5 Players Turning Heads in New York Jets Training Camp
The 2014 NFL season is upon us, which means it's time to assess how certain key players are faring thus far in New York Jets training camp. The Green and White have seldom flown under the radar during the Rex Ryan era, intently spurring sensational headlines that generate debate across sports media.
This season appears to be no different.
The Jets have often failed to back up their bravado. At the onset of training camp, they're confident this season will be different. According to Seth Walder of New York Daily News, veteran linebacker Calvin Pace has gone on record, claiming the Jets boast the "best" defense in the league.
It doesn't end there, though.
The Jets are a confident bunch heading into the new season. For the most part, that's a good thing, even if specific instances of bombastic behavior are leaked to the press. The Jets are who we thought they were. The question remains if they're capable of backing up their big ideas.
This season could be make-or-break for Ryan, who arguably achieved his greatest coaching job of his five-year tenure in 2013. The Jets are a more talented team on paper this season, but their success will ride mostly on the development of second-year quarterback Geno Smith.
Smith's cast of teammates are backing his progression while others have already risen to the occasion. The following slideshow highlights five Jets players who are turning heads through the first week of training camp:
5. David Nelson (WR)
David Nelson isn't a name brand, Pro Bowl-caliber receiver who's going to rack up prolific numbers on an annual basis, but he's a solid downfield target that offers the Jets a reliable option.
Nelson had a solid bounce-back season in 2013, recording 36 receptions for 423 yards and two touchdowns, averaging a career-high 11.8 yards per catch.
The former undrafted free agent has been vocal about his confidence in Smith, telling CBS New York's Steve Overmyer the Jets' signal-caller has earned the support of the entire team. Nelson sees a guy that's "hungry" in Smith. He's developed an ability to lead early in camp.
Smith will aim to do what Nelson has seemingly already accomplished and become consistently productive for the Jets in 2014. Ryan believes the Jets' receiver corps this season boasts the "best depth" he's had as head coach, according to Jane McManus of ESPNNewYork.com.
Nelson is a big reason for that. The fifth-year pro is turning heads in a sense of his growing vocal presence in the locker room.
The Jets have group of guys in place who believe they can overcome the Vegas odds of being a seven-win team in 2014. Nelson will be a big part of helping the Jets achieve much more than that.
4. Dee Milliner (CB)
Dee Milliner struggled for a decent chunk of his rookie season in 2013, but came on strong in the campaign's final two games, recording three interceptions, as he appeared to be coming into his own. Milliner's late-season surge was a big time positive for the Jets, who will now rely on the former Alabama standout as their top cornerback in 2014.
Milliner has grasped the opportunity by the reins, dubbing himself the "best" cornerback in the NFL, according to Manish Mehta of New York Daily News. Milliner doesn't lack confidence. His bold statement is clear indication of that, but the second-year pro now must own up to his claim.
Milliner totaled 45 tackles with 15 passes defensed and three interceptions in 13 games in 2013. He's bound to improve upon those numbers this season, although he still remains far removed from the likes of Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman, widely considered the two best shutdown corners in the league.
For the duration of camp, Milliner will look to continue improving upon his ability to prevent big plays. As a rookie, Milliner had issues in press coverage, especially against bigger receivers.
That needs to change if the former first-round pick is going to live up to his self-proclaimed expectation.
3. Zach Sudfeld (TE)
Former undrafted free agent Zach Sudfeld reportedly delivered a strong practice on Tuesday, taking advantage of extra reps due to the lingering absence of rookie Jace Amaro, who continues to nurse a knee injury.
According to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork, Sudfeld finished with a team-best three catches in team drills, demonstrating an ability to gain separation from defenders by using his speed.
At 6'7" and 253 pounds, Sudfeld has the build to become a dependable pass-catcher at the pro level. If he continues to impress in camp, Sudfeld will likely see an increased amount of playing time. The former Nevada standout recorded just five receptions for 63 yards in 11 games last season and was mostly used as an extra blocker on the offensive line, where he excelled.
Cimini believes Sudfeld has outplayed both Amaro and veteran Jeff Cumberland, the presumed starting tight end entering camp. The most intriguing element about Sudfeld's play is that he boasts value as both a receiver and blocker.
Amaro's outstanding pass-catching skills have been frequently noted ever since the Jets selected him in the second round of this year's draft, but Sudfeld has the potential to cause a shakeup on the position's depth chart.
2. Oday Aboushi (OG)
The biggest surprise during the first week of Jets camp is the seeming emergence of 2013 draft pick Oday Aboushi, who is making a case for himself as a capable offensive lineman. Aboushi was a virtual redshirt during his rookie season, but he could be destined for a breakout effort in 2014.
According to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork, the 308-pound guard has been turning heads in camp. Cimini notes that Aboushi flaunts "intriguing" athleticism in that he can block on the move, which enables running backs to explode outside the tackle box.
If Aboushi proves himself capable of aiding the New York running game during the preseason, it will become distinctly likely for the second-year pro to earn some valuable playing time during the regular season.
The Jets remain a run-first team, despite improving their talent at receiver over the offseason. Aboushi's ability to maintain his block while moving laterally could enable Jets to improve upon their sixth-ranked rush attack from 2013.
Cimini references veteran Willie Colon as a "straight line" blocker who doesn't move as fluidly as Aboushi, which could ultimately benefit the Virginia product.
1. Quinton Coples (OLB)
The biggest benefactor of the two-year deal the Jets recently handed down to pass-rusher Jason Babin might have been outside linebacker Quinton Coples, who has been "off the charts," according to Ryan (h/t ESPNNewYork).
Babin inked a modest deal worth $1.1 million in base salary for the upcoming season, reports Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork. The move was apparently enough to jump-start Coples' heightened progression as a stand-up edge-rusher.
Coples' increased level of play is a product of general manager John Idzik's belief in in-house competition. It's not a coincidence the former first-round pick suddenly began to impress coaches upon Babin's arrival in camp. Coples understands what's at stake.
The former down lineman was moderately productive in 14 games last season, recording 24 total tackles with 4.5 sacks, three passes defensed and one forced fumble. Those numbers need to improve in 2014 for Coples to justify his role on a defense that is supposedly the "best" in the NFL—at least—according to Pace.
Coples' early demonstration of dominance in Jets camp is a good thing. It's a clear-cut sign that he's going to have a breakout season.