Cautious Optimism: Examining the Impact of Jets Personnel Changes

Phil CollinsCorrespondent IMay 28, 2009

FLORHAM PARK, NJ - MAY 02:  Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets walks on the field during minicamp on May 2, 2009 at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

To the casual observer, the New York Jets’ selection of new head coach Rex Ryan and first-year coordinator Mike Pettine would suggest a transitional period for the team’s defense.

After all, Ryan and Pettine were the primary architects of a storied Baltimore Ravens defense that has stirred up problems for offenses league-wide for the past several seasons.

Surely this means drastic changes for a Jets unit that will be matched up against a collection of tough offenses within the AFC East.

However, Ryan employs the same base 3-4 defensive scheme that was implemented by former coach Eric Mangini, so many of the appropriate pieces are already in place.

Ryan will undoubtedly provide some fresh ideas while installing his “organized chaos” style of play, but other than the high-profile acquisition of former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott in free agency, Ryan hasn’t made many major personnel changes.

But Ryan and Pettine’s strategic overhauls alone could be enough to give the Jets a huge lift on defense this year. The duo’s ability to mix up fronts and configure different blitz packages certainly has members of the team’s offense talking.

"I've never seen anything like it as long as I've been in the league,” commented 11th-year right tackle Damien Woody. “They have looks you just don’t see.”

And while it may take until well into training camp for all members of the defense to fully comprehend all of the aggressive 3-4 scheme’s ever-changing elements, chances are opposing offenses will be the more confused parties when the season starts.

On the offensive side, despite retaining offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the Jets will be undergoing some major changes.

With Brett Favre gone, Schottenheimer will have an increased level of control over the playbook rather than having to appease Favre’s freelance tendencies and preferences.

This could be viewed as a positive, except there is no telling at this early stage how effective either rookie Mark Sanchez or fourth-year veteran Kellen Clemens will be as the starting quarterback when the season commences.

Exacerbating the questionable quarterback situation is an undeniable lack of depth at the wide receiver position.

Having let go veteran Laveranues Coles via free agency during the off-season, the Jets will use solid but unremarkable wideout Jerricho Cotchery as their No. 1 receiver.

With no clear-cut second option, the Jets passing game could struggle, especially during the early part of the season.

However, the Jets will undoubtedly play to the strengths of their young quarterback, whichever one it may be, and keep the offense relatively straightforward.

The team will likely implement a lot of short, simple passes to Cotchery, promising second-year tight end Dustin Keller, and proven slot option Chansi Stuckey.

And don’t overlook Schottenheimer’s tactical prowess. Although he’s had a rocky tenure with the Jets, the experienced coordinator has proven in the past that he can make a little talent go a long way.

Just look at the 2006 Jets offense, which was formidable despite consisting of an ailing Chad Pennington, Kevan Barlow, still-developing rookie Leon Washington, Coles, and Cotchery, who at the time was a no-name up-and-comer.

It certainly doesn’t hurt Schottenheimer’s situation to have all five offensive line starters returning from last year’s team. This sort of continuity is an underrated asset, best exemplified by the Jets’ mediocre offense in 2007, which featured a patchwork front line.

The Jets should be able to focus on creating a fearsome running attack with this offensive line in place.

With running back serving as the team’s deepest and most talent-laden offensive position, the Jets will definitely look to establish an effective ground game in order to open up more options for the team’s young quarterbacks.

2008 Pro-Bowler and AFC leading rusher Thomas Jones will head up the rushing attack, with supremely talented kick return expert and shifty open-field runner Leon Washington providing his usual change of pace carries.

Third-round draft pick and power runner Shonn Greene could provide some help in short-yardage situations, rounding out a formidable ground unit.

The only question that remains with the running game is how content Jones and Washington are with their current contract situations heading into the season.

Jones only just recently reported to the team, although he is reportedly still unhappy with his pay structure, while Washington remains a hold-out. The team is optimistic that these issues will be put to rest sooner rather than later, but until they are resolved, it could create an unnecessary distraction for the Jets.

Although the Jets offense is far from ready at this point in the preseason, hopes are high that Ryan can have success similar to that of the Ravens team last season that made the AFC Championship game.

After all, the Ravens did feature a similar situation with a rookie quarterback serving as game manager, throwing to unexceptional receivers while the offense worked around a solid running game.

Looking to build on the cautious optimism that generally accompanies a coaching change, the new-look Jets will surely incorporate some fresh ideas into the team’s playbook.

Whether these modifications pan out remains to be seen, but Jets fans, at the very least, can look forward to witnessing the unfolding of an exciting new chapter in their team’s history.


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