Previewing Most Crucial Positional Battles in New York Jets Camp
As summer approaches, the New York Jets will commence the process of assessing their level of talent in an effort to build a formidable 53-man roster. The Jets preach in-house competition, which means starting spots on the depth chart are not typically guaranteed, regardless of how talented a certain player might be.
After bolstering their roster at several positions during the 2014 NFL draft, the Jets have greatly improved their chances of contending for a playoff berth in 2014, specifically because of added playmaking ability at wide receiver and tight end and increased stability in the secondary.
Even though the Jets opted not to draft a front-line wideout in the first round of the draft, mid-round selections Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans are going to have immediate opportunities to make an impact on the team. The Jets improved their receiving corps over the offseason but boast middling talent nonetheless.
The Jets face numerous question marks across their roster, despite addressing several key needs. General manager John Idzik has done an efficient job of bringing in enough talent to help the team contend next season. Now, it's time to execute.
The following slideshow examines the top five most crucial positional battles in Jets camp.
5. Tight End
Rookie tight end Jace Amaro is the hands-down favorite to land a starting gig with the Jets in 2014. His superb pass-catching abilities should translate to immediate success in Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense. After losing Dustin Keller to free agency after the 2012 season, the Jets have been in need of a player like Amaro.
At 6'5'' and 257 pounds, he is a big-bodied downfield target who can gain separation on linebackers and defensive backs. According to NFL.com, his 4.74-second 40-yard dash time was the fifth fastest showing of all tight ends at the scouting combine. He flashed outstanding all-around athletic ability, registering top performer status in six of seven drills.
The former Texas Tech standout was unstoppable in his final collegiate season, racking up 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns on 106 receptions. The Jets seemingly acquired a legitimate offensive weapon when opting to select Amaro at No. 49 overall.
He won't be immediately delegated the responsibility of being the starting tight end. His run-blocking ability is suspect, which means Jeff Cumberland will remain in the mix. As a run-first team, the Jets need all the run protection they can get.
4. Outside Linebacker
After one of the best seasons of his NFL career, veteran edge-rusher Calvin Pace solidified his status as a starting-caliber outside linebacker. The Jets must still determine which linebacker will start opposite him on the right side of the field.
The most obvious candidate to earn that spot is converted down lineman Quinton Coples, who flashed some signs of development in 2013 but didn't transition into an edge-rushing role from the stance as well as Jets coaches had hoped. He registered 24 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, three passes defensed and a forced fumble in 13 games last season.
If Coples is unable to prove himself as capable of manning an every-down role as an outside linebacker, the Jets could potentially look to establish a situational platoon between Coples and veteran OLB Antwan Barnes, who missed most of last season due to injury. Barnes has played in all 16 games just once in his seven-year career (2011) but remains a viable option.
Garrett McIntyre is also expected to see a significant amount of playing time on the edge but doesn't appear destined to compete for a starting role. He recorded 2.0 sacks in 13 games for the Jets in 2013.
3. Strong Safety
The Jets greatly improved their secondary by drafting smashmouth safety Calvin Pryor in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. He is an explosive athlete who flaunts excellent open-field tackling ability, a talent the Jets' secondary severely lacked last season.
His presence is going to help prevent big plays downfield, which dogged the Jets all of 2013. He features above-average ball awareness and reads opposing quarterbacks well, enabling him to create violent collisions against receivers without hesitation.
Pryor was a catalyst for Louisville's highly respected defense in 2013, recording 75 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, four passes defensed and three interceptions. He's a tremendous talent who will enter camp as the hands-down favorite to land a starting role.
Veteran Dawan Landry presents the biggest challenge to Pryor in camp, although Landry doesn't flaunt the open-field tackling ability of Pryor. Landry was mostly effective for the Jets in 2013 but would better suffice as a situational option. The eight-year veteran recorded 63 tackles, seven passes defensed and one interception in 2013.
The Jets no longer flaunt one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL, but they're more than capable of preventing opposing quarterbacks from racking up 250-plus yards per game. New York's stout run defense is going to force opposing teams to rely more heavily on the pass in order to move the chains, which places enormous pressure on second-year CB Dee Milliner and newcomer Dimitri Patterson to perform at a high level.
The biggest concern plaguing the probable starting cornerback tandem is whether Patterson can stay healthy. The seven-year veteran has managed to play in all 16 games just once in his career (2010) and has never started more than nine games in a season.
He was off to a tremendous start last season, recording 16 total tackles, six passes defensed and four interceptions in his first four games, but he suffered a groin injury that hampered production as the season progressed.
Patterson has never been delegated the responsibility to start on a regular basis. After signing him, it appeared as though the Jets had acquired an upgrade over Kyle Wilson, the primary nickelback. New York's brain trust failed to bring in a legitimate starting-caliber CB to play opposite Milliner, though, which forces Patterson into the spotlight as a potential every-down player on defense.
The Jets don't have many options at cornerback aside from Patterson. Wilson has proved himself to be mediocre at best in a starting role, whereas Darrin Walls isn't expected to legitimately compete for the job.
In typical fashion, the most intriguing positional battle in Jets camp will be at quarterback. Second-year signal-caller Geno Smith will be "tough" to beat, but veteran QB Michael Vick seems like the more logical option on paper.
The Jets have pieces in place to contend for a playoff berth in 2014. It's arguable the team has a higher chance of accomplishing that feat with Vick under center than Smith, who led the league with five game-winning drives in 2013 but also churned out turnovers at a rate that made Mark Sanchez look efficient.
Vick's proneness to injury could potentially prevent him from earning the starting job, but it seems inevitable for the controversial veteran to be delegated that responsibility if he can play at a high level in camp.
Over the course of his 11-year career, he has registered a respectable 80.9 quarterback rating. He owns a 58-48-1 career record and has thrown 128 touchdown passes against 85 interceptions.
Meanwhile, Smith remains a work in progress. Although he flashed signs of brilliance in 2013, he often handicapped the Jets' ability to put points on the scoreboard.
His confidence took a significant hit after a string of poor performances that eventually led to him being temporarily benched. If Vick is dubbed the starting QB, it remains highly probable for Smith to see a decent amount of playing time, considering the veteran's knack for getting hurt.
Watching from the sidelines could ultimately benefit Smith, who must play with greater efficiency if he's going to prove himself as a legitimate starting-caliber quarterback in the NFL.