The Most Intriguing Rookie Storylines at New York Jets' OTAs
Organized team activities (OTAs) have become a staple in just about every player's offseason schedule, but they serve an especially important role for rookies trying to make the difficult transition into the NFL.
Each rookie class has its own blend of unique players coming from different backgrounds with different goals and expectations for the NFL. A late-round pick may be satisfied with making the team, but a first-rounder will have to perform at a high level early and often to avoid scrutiny.
Here are some of the top storylines surrounding the Jets' rookies as they enter OTAs.
Calvin Pryor's Impact on the Safety Depth Chart
As excited as the Jets are about adding a top talent to the safety position, Rex Ryan and his coaching staff face a real challenge in determining how they will use their three starting-caliber safeties.
Ryan has been adamant about veteran Dawan Landry's role staying the same, immediately shutting down the notion that the Jets would consider moving on from the aging safety:
Rex says Dawan Landry is a 'vital' member of the secondary. Calvin Pryor's presence won't change that.— Kimberley A. Martin (@KMart_LI) May 17, 2014
Assuming Ryan remains true to his words, this leaves Antonio Allen as the player Pryor would take the majority of playing time from. Allen does not have quite as much experience as Landry, but he was exceptional at times handling tight ends in coverage, even against the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.
This leaves the question of exactly how much Pryor will cut into Allen's playing time. Much of this will be determined by how well Pryor adjusts to the playbook and the speed of the NFL game.
Regardless, the Jets will likely deploy a lot more three-safety, or "big nickel," looks on defense this year given their newfound depth at the position.
Finding a Spot for Jalen Saunders
Rookie minicamp came and went without much buzz exerting from any of the rookies, with the exception of Oklahoma receiver Jalen Saunders:
It's hard to tell a lot from rookie mini-camp, but Jalen Saunders looked terrific - quick in and out of breaks, good hands, very confident.— Dan Leberfeld (@jetswhispers) May 16, 2014
As impressive as Saunders was, there is no debating the fact that his stature (5'9") will limit his versatility as a receiver, pegging him in the slot. With Jeremy Kerley on the roster, finding a way to get Saunders involved without keeping Kerley on the bench or out of position is going to be a challenge.
There are ways to get Saunders the ball without lining him up in the slot—the Jets just have to be willing to think outside the box. This offseason will reveal just how far the Jets are willing to go to feature their explosive rookie, whether it be as a returner or in some type of wildcat formation.
At worst, Saunders provides a lot of value as insurance for Kerley, but the Jets will want to squeeze every yard of production out of Saunders.
Tajh Boyd vs. Matt Simms
The competition between Geno Smith and Michael Vick will steal the offseason headlines, but the lesser-known battle for the No. 3 job between rookie Tajh Boyd and Matt Simms will be just as fierce.
While Simms had an impressive training camp last season to win the job against Greg McElroy, all eyes will be on Boyd, who was one of the more decorated players in college football over the past three seasons. Boyd has a lot of talent in terms of arm strength and mobility, but his accuracy and decision-making leave a lot to be desired.
So far, the results from rookie minicamp have been less than stellar for Boyd:
Tajh Boyd has a hitch in throwing motion. Accuracy, ball placement are off. #nyj— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) May 16, 2014
There is still a whole summer of football to play out this competition, and Boyd has the advantage of being a younger player with more upside. Also working in his favor is that he is a known Rex Ryan favorite, as Ryan's son, Seth, played with Boyd at Clemson last year.
If this battle is close by the end of camp, expect the Jets to go forward with their hand-picked prospect in Boyd.
IK Enemkpali Moves On from His Past
By all accounts, all of the players the Jets drafted have clean characters with spotless histories—with the exception of sixth-round linebacker prospect IK Enemkpali.
Coming off his redshirt season at Louisiana Tech, Enemkpali was involved in an incident in which he struck an off-duty police officer during a bar fight (h/t Rich Cimini of ESPN.com). The incident was more than a bar scrum—Enemkpali became so enraged that the police had to resort to using a Taser to bring him down after failing to subdue him with pepper spray.
The result was Enemkpali getting suspended from the football team indefinitely. While he would eventually return to football, Enemkpali's past came back to haunt him during the draft process and likely cost him a few spots on draft day. He spoke about the incident at rookie camp.
I learned a whole bunch. I learned not to take this game for granted. I learned that even what I do off the field can look selfish. What I do affects my team and my family. I take a lot of pride in my last name and bringing good things to it. I kind of tarnished it a little bit.
Enemkpali went on to develop into a team leader and a captain, proving to some teams that his battle with the police was an isolated incident.
With a fresh new start in New York, Enemkpali has a chance to undo all of his wrongs by making the roster and fulfilling a productive career. However, making the roster won't be easy, especially with seventh-round pick Trevor Reilly breathing down his neck for secondary backup duties.
Trevor Reilly Tries to Defy Age
When it comes to scouting prospects, the upside and potential of a player is just as, if not more, important as a player's ability to contribute right away.
For 26-year-old Trevor Reilly, leaning on upside and potential is a luxury he cannot afford if he wants to make the Jets roster.
Because of a knee surgery and a two-year mission to Sweden, Reilly's college football career was delayed. The former walk-on safety has a diverse skill set that is more valuable than a typical seventh-round pick, but the fact that he has so little room for error and development made it difficult for a team to invest a precious draft pick on him.
For Reilly to make the team, he will have to lean on his versatility to be a "roster-saver"—a player who can perform multiple roles on special teams and defense, essentially giving a team a "luxury" spot to use on a developmental player who otherwise would not have made the team.
Unlike his fellow rookie counterparts, Reilly's "potential" will not be brought up when the Jets are making roster cuts. All that will matter is whether or not he is capable of helping the team in the immediate future.
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