New York Jets' 5 Biggest Question Marks Ahead of Training Camp
As the 2014 NFL season nears, the New York Jets face several crucial decisions in training camp, including those of which impact their chances of earning a spot in the playoffs. The Jets have endured full-blown rebuilding mode over the course of the past two offseasons but now have a decent number of pieces in place to contend.
General manager John Idzik preaches competition in training camp, an annual reality that will be on display yet again in Cortland, NY later on this month. On paper, the Jets remain the second best team in the AFC East but don't possess enough playmakers in order to overtake the archrival New England Patriots.
For the Jets to earn a Wild Card berth and improve their 2013 mark of 8-8, they need certain players to exceed expectations while others need to overcome proneness to injury and stay on the field. The biggest question marks facing the Jets this summer are on offense—although shoring up their secondary is also vital to their potential success.
The following slideshow examines the five biggest question marks ahead of Jets training camp.
5. Who Will Start Opposite Dee Milliner at Cornerback?
The first phase of offseason free-agent negotiations seemed to doom the Jets as former fan-favorite Darrelle Revis fled from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Patriots. But Idzik and Co. stood pat, refusing to "overpay" for top-notch talent at cornerback—a position of which dogged the Jets for much of the 2013 season.
Idzik opted for an Idzik-ian type of move that resembles high risk, high reward.
From a financial perspective, the acquisition of former Miami Dolphins defensive back Dimitri Patterson makes sense. According to OvertheCap.com, Patterson will earn a $1.5-million base salary in 2014. The addition of prorated and roster bonuses bring his total cap number to approximately $2.7 million.
Patterson was extremely productive in roughly half a season with the Dolphins in 2013, recording 18 total tackles, six passes defensed, four interceptions and one sack in just six games. The Jets are hoping he can build upon that kind of success while staying healthy for an entire season.
Patterson was forced to undergo groin surgery in Week 17 of last season. At 31 years old, it's unclear whether the eight-year veteran is capable of handling the duress of a 16-game season while starting.
Patterson's salary doesn't make him a "high-risk" player but the Jets banking on his ability to stay on the field certainly does. New York's fall-back options include up-and-coming talent Darrin Walls—who started three games in 2013—and rookie Dex McDougle—who is coming off a season-ending shoulder injury at the collegiate level. Kyle Wilson will likely resume his role as the Jets' primary nickelback.
4. Will Dawan Landry Make the Final 53-Man Roster?
After drafting hard-hitting safety Calvin Pryor in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Jets essentially relinquished Dawan Landry to a bench role, causing a stir among beat writers and fans alike in regard to the veteran potentially being expendable.
The Jets aren't loaded with depth in the secondary, but it's possible that Landry could have a difficult time finding a viable spot on the team's final 53-man roster. Former seventh-round draft pick Antonio Allen has solidified himself as a starter whereas Pryor has seemingly been anointed a gig on the front line.
Backup safeties Jaiquawn Jarrett and Josh Bush aren't locks to make the team but are more athletic than Landry. They're also both much younger. At 31 years old, Landry's best seasons are arguably behind him—although his production hasn't tremendously diminished in recent seasons.
The eight-year veteran was solid, albeit unspectacular, while starting all 16 games in the Jets' defensive backfield last season. He recorded 62 total tackles and seven passes defensed with one interception and one sack, exhibiting a strong ability to track down receivers after the catch.
The Jets' long-term rebuilding plan doesn't include guys like Landry, who could become a preseason casualty simply because the team would rather develop their younger players. Landry could presumably land a spot on a perennial contender in 2014, but that team probably won't be the Jets.
3. Can Eric Decker Prove Himself as a No. 1 Receiver?
The free-agent signing of Eric Decker improved the viability of the Jets' receiving corps. New York boasted the worst receiving offense in the NFL in 2013, averaging a dismal 204.4 yards per game, increasing the need for Idzik to venture into the open market and make a splash.
The team accomplished that in signing Decker, a fifth-year player, to a multi-year deal that counts $4-million against the cap in 2014, according to OvertheCap.com.
Decker will assume the role as the Jets' No. 1 receiver, although some pundits question whether the 27-year-old is capable of conquering that responsibility.
Decker excelled within the Denver Broncos' explosive offense and benefited from the quarterback play of future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning. He racked up a career-high 1,288 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on 87 receptions, averaging a solid 14.8 yards per catch in 2013.
While Decker assuredly will not duplicate those numbers in a Jets uniform, considering presumably mediocre QB production, he is expected to dramatically increase the team's ability to score points. He faces the daunting challenge of out-playing several highly touted cornerbacks within the division, namely Brandon Browner and Revis of the Patriots, but will be ready for the challenge.
Decker was an essential non-factor in the Broncos' blowout Super Bowl loss in February, recording just one catch for six yards, causing some to wonder if he's truly a top-tier player at his position.
2. Which Late-Round Draft Pick Is Capable of Backing-Up Willie Colon?
The Jets re-signed injury-laden offensive guard Willie Colon to a one-year deal over the offseason despite him suffering a torn biceps in the final game of the 2013 regular season. Colon doubled-up on injury troubles in May, undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The veteran offensive lineman is expected to be ready for training camp, according to Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger.
Colon's laundry list of injuries continues to pile up, increasing the need for a dependable backup at right guard to emerge.
The Jets do not possess substantial depth at offensive line, which could force them to venture into the remaining pool of free agents to fill a seeming void—especially if 2013 draft-pick Oday Aboushi and recent fourth-round pick Dakota Dozier prove incapable.
Aboushi, a 308-pound lineman out of Virginia, was drafted in the fifth round of the '13 draft and was essentially redshirted during his rookie season. Dozier, a Furman product, is touted as a gritty run-blocker that needs to hone his technique in pass protection, according to Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com.
1. Can Geno Smith Take His Game to the Next Level?
Make no mistake: There will indeed be an "unofficial" training camp competition at quarterback between second-year signal-caller Geno Smith and controversial veteran Michael Vick.
The Jets have kept the word "competition" under wraps when it comes to the quarterback position over the offseason, perhaps in an attempt not to shake Smith's confidence, but that doesn't change the fact that Smith must improve.
Smith will enter camp as the favorite to reclaim his starting position but must show flashes of significant improvement in order to solidify his status as the Jets' main signal-caller. Smith endured a predictably up-and-down rookie season while leading the Jets to five game-winning drives but also turned the ball over 26 times.
Smith completed just 55.8 percent of his pass attempts in 2013, tossing 12 touchdowns against 21 interceptions. He must take better care of the football and learn how to avoid telegraphing his pass attempts in order to take his game to the next level.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would ideally like Smith to complete more than 60.0 percent of his throws. He wasn't remotely close to achieving that last season despite throwing a majority of his passes in underneath routes during the second half of the season.
Smith's arm strength is ultimately an asset, but his spotty accuracy and lack of ability to deliver passes on time is problematic.
The Jets' potential success in 2014 rides on whether Smith can become an efficient signal-caller. Training camp will offer significant insight as to whether he's capable of doing that.