The 6 Biggest Issues Facing New York Jets with OTAs Wrapped Up
Organized team activities, or OTAs, have given us a first look at how the Jets roster will look when training camp opens later this summer—but we are left with even more questions about the roster than we started with.
A curiously run quarterback competition, injuries on the offensive line and a cloudy safety rotation are just a few of the items the Jets need to address between now and the start of the season.
Still, there is plenty of time for the Jets to work out the kinks in their roster. After all, one of the main goals of OTAs is to get a feel for how the team looks and discern what to address before training camp begins. Rex Ryan and his coaches have all summer to decide how they want to approach these issues.
Here are some of the biggest issues facing the Jets after the conclusion of OTAs.
Offensive Line Depth
With the status of Willie Colon up in the air due to the fact that he is set to undergo knee surgery, per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, the Jets are getting a chance to test their youngsters along the offensive line in the veteran's absence.
The good news is that the general manager John Idzik added a high volume of young players to the offensive line through the draft. The bad news is that none of them have seen any meaningful action in the NFL and remain unproven commodities.
Second-year pro Oday Aboushi has assumed the starting duties in Colon's absence, according to the AP (h/t CBS New York). Aboushi, who was not active for a single game last year, is making the transition from his college position of tackle to guard.
If the Aboushi experiment is unsuccessful, the Jets could test out defensive line convert William Campbell or rookie Dakota Dozier. Both players are young and have upside, but starting either one of them would be a scary proposition, especially considering that Campbell is still learning a new position and Dozier comes from a small school (Furman).
There is potential at the backup guard position, but Colon's temporary absence will expose any weaknesses these young players have.
The Safety Rotation
After selecting Louisville product Calvin Pryor in the first round, the Jets have a sudden abundance of talent stocked up at the safety position. However, the task of dividing up work between their three starting-caliber players—Antonio Allen, Dawan Landry and Pryor—will prove to be difficult work.
Rex Ryan has stated that he has no interest in taking Landry out of his full-time role, but the veteran was curiously practicing with the third-string defense last week, per Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post:
Rex had veteran safety Dawan Landry work with the third team today but says not to read anything into that. Okayyy ...— Bart Hubbuch (@HubbuchNYP) June 4, 2014
Ryan played down Landry's practice role, but it may be a sign that the Jets are realizing that both Allen and Pryor are better talents than Landry. Ensuring that both Allen and Pryor get a good amount of experience this season would go a long way in their respective development.
The Jets' safety "problem" is a good one to have, but it is still an issue that needs to be figured out before the season starts.
Defining the Quarterback Competition
This offseason, the Jets had two options to choose from when it came to how they would approach the starting quarterback position: They could move forward with Geno Smith as the unquestioned starter, or they could bring in legitimate competition to push him without fear of possibly benching the second-year pro.
After appearing to take the latter option by adding Michael Vick, the Jets are trying to have their cake and eat it, too; they want to add competition to the most vital spot on the team, but they don't want to be put in a position where they would be forced to bench the young Smith in favor of Vick.
Rex Ryan insists that true a competition still exists. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg says there is a competition—sort of. Meanwhile, Vick is resigned to the fact that he will be the backup, while other teammates, including Sheldon Richardson, speak of Smith's status as the entrenched starter.
It is perfectly logical that the Jets want to start Smith because of his youth. At the same time, it would be impossible to fault them for starting Vick if it means the difference between making or missing the playoffs.
What isn't fine is how the Jets want to have a competition without actually having a competition.
Rather than play a PR game all offseason, the Jets would be better off announcing Smith as the starter sooner than later in order to avoid any extra drama or distractions.
Edge Pass Rush
The Jets boast one of the youngest and most talented defensive lines in football, but they still lack a pass-rusher who can get to the quarterback from the edge.
The ugly diagnosis of veteran linebacker Antwan Barnes as he recovers from an ACL injury only highlights what was already a soft spot in the Jets defense. Rich Cimini of ESPN New York reports that Barnes' recovery from surgery has been "slow" and that Barnes has encountered "some different issues." Ryan doubts that he will be available for training camp, which opens on July 23.
The good news is that the Jets added two late-round draft picks to the outside linebacker position—Ik Enemkpali and Trevor Reilly—for insurance. Getting Calvin Pace off a 10-sack season also gives them hope that their edge pass rush will not be a glaring weakness this season.
Still, expectations need to be tempered for a pair of late-round rookies and a 33-year-old linebacker. Ryan has had successful defenses in the past without a star pass-rusher on the edge, but he always had a great secondary to lean on.
Given the youth and uncertainty in the team's secondary this year, Ryan will need to lean on his defensive line and interior pass-rushers as much as he did last year.
Stephen Hill's Fate
Despite only being in the league for two seasons, Stephen Hill's future as a New York Jet in 2014 is far from a certainty. After two disappointing seasons, a front office that had no business drafting him may no longer find a use for the former second-round pick.
Hill has flashed big-play ability at times, but he faded at an alarming rate in the second half of 2013. He lost his starting job to newcomer David Nelson and caught just one pass between October 27 and the end of the season—and that was two-yard screen pass.
With his job on the line, Eric Allen of NewYorkJets.com notes that Hill appears to have stepped up his game this spring, however:
If he can carry this momentum into training camp, Hill should get one more chance to be on the Jets roster. After all, he is only 23 years old and is still growing into the position—literally.
Even if Hill does make the roster, finding a meaningful role in the offense will be a challenge for him given the sheer volume of talent the Jets brought in at the receiver position this offseason, including two free agents and three draft picks.
Dee Milliner's Development
Considering their relative lack of activity in free agency to upgrade the cornerback position, the Jets are putting a lot of faith in the development of last year's top draft pick, Dee Milliner.
After missing the bulk of his rookie offseason recovering from shoulder surgery, the Jets had high hopes of Milliner making great strides this summer considering how well he finished the 2013 season (three interceptions in December).
Already sidelined with a hamstring injury, Milliner is squandering the opportunity to develop in the offseason. Rex Ryan publicly vented his frustrations with the physical condition of Milliner, per Kristian Dyer of Metro New York:
Milliner has plenty of time to heal up before the start of training camp, but Ryan is clearly frustrated about such a promising player missing out on invaluable development time, even in non-contact practices.
The Jets don't just need Milliner to be serviceable this year—they need him to develop into a top-tier cornerback in a hurry. Sitting on the sidelines does nothing to make Milliner a better player.