Wanted: An Experienced Set of Hands

Bradley WellenContributor IMay 13, 2009

Some individuals are afraid of change, others embrace it—New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum falls into the latter category.  After a disappointing end to the 2008 campaign, Tannenbaum launched a new season of Extreme Makeover: Mediocre Franchise Edition in an effort to elevate the Jets into serious playoff contenders. 

The first domino fell when Tannenbaum axed longtime friend and tight-lipped, disciplinarian head coach Eric Mangini in favor of the animated, defensive-minded Rex Ryan.

Rex made a few things clear at his introductory press conference, most importantly he assured all in attendance that his team will be physical and warned “if you take a swipe at one of ours, we'll take a swipe at two of yours.” 

Rex is also confident that Gang Green will be making a stop at the White House to pick up their Super Bowl rings within the next couple of years.

Before the Jets can shake hands with President Obama, there is still some housekeeping to take care of on their current roster. New York has been one of the most active teams in the offseason and nobody made a bigger splash at April’s draft than the Jets. 

The aggressive move to package a first and second round pick with three disposable players for fifth overall pick Mark Sanchez indicates that the Jets are willing to do whatever it takes to win now.

Renowned for his tireless work ethic, leadership skills, and ability to make any throw on the field, Sanchez gives the Jets offense an identity and it should come as no surprise if he is under center on opening day in Houston

The other area that the front office addressed is defense.  New York finished the 2008 regular season ranked 16th in total defense, allowing 329.4 yards per game and yielding a weekly average of 22.2 points per opponent. 

The most glaring problem was the pass defense which ranked 29th in the NFL, giving up an average of 234.5 yards through the air each week and 23 total passing TDs.  With Rex Ryan calling the shots, the Jets made it a priority to find players who prey on opposing QBs. 

Enter Bart Scott, known by teammates as “The Mad Backer,” and the Jets D immediately is infused with character and a hard-hitting, bloodthirsty personality that defined the Ravens for so many years. 

The additions of overachiever safety Jim Leonhard and former Pro Bowl corner Lito Sheppard help stabilize the secondary. These key acquisitions will play alongside established starters Darrelle Revis, Kerry Rhodes, Shaun Ellis, Kris Jenkins, David Harris, and Calvin Pace to round out a potentially elite unit. 

After all the work done to overhaul the defense, the Jets have stood pat on the other side of the ball. With the exception of drafting Sanchez, who is no guarantee to start immediately, the Jets have signed no offensive free agents and their wide receiving corps remains thinner than Kelly Ripa. 

Following Jerricho Cotchery, the Jets wideout with the most career receptions is Brad Smith with 53 catches in three seasons. Cotchery and Smith are joined by Chansi Stuckey and David Clowney—two raw, unproven players that are not ideal targets for whoever will be taking snaps in ’09.

Rex Ryan says his Jets will focus on winning ugly with swarming defense and hard-nosed running, but when your primary receiving option has had only one 1,000-yard season in his career than you’re going to have trouble moving the chains. 

Although Dustin Keller is a solid option at tight end, both him and Cotchery only are possession receivers and New York is still lacking a legitimate deep threat to stretch the field. 

After Gang Green parted ways with Laveranues Coles, many thought that they would find his replacement at the draft or with a high-profile free agent.  The Sanchez move wiped out any opportunity of selecting an elite rookie wideout, but—with big names like Braylon Edwards and Anquan Boldin still on the market—fans have to wonder if Tannenbaum is itching to make another blockbuster deal. 

It’s only a matter of time before teams pack eight in the box to counter Thomas Jones and Leon Washington and force Ryan to call some passing plays. 

As they stand right now, the Jets are a one-dimensional offense that risk becoming predictable and turning the ball over in an effort to complete passes to wideouts who cannot get separation from defenders.

Unless a gamebreaking receiver emerges in training camp, the Jets should be blowing up the phone lines in Cleveland and Arizona because the acquisition of a player of Edwards or Boldin’s caliber can be the difference between a 6-10 season and a division title.

Coming off a 1-4 meltdown to close out the 2008 season, the New York Jets have taken significant strides towards changing the future of what many fans believe to be a cursed franchise since their miracle Super Bowl championship season in 1968. 

With a revamped defense, a cohesive offensive line and a steady running game the Jets appear to be just one playmaker away from competing deep into January.