6 Biggest Takeaways from the New York Jets' OTAs
It is easy to overreact to what goes on in organized team activities (OTAs), but these practices are the first time in which we get to see a team's rebuilt roster in action, with all of the new draft picks and signees interacting on the field.
No one was hit, blocked or tackled through the OTA sessions for the New York Jets, but we did get a glimpse of the team's controversial quarterback situation, the most impressive rookies and veterans still lagging behind because of injuries.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the Jets' OTAs.
Dee Milliner Is Lagging Behind
The Jets are putting a lot of their defensive success in 2014 on the shoulders of second-year pro Dee Milliner. So far, Milliner has not rewarded the Jets for investing their faith in his ability to stay healthy.
After having missed a good portion of last offseason recovering from shoulder surgery, Milliner's spring is already off to a slow start as he has already been sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Rex Ryan is frustrated at CB Dee Milliner. He missed practice due to hamstring tightness: 'He's got to step it up.'— Ceese Carcieri (@CESPN1) June 4, 2014
Rex Ryan choosing to call out Milliner in his press conference was a calculated move to make sure his top cornerback is aware of how much the Jets are relying on him and the backlash he will face if he fails to live up to expectations.
Ryan has taken a similar strategy in the past with young players, calling out Jeremy Kerley and Quinton Coples in consecutive seasons. Not-so-coincidentally, each player was entering their sophomore season when Ryan made his concerns about him public.
Milliner has plenty of time to get ready for camp, but for his sake, he should take this jab from Ryan as a lesson of the scrutiny that is to come if he underperforms this season.
Starting QB Job Is Geno Smith's to Lose
The Jets can tout their so-called "competition" at quarterback all they want, but reading between the lines, it is apparent that they intend to start Geno Smith over Michael Vick on opening day.
The most telling sign has been the words of Vick himself, who appears to be resigned to the fact that he will enter the season as the backup.
Even offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has all but recognized that this "competition" will be far from an open contest.
Starting Smith certainly makes things easier on the Jets, who would prefer if Smith evolves into their franchise starter rather than start Vick and resume the 2015 offseason with more questions at quarterback.
However, holding a fixed competition goes against the "competition" mantra the Jets have preached under John Idzik's leadership as general manager. If the Jets truly believe Smith can be their long-term starter, he should be capable of beating out a soon-to-be 34-year-old Vick.
Antwan Barnes Is Unreliable
As dominant as the Jets defensive line was last season, it still lacked an elite edge-rusher to take their defense to the next level.
Based on the recent diagnosis of Antwan Barnes, who is recovering from an ACL injury suffered in Week 5 last year, the Jets will have to look elsewhere for their source of pressure coming off the corner.
Rex says Antwan Barnes' recovery is "slow." Not sure he will be ready for training camp. #nyj— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) June 4, 2014
ACL injuries have a long, dirty history of ruining careers, especially those of older veterans. Set to be 30 years old by mid-October, Barnes being an effective player whenever he does return to the field is very much up for debate.
This unlikely is breaking news to the Jets, who wisely used two drafts picks on outside linebacker prospects (Ik Enemkpali and Trevor Reilly).
Dexter McDougle Standing out
While Dee Milliner has drawn public criticism from his coach, fellow cornerback Dexter McDougle has made a name for himself this spring.
At first, the rookie McDougle was standing out because of his red noncontact jersey (he is recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered in college). Now, his play is what separates him from his first-year comrades.
The rookie third-round pick has drawn comparisons a former Florham Park great, looking more like a seasoned veteran than a youngster trying to find his way around the facility a month after being drafted. Jane McManus of ESPNNY.com notes how high Rex Ryan is on his young cornerback:
[McDougle] won't let you catch a ball in walk-through, which reminds me of [Revis]...He's really professional about his stuff...He knows what he's supposed to do, and again, sometimes when you put him out there, we'll see if some of the pieces fall out. That's what happens. But he is really a sharp young man.
If there was ever a year in which the Jets need a young player to step up and take on a bigger role than expected, it is this year. Relying on second-year pro Dee Milliner and the oft-injured Dimitri Patterson to start on the outside, the Jets might find McDougle's growing presence incredibly valuable in case Milliner or Patterson struggle or get injured.
It will take a lot for the Jets to bench either Patterson or Milliner in favor of McDougle, but his recent play in OTAs should at least keep the rookie in the conversation to be in the starting 11 on defense.
Michael Vick Is Going Through a Mid-Life Crisis
No matter how wealthy or popular someone may get, father time remains undefeated—a lesson Michael Vick appears to be learning this spring as he watches Geno Smith evolve into the leader of the Jets.
Vick has been a backup in the past, but the reasons been circumstantial that were independent of age. In his first season back in the NFL, Vick, who was just happy to be in an NFL uniform again, backed up the established Donovan McNabb. He would not lose his job until midseason of 2013 when the play of Nick Foles made it impossible for Chip Kelly to go back to the injured Vick.
Vick is "just" 33 years old, but the prospect of being a backup on opening day is starting to make him look for gray hairs in the mirror. He is now playing with young rookies who know him more as a video game character in Madden than a teammate, calling him "sir" in the huddle.
Michael Vick confirms that a rookie fullback called him "sir" in the huddle last week: "I laughed it off, but deep down, it wasn't funny."— Bart Hubbuch (@HubbuchNYP) June 4, 2014
What is apparent, however, is that Vick will be asked to provide leadership for the younger players. And should there arise a situation in which Vick is the starter, that respect and leadership could be very significant in fulfilling the team's playoff aspirations.
Ups and Downs for Jace Amaro
Of the 12 picks the Jets made last May, their second-round selection of Jace Amaro is the most exciting. Amaro has the ability to be a dangerous threat as a "joker" tight end, much like Dustin Keller was from 2008 to 2012.
However, the Texas Tech star is quickly learning that playing tight end in the NFL will be a much bigger challenge than anything he faced in college.
While he has flashed at times in OTAs, he has made as many mistakes with drops. The young Amaro is growing frustrated with his inconsistent play so far, he tells ESPN New York's Rich Cimini:
It’s been fun out there, but I have to make sure I get better...Today, just have to make sure you’re getting better at routes. I’m just overthinking a little too much on the plays and stuff like that.
There is no reason for the Jets to be the slightest bit nervous about Amaro's drops at this stage. Overthinking and trying to do too much is all too common among rookies, who are trying to grasp a new system on a new team with a new quarterback.
In fact, it would be even more surprising if Amaro was making a seamless transition into the NFL by playing error-free football.
The Jets will be relying on Amaro to contribute early and often, and he has plenty of time between now and Week 1 of the regular season to get over these mental hurdles.