5 Biggest Areas of Concern for New York Jets Heading into Training Camp
The biggest areas of concern facing the New York Jets this summer waver toward the development of second-year quarterback Geno Smith and whether his supporting cast will be sufficient enough to improve upon an offense that struggled to score points in 2013.
New York ranked 29th in scoring offense last season, managing just 18.1 points per game.
Offensive efficiency isn't the singular concern plaguing the Jets this summer, though. New York must also utilize player personnel already in place to shore up a secondary that yielded a mediocre 246.7 net passing yards per game in 2013. As a team, the Jets allowed 24.2 points per game.
New York is hoping that rookie safety Calvin Pryor can have an immediate positive impact on defense while it's also confident that rookie tight end Jace Amaro can help increase the potency of Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense.
For the Jets to succeed in 2014, they need key contributors to stay healthy and for their crop of younger players to develop quickly. They also need Smith to demonstrate the ability to take his game to the next level.
A lot needs to go right for the Jets to reach the playoffs in the upcoming season.
The following slideshow examines five key areas of concern the Jets are facing in training camp:
5. Wide Receiver Depth
General manager John Idzik did a solid job of improving the Jets receiving corps over the offseason, signing former Denver Broncos wideout Eric Decker to a five-year deal, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, and also drafting a pair of dynamic downfield targets in Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans.
The Jets' depth at wide receiver remains a question mark, though, despite recent upgrades. New York has invited 12 wideouts in total to camp, nine of whom have realistic chances of making the final 53-man roster.
Decker has yet to prove himself as a legitimate No. 1 receiver, although he'll be forced to adopt that role in 2014 due to the Jets' lack of prolific talent at his position. The No. 2 slot on the depth chart has been inherently granted to draft bust Stephen Hill, but the speedy drop-prone talent has continuously failed to showcase a consistent ability to make plays.
Fifth-year wideout David Nelson was solid in 12 games for the Jets in 2013, optimally presenting the offense with a consistently reliable target. He recorded 36 catches for 423 yards with two red-zone touchdowns, averaging 11.8 yards per reception.
Slot receiver Jeremy Kerley also figures to be a big part of the Jets' reinvigorated offense in the upcoming season, assuming he can stay healthy. The Jets posted a solid 8-4 record in games that Kerley suited up for in 2013, bu they were 0-4 when he stood inactive on the sidelines.
4. Chris Johnson's Knee
The biggest splash of the Jets offseason was electric speed back Chris Johnson. CJ2K has the potential to greatly improve the Jets' ability to score points in 2014, but it's vital for his surgically repaired right knee to hold up for the entire season.
Johnson was reportedly limited in offseason training activities, according to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com. The Jets have not disclosed whether Johnson will receive limited reps in training camp as a precautionary measure, but famed arthroscopic surgeon Dr. James Andrews has "pretty much cleared" Johnson for action.
The Jets formed a "two-dreaded monster" when they opted to sign Johnson to a two-year deal. It remains highly unlikely for the former 2,000-yard rusher to receive more than 200 carries in the upcoming season, but he is expected to be a pivotal part of the Jets offense, in combination with running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell.
Johnson won't be merely used as a cutback rusher. He's going to present Smith with a viable checkdown option when pass plays fail to develop, a luxury the Jets haven't had on offense since the departure of LaDainian Tomlinson.
Johnson recorded 1,422 all-purpose yards from scrimmage in 2013, catching 42 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged a career-worst 3.9 yards per carry but received an overbearing workload of 279 rushing attempts.
The Jets have the pieces in place to use Johnson efficiently without burning him out. The key to their success on offense may depend on whether their shiny new toy can stay healthy all season.
3. Rookie Development
General manager John Idzik has put forth a deliberate rebuilding strategy that focuses on youth. Pryor and Amaro are the second installment of the Jets' long-term plan for success, which means their development is key. The Jets aren't close to becoming concrete championship contenders, but they already boast a few crucial pieces who can help them reach the pinnacle in the near future.
Pryor is a hard-hitting safety who perfectly complements head coach Rex Ryan's mantra on defense. He's a complete player, despite being a rookie. According to CBSSports.com, Pryor's ability to lower his shoulders against ball-carriers in the open field makes him an intimidating presence.
He flaunts excellent ball awareness in coverage and is able to react quickly. Pryor's sleek ball skills and sharp vision will enable the Jets to prevent big plays in 2014, a problem they endured frequently during the 2013 season.
On the flip side of the ball, Amaro figures to become an immediate receiving threat, although it's important for the 257-pound pass-catcher to enhance his run-blocking technique. Amaro has drawn comparisons to Rob Gronkowski among other successful NFL tight ends.
His enormous frame and length, coupled with impressive strength, make him a force to be reckoned with.
Although Pryor and Amaro are the two biggest names among Jets rookies in 2014, mid-round picks Dexter McDougle, Dakota Dozier and Jeremiah George have the potential to become legitimate difference-makers in New York.
2. Run Protection
The Jets remain a run-first team, despite improving their receiving corps to some degree over the offseason. It's pivotal for New York's offensive line to assert its will at the line of scrimmage on a week-to-week basis in order to maximize the offense's chances of scoring points.
The Jets' O-line is perhaps its thinnest unit on either side of the ball. Veterans D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold are among the most reliable players at their respective positions in the game, but depth is an imminent problem.
Offensive guard Willie Colon was able to play in all 16 regular-season games last season for the first time in his career since 2009. Colon suffered a torn biceps in the Jets' season finale and also underwent offseason arthroscopic knee surgery. According to Kristian Dyer of Metro New York, Colon was able to participate in some minicamp drills but wasn't yet able to fully practice.
Colon hasn't endured any significant setbacks of note, but his susceptibility to injury remains a concern. 2013 draft pick Brian Winters is presumed to start opposite Colon on the Jets O-line, although he remains a work in progress.
Backups Oday Aboushi and Will Campbell aren't capable of manning starting positions, whereas rookie Dozier likely won't be a sufficient stop-gap solution right away.
Offensive tackle Breno Giacomini has also endured knee problems in the past. He was limited to just nine regular-season games in 2013 but was able to effectively man his position for the Seattle Seahawks during the playoffs.
The Jets offense will be in big time trouble if Colon or another starting lineman suffers a prolonged injury.
1. Quarterback Efficiency
The Jets' potential success in 2014 mostly rides on whether second-year signal-caller Geno Smith can rise to the occasion and prove himself as being a franchise-caliber QB. The former second-round pick endured a predictably rocky rookie season, leading the Jets to five game-winning drives but also turning the ball over a gaudy 26 times.
Smith will face imminent competition from veteran QB Michael Vick in training camp and throughout the preseason, although Seth Walder of New York Daily News reported earlier this offseason that Mornhinweg believes the former West Virginia standout has the "inside track" for the starting job.
The Jets are going to give Smith as many chances as possible for him to gain confidence and grow as a team leader. Smith flashed signs of brilliance during the 2013 season, but he also appeared incapable of consistently moving the ball downfield at times.
Some of Smith's troubles in 2013 can be accredited to the Jets' pitiful core of so-called playmakers, but the 23-year-old must become a more efficient passer in order to help the Jets succeed, regardless.
Smith completed just 55.8 percent of his pass attempts during his rookie season, tossing only 12 touchdowns against 21 interceptions.
The Jets' young QB will attempt to become the first starting signal-caller in a green and white uniform to complete more than 60 percent of his pass attempts since Brett Favre (65.7) in 2008.