6 New York Jets Players Who Will Surprise in Training Camp
ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini's July 8 post, "Take 5: Breakout players for 2013" features new starters or significant role players for the New York Jets. However, it includes no surprises. Are there players entering training camp with low expectations who might emerge with significantly greater roles?
Reports from rookie camp, OTAs and minicamp indicate that the answer is a definite maybe. For example, Cimini's minicamp "studs" list included players who were either undrafted free agents (UDFAs) or players of limited NFL experience. Jets' senior reporter Eric Allen has also singled out wide receivers whose offseason performances offset their limited resumes.
At least one player you'll meet here is fighting for his professional life.
None of these surprise players are likely to start. Their importance is supplying depth.
In 2012, inadequate depth, especially at the offensive skill positions, was a factor in the Jets finishing 6-10 and essentially out of the playoffs. When top receivers like Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller and Stephen Hill succumbed to injuries, their replacements weren't credible substitutes. The offense stagnated.
Maybe one or more of these players can be the super sub who saves the day when a crisis strikes. Meet them and decide for yourself.
- Depth Charts: ESPNNewYork.com and Ourlads NFL Scouting Services
- New York Jets' Roster: Official New York Jets Player Roster
- Player Statistics: Pro-Football-Reference.com
OL Vladimir Ducasse
There's no logical reason to include Vladimir Ducasse in this group. That's exactly why he's here.
Ducasse was the second-round pick in a 2010 draft that ESPN.com's James Walker ultimately graded "D." Waler wrote of Ducasse:
Ducasse is a huge bust. The Jets knew they were getting a raw prospect in the second round but could not get anything out of Ducasse. It's time for the Jets to give up on this project.
ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini considers the 6'5", 325-pound Ducasse "on the bubble" this year, fighting to stay on the roster for the last year of his contract. According to Cimini, "Ducasse played every position except center during the offseason, helping his chances. But with three draft picks and improved depth, he'll actually have to earn his spot."
Ducasse is fighting for his professional life. He's in the final year of a contract that has seen him fall from second-round wunderkind to bust. He's not projected to start in 2013; he's seen as a backup tackle or guard.
Former general manager Mike Tannenbaum's departure deprived Ducasse of a major front-office ally. From here on in, Ducasse has to fight his own battles on the field.
He knows he's running out of chances. He told ESPNNewYork.com's Jane McManus, "It's pretty much a year for me to do what they drafted me to do. I’m not looking at it like I was a second-rounder. That was three years ago.”
This year, Ducasse's competitors at tackle include fifth-round pick Oday Aboushi. Sixth-round pick William Campbell and either Stephen Peterman or third-round pick Brian Winters are among his competitors at guard.
Ducasse most likely won't compete for a starting role. But for those who consider him a bust, making the Jets as a backup at guard and tackle would be a surprise in itself.
OLB Ricky Sapp
If the Quinton Coples conversion to outside linebacker fails, or free agents like Antwan Barnes don't fulfill expectations, the Jets may have an in-house solution: Ricky Sapp.
His senior year at Clemson saw the 6'4", 252-pound Sapp achieve Quinton Coples' 2013 goal: Sapp switched from defensive end to outside linebacker.
That year, he set collegiate career highs with 60 tackles, five tackles for a loss and a sack. That was after suffering a torn ACL during his junior year.
Sapp only played in three games for the Jets in 2012, as he shuttled between the 53-man roster and practice squad. He's putting that memory behind him, and his play reflects it. He was one of Rich Cimini's minicamp "studs."
However, challenges remain. As Jets' senior reporter Eric Allen puts it, "Ricky Sapp has to extend his solid practice play to gameday."
In other words, donning pads for Sapp is not enough. To move up the depth chart and on to the 53-man roster, he'll have to be a stud in actual game situations. For Sapp, preseason games have meaning.
QB Matt Simms
It may surprise you, but the strongest throwing arm in camp doesn't belong to Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith. Just ask Jet's quarterback coach David Lee.
The strongest arm, according to Lee, belongs to 6'3", 210-pound Matt Simms, who is competing for the third-string job.
According to ESPNNewYork.com's Jane McManus, Lee described Simms' arm as follows:
Matt Simms, you guys see it. The guy’s got a cannon for an arm. He’s got the best arm of the four, he’s just so inconsistent with his accuracy. If his accuracy was better, he’d be thicker in the hunt.
Accuracy is Simms' major obstacle to contending for the Jets' starting quarterback job. The problem is, he won't have many repetitions to display improvement.
Simms is aware of both problems. His response to Lee's assessment was, "It’s tough to evaluate right now with the limited amount of reps, but [you’ve] just got to go out there every day and improve at the little things."
He'll have to make optimum use of the limited time he has. Here's one thought: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg likes the deep ball. If Simms uncorks a few accurate bombs, he might work his way into the starting quarterback competition.
He'd better be accurate on the short throws as well.
WR Ryan Spadola
Ryan Spadola may have had a shaky start, but he's beginning to turn some heads.
Ask Jets' senior reporter Eric Allen. Based on a reply during a May 21 "EA Q&A," Spadola may have had a shaky beginning at rookie camp:
The Jets are thin at receiver and they were happy to sign Spadola to a deal out of Lehigh. The 6’3”, 200-pounder, a Howell, NJ native, had an ultra-productive collegiate career with 232 receptions and 24 TDs.
He had the typical ups and downs at rookie camp. Guys like Spadola have to make some noise now in OTAs, so they get some confidence heading into Cortland.
It sounds like Spadola took Allen's words to heart. In a July 18 "EA Q&A" session, Allen noted several strong aspects of Spadola's play:
Credit undrafted rookie Ryan Spadola (Lehigh) for playing through a hamstring injury at camp. He never put the ball on the ground and got open underneath a bunch of times.
The 6’3”, 200-pound Spadola has very good size and appears to be a willing blocker. He will have to show that he is dependable on special teams in August.
Six days later, Allen had this to say: "Vidal Hazelton had a very good minicamp, as did rookie Ryan Spadola."
Spadola has shown he can get open, take care of the football and block. Not only that, but he'll play through some pain. He's rather deep on the depth charts now, but if he keeps playing the way he has, that could change.
Players like Ben Obomanu and Jordan White may have to start looking for work.
RB John Griffin
One of Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com's post-minicamp studs was running back John Griffin. Griffin is trying to stick with the Jets' 53-man roster after his promotion from the practice squad in late 2012. He appeared in the season finale against the Buffalo Bills.
The 5'-11", 208-pound Griffin played on special teams in that game and made no returns. However, he averaged 5.0 yards per carry during his senior year at UMass, gaining 843 yards on 168 carries and scoring five touchdowns.
According to The Jets Blog's scouting report, Griffin's main assets are his agility and explosiveness. He's not fast, but he can elude tacklers and find holes.
The Jets Blog cited this assessment from running backs' coach Anthony Lyn:
He was really raw when he got here at first but I’m expecting John to really compete, not just be a camp guy but compete for playing time. He’s a big back … He’s fast, he’s quick, he can make people miss inline and he does some really nice things that I like.
Griffin also has potential, according to The Jets Blog report, as a receiver coming out of the backfield. In short, he could function well in Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast system.
However, Griffin is buried in the Jets' running back depth chart behind Chris Ivory, Mike Goodson, Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight. He may need to benefit from someone's misfortune to crack the roster. Bur judging by his minicamp performance, he won't make cutting him easy.
WR Vidal Hazelton
If Vidal Hazelton makes the New York Jets' 53-man roster, it will mark a major milestone in a tortuous career path. So says Mike O'Connor of Turn On the Jets.
According to O'Connor, the 6'2", 209-pound Hazelton's main body of work consists of one full season at USC with Mark Sanchez. In Hazelton's sophomore year, he caught 50 passes for 540 yards and four touchdowns.
A combination of injuries, personal tragedy and NCAA red tape limited the rest of his collegiate play to a handful of games with Cincinnati in 2010.
Between 2011 and the close of 2012, Hazelton attempted to latch on with the San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans. Then he became John Idzik's first official signing on January 23, 2013.
O'Connor maintains that Hazelton isn't a breakaway threat, but has great hands and leaping ability. He runs precise patterns, but is capable of adjusting them when necessary. For example, when his quarterback's in trouble, Hazelton will break off his route and move toward the line of scrimmage to provide a safety valve.
He's suitable for a role as possession receiver for another important reason: He's not afraid of contact.
Here's Jets' senior reporter Eric Allen's assessment of Hazelton after the Jets' minicamp ended:
Vidal Hazelton, who attended Moore Catholic HS in Staten Island, NY, might have caught more passes in team situations that anybody at camp. A 6’2”, 209-pounder, Hazelton has good size and that might help him as he attempts to carve out a special teams role.
Six days later, on June 24, Allen reiterated, "Vidal Hazelton had a very good minicamp."
Hazelton's ability to make the roster may depends on combining reliable receiving skills with special teams contributions. Zach Rogers has already shown some ability on punt returns. Special teams were Ben Obomanu's primary role in his first two NFL seasons.
In other words, if he can block and play special teams as well as catch passes, Hazelton's NFL dream may be within reach.