smith has yet to sign a contract, that can't make life any easier.
However, if Mark Sanchez's on-field progress or lack thereof draws most of the media's attention, Smith will get a small reprieve.
There was quite a buzz about Mark Sanchez and his three interceptions in the first public practice. To recap, Sanchez completed six of 11 passes with three interceptions and a sack.
Smith did no better. He completed three of 10 passes with one interception and a sack. This performance went relatively unnoticed.
There's too little context in these reports to draw any firm conclusions. Indeed, they provoke more questions than answers.
- Under what game, field position, down-and-distance situations did the interceptions and sacks occur? Some situations are riskier than others. Did these drills introduce that element? For all we know, every play started on 1st-and-10 from the 50-yard line. The only play we know much about is the screen pass where Damon Harrison picked off Sanchez.
- How were the receivers doing? Quarterbacks can get intercepted because receivers run the wrong pattern. Could any of the interceptions have been the receivers' fault? Were the patterns such that quarterbacks could recognize incorrect routes in time to throw the ball away or adjust to the receiver?
- What was the role of the defense? Offenses are supposed to take care of the football. Defenses are supposed to take it away. We know these drills were not full-contact drills, but were defenders actively trying to create turnovers or were the balls thrown so poorly the defenders couldn't help themselves?
- How did others do? Did everyone track the first day's practice of players like Eli Manning, Ryan Nassib, EJ Manuel, or Peyton Manning this carefully? Ryan and Marty Mornhinweg are trying to instill a mindset in Jets quarterbacks to protect the football. Will their rhetoric have its intended effect?
The conclusion one can draw from the first public practice is that both Smith and Sanchez have work to do. Neither will have an easy path to the starting quarterback job. What's more, neither can afford excuses. If Smith's representation issues are detracting from his play, he had better tidy up that situation as soon as possible. Otherwise, he may let the opportunity of a lifetime pass him by.
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