Who will follow Antonio Allen from the practice squad to the active squad?
Last year, the New York Jets signed Antonio Allen to the eighth and last position on the 2012 practice squad. This year, Allen is competing for a job as starting safety. The question is: Who will be this year’s Antonio Allen?
There are few positions on an NFL team with more than one backup. In fact, the Jets’ September 1, 2012 depth chart had no backups at fullback and right guard. Only quarterback, right wide receiver (to account for slot receiver Jeremy Kerley), tight end, running back, nose tackle, left inside linebacker, strong safety and right cornerback had third-string players. (Punt returner did as well, but all punt and kickoff returners were already on the roster.)
The practice squad provides some room for the following categories of players:
- Players of promise who might be needed in the following season. They don’t fit on the current roster but might develop enough in a year to replace someone who will leave the team. Allen could have this category had he remained on the practice squad in 2012.
- Projects. These are players who need more time to acclimate to a new position or to NFL football in general. Tight end Hayden Smith had never played organized football before coming to the Jets. The ex-rugby star moved from the practice squad to the active roster in 2012 and has made a strong impression in 2013 during OTAs and minicamp.
- Extra backup. Some players shuttle back and forth between the 53-man roster and the practice squad because of injuries or roster issues.
Inclusion in this list doesn’t mean the player can’t make the 53-man roster in 2013. That depends on the coaching staff’s plans, how their competitors play and their own performance. However, these players have an option for continuing their careers that more established veterans do not—the practice squad. They can make a living playing football while honing their craft and preparing for the competition to come in 2014.
It’s time to meet some of the players who might comprise the 2013 New York Jets’ practice squad.
No. 81 Pantale in the end zone against Virginia Tech
Kellen Winslow Jr. added some depth to the Jets’ tight end position for 2013. As of publication, the Jets’ top three tight ends are Jeff Cumberland, Winslow and Konrad Reuland. Hayden Smith has made a strong showing this offseason and may overtake Reuland.
It would seem that the Jets have plenty of tight ends, as their 2012 Week 1 depth chart included three. However, they might want to follow 2012's example and keep a spare tight end on the practice squad. Winslow must demonstrate that his knees can withstand the rigors of training camp much less a 16-game season. If the Jets need to replace Winslow, they could use someone familiar with their system and skilled as both a receiver and blocker. Chris Pantale might be the answer.
Pantale’s NFL Scouting Combine profile introduces Pantale as follows:
Boston College tight ends can show all of the great receiving skills they want, but had better be willing to get after their man in the run game or they’ll never hit the field. Pantale (pronounced Pan-TELL-ee) has shown talent as both a blocker and receiver to not only get on the field for the Eagles, but also to grab scouts’ attention as a potential starter at the next level.
Pantale’s workout numbers did not place him at an elite level. His combine profile noted a lack of "elite athletic ability and speed" and suggested he might have to "add bulk" to improve his "adequate" upper body strength. However, the profile credits him with the "flexibility to grab passes thrown behind him or above his head" and cites his ability to block multiple targets in one play as being "unlike most college tight ends who stick on the first block."
Both Winslow and Jeff Cumberland will be unrestricted free agents in 2014. A year on the practice squad might prepare Pantale to fill one of their roles.
Rogers pulls one in against Mississippi State.
On paper, the Jets’ wide receiving corps looks almost set. Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley and Clyde Gates are designated to fill four of the top five slots. However, as OTAs and minicamp have shown, that group has suffered a variety of injuries. Holmes’ Lisfranc foot injury is of the greatest concern, but Kerley, Hill and Gates all missed practices because of one ailment or another. It almost sounds like the receiver shortage issues of 2012 may repeat themselves in 2013.
The Jets had three wide receivers on the practice squad in 2012. The way things progressed, they probably wished for more. That's probably impractical. However, if they can't have quantity, they should at least strive for quality players who've demonstrated they can make catches and play special teams. Zach Rogers is one such player.
Rogers was the low-profile Tennessee receiver who surprised scouts on film. They’d visit Knoxville to evaluate Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter but would inevitably become curious about slot receiver Rogers. That curiosity wasn’t enough to get Rogers drafted, so the Jets picked him up as a UDFA.
One guy who stood out was the receiver from Tennessee, Zach Rogers. He caught a lot of balls out there, he was a slot receiver, you saw him return punts. And he did a good job in the special teams drills.
According to Jets’ senior reporter Eric Allen, Rogers has continued to draw attention through minicamp. In a post-minicamp "Eric Allen Q&A," Allen said that "Zach Rogers flashed at times and he could make a push for a roster spot."
However, there are other candidates like Ben Obomanu who need a roster spot to remain on the team. The numbers game may relegate Rogers to the practice squad. However, given the injury history among Jets’ wide receivers, he may well not remain there for long.
Lex Hilliard could push Tommy Bohanon to the practice squad.
If the New York Jets follow their 2012 pattern, only one fullback will be on their roster come Week 1. Incumbent Lex Hilliard will defend his job against seventh-round pick Tommy Bohanon during training camp. However, Hilliard is only signed for a year. If Bohanon makes the competition close enough, his combination of superior strength and receiving skills might make it worthwhile to keep him on the practice squad in 2013. He'd be available in case of injury and in great position to win the job in 2014.
Whoever plays fullback for the Jets has to function in run blocking, pass blocking, carrying the ball, pass receiving and special teams. Hilliard demonstrated this multifaceted role in the Jets’ first loss to New England.
However, Bohanon offers skills of his own. His overall strength helped him lead all NFL Scouting Combine running backs in the bench press workout with 36 repetitions at 225 lbs. He has also lined up at both halfback and fullback, indicating a versatility of use, and has been a capable, if infrequent, ball-carrier and receiver.
Whoever wins the fullback job will have to contribute more than blocking. He’ll have to be a vital cog in the West Coast offense, particularly as a short-yardage pass receiver coming out of the backfield. For Hilliard, that will mean enhancing the role he played in his rookie year in Miami, when he caught 20 passes for 158 yards. For Bohanon, it will mean delivering on the versatility he promised during his post-draft news conference.
The Jets did not have a fullback on their practice squad in 2012. They had to claim Hilliard from the waiver wire to replace John Conner. If Bohanon doesn't replace Hilliard in 2013, keeping him on the practice squad would provide stability at the position during the coming season while grooming him to assume the job in 2014.
Campbell at the Michigan v Michigan State game
The rookie camp line that included center Dalton Freeman, tackle Oday Aboushi and guards William Campbell and Brian Winters may, with the probable exception of Freeman (because Nick Mangold should still be around), see game action together as soon as 2014. Here’s why.
Guards Willie Colon and Stephen Peterman will become unrestricted free agents in 2014, as will starting right tackle Austin Howard. The Jets must begin to groom replacements.
As the “dark-horse candidate” of that line, William Campbell impressed Rex Ryan, who said, "I’m surprised Campbell’s not making mistakes. He seems like he’s been doing it his whole life."
If Rich Cimini’s depth chart on ESPNNewYork.com is right, that’s helped him become Stephen Peterman’s backup at right guard. Ourlads.com also puts Campbell at right guard. However, he’s the third-stringer behind Peterman and Vladimir Ducasse. That’s a more vulnerable position.
Jets’ senior reporter Eric Allen's analysis complicates matters further. Allen puts Brian Winters in direct competition with Peterman for a starting job.
Right now, both depth charts position Winters as Willie Colon’s backup at left guard. However, Allen speculated that should Winters beat out Peterman, Winters would swap positions with Colon, because Winters is more athletic. Allen doesn’t comment on how the switch would affect backups. However, let’s assume Peterman remains as Colon’s right guard backup. That would push Campbell to at least the third-string position, behind Peterman and perhaps even Ducasse.
Alternatively, should Peterman back up Winters at left guard, Campbell becomes no worse than the third-string right guard. He’d have to beat out Ducasse for the backup role. It's not unfathomable, since Mike Tannenbaum's departure has cost Ducasse a major supporter.
Ducasse probably offers more versatility than Campbell. Ducasse has worked out at tackle as well as guard this offseason. In fact, he is Austin Howard’s backup at right tackle on the ESPNNewYork.com depth chart. Ourlads.com keeps Ducasse at guard behind Stephen Peterman. The point is, Ducasse seems capable of playing both guard and tackle. Campbell's goal for 2013 is to master guard.
Ducasse may win the roster spot in 2013. However, there’s a potential silver lining for Campbell. To be part of the offensive line’s long-term future, he may have to be patient, stay in the background and learn his craft as a member of the practice squad while second-round pick and possible bust Ducasse completes the last year of his contract.
The test for both Ducasse and Campbell could be 2014, provided both are Jets in some capacity this year. Ducasse will become a free agent, joining Colon, Peterman and Howard. That is Campbell's real opportunity. He must prepare for it as best he can, whether he be on the 53-man roster or the practice squad.
Aboushi at game against TCU
There are two versions of Oday Aboushi: one that says he’s a versatile lineman and one that says he isn’t. The version to which he plays will determine whether he makes the 2013 53-man roster or the practice squad.
According to a 2012 Jets’ press release, the practice squad typically includes draft picks from the sixth and seventh rounds who couldn’t find room on the 53-man roster. They may make an exception for fifth-round pick Oday Aboushi if the assessment of NFL Network’s Mike Maycock is right.
Maycock believes that Aboushi is only suitable for the NFL as a right tackle. Here is his reaction when the Jets selected Aboushi in the fifth round:
I've been crying for offensive linemen. I felt like he was a right tackle only. That's not a good thing because if you're not a starter you won't be an active man on Sunday. He has to compete to make a spot on the Jets.
This isn’t the impression one gets from The Star-Ledger’s Conor Orr in his report, “Jets OTAs: A breakdown of all the competitions on offense.” Orr maintains:
Aboushi can swing from tackle to guard, which helps his chances of making the roster immensely. This could come down to which of these players can fit themselves into the most holes along the line.
The Jets have been trying Aboushi at left tackle behind D’Brickashaw Ferguson. It’s the mirror image of Maycock’s projection. But what if Maycock is right?
There are at least two possibilities for Aboushi:
- He proves Orr right. Aboushi proves he can play both tackles and perhaps guard. In that case, he’d be a valuable backup, not just for the 53-man roster but on the weekly 46-man game-day roster. In 2014, Aboushi would compete for the job as starting right tackle.
- He proves Maycock right. Aboushi might have a viable NFL career, but only as a right tackle. He wouldn’t make a good backup, but he could still compete for the starting right tackle job in 2014.
If Aboushi’s play limits him to right tackle, he probably won’t make the 53-man roster as a backup. He could lose out to players like Vladimir Ducasse and Mark Popek, who are competing for jobs as both tackles and guards. Even if he makes the 53-man roster, he won’t be active for many games.
However, 2013 may not be why the Jets drafted Aboushi. They might be grooming him as Howard’s potential successor in 2014. That means that spending 2013 on the practice squad learning the ins and outs of playing right tackle might be a more cost-effective approach than letting him ride the bench every Sunday.
Aboushi can reduce this debate to idle speculation by proving Maycock wrong.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid