New York Jets: First Impressions from Training Camp
Now that training camp is finally in full swing, we can start to take a long-awaited look at how the 2014 New York Jets roster will shake out over the course of training camp.
With questions at quarterback, a dozen drafted rookies and a handful of exciting free-agent additions made over the offseason, there is no shortage of storylines to follow this year. In a season with heightened expectations, every rep, tackle, dropped pass, missed block or poor throw will be magnified.
Here are some early impressions from camp after the first few days in Cortland.
Chris Johnson Looks Explosive
He may be five years removed from his CJ2K campaign, but new running back Chris Johnson stood out in the first few days of practices.
Chris Johnson looks explosive in team drills. Good sign for the Jets. #nyj— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) July 24, 2014
Johnson looking fast in practice is obviously good news for the Jets, but it provides additional relief as he returns from a knee injury. According to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, Johnson was cleared just in time for camp to show off his speed.
Johnson's showing in practice exemplifies exactly why the Jets went after him in the first place, as he brings a much-needed element of speed to an otherwise-slow offense. It remains to be seen exactly how much he is used relative to Chris Ivory, but keeping his explosiveness on the sideline will require some restraint.
As long as he can stay healthy—which is something he has been able to do throughout his career—the acquisition is looking better and better with each passing day.
Eric Decker Looking the Part
The Jets spent very responsibly this offseason, but they did allow themselves to splurge a bit on wide receiver Eric Decker out of sheer necessity.
Decker has a lot of work to do in order to justify the $36.25 million contract he signed this offseason, but he has looked the part in the first few practices. Seth Walder of the New York Daily News reports that "Decker has looked like the man the team had hoped to see. He’s easily been the best receiver on the field."
The Jets need Geno Smith to improve, but he needs his skill position support players to help him along as much as possible. The fact that Smith and Decker are already on the same page is a good omen for a Jets offense that has seen too many lean years in the scoring department.
Decker is also on his own personal mission to prove that he is more than just Manning byproduct—something he will have plenty of opportunity to do with the Jets.
Jace Amaro off to a Rough Start
The first few days of training camp have not been too kind to some of the top Jets draft picks. Soon after Calvin Pryor was sidelined with a concussion, Jace Amaro went down with a knee injury of his own, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com.
What is most troubling about this injury is that Amaro has had knee issues lingering all offseason, which he attributes to breaks he had last summer, according to Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger:
Jace Amaro says lingering right knee pain stems from having few breaks since last summer. http://t.co/0l6uv751nr— Darryl Slater (@DarrylSlater) July 27, 2014
Even prior to the injury, Amaro was hardly lighting up camp like the Jets were hoping their second-round pick would, catching a nagging case of the drops just in time for camp.
The good news is that Amaro has plenty of time to heal up and get over his recent bout with drops before the season starts, but there is no getting around the fact that Amaro's training camp has not gone according to script.
Jalen Saunders Takes Few, If Any, Prisoners
While Jace Amaro and Calvin Pryor have struggled to get off the ground, rookie fourth-round receiver Jalen Saunders has been among the most impressive players in camp.
Saunders is not just impressing with his ability to catch the ball and make plays—his trademark physicality and toughness is coming to light as his 5'9" frame trucks down anyone who dares to get in his way:
Half gorilla-half terrier Jets WR Jalen Saunders makes catch, collides with 2 defenders and keeps on going. Lankster falls to ground. #nyj— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) July 24, 2014
The unfortunate reality for Saunders is how it will be difficult to carve out a role for him in the Jets' offense because of his smaller stature. Jeremy Kerley's presence in the slot leaves Saunders with gadget plays and fill-in duty, at least in his rookie season.
Either way, Saunders has secured himself some type of role in the Jets' offense this year with these types of showings at training camp.
Quiet Start for Geno Smith
Fans can be relieved that their young, promising quarterback has not shown signs of regression, but to call Geno Smith's first few days of camp anything but uneventful would be inaccurate.
Sunday's practice was particularly underwhelming, as both Smith and Michael Vick were victim to some shoddy pass protection, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com. Smith completed just 40 percent of his passes, but he did have no turnovers.
Smith has not stood out has having a particularly strong or weak first few days of camp and has yet to have a day of practice in which he blows everyone away. However, for a quarterback that was supposed to take full reins of the team this offseason, his start has been a bit disappointing for those expecting Smith to take a huge leap in his sophomore campaign.
Still, Smith does not necessarily have to overachieve or blow Vick out of the water this summer. Rather, Smith just has to be on pace or a bit ahead of Vick to make the inevitable task of naming him the starter as uncontroversial as possible.
Ups and Downs for Stephen Hill
No longer on scholarship, this is the biggest training camp of third-year receiver Stephen Hill's career. With so much added competition at receiver, Hill needs to prove that he is worth keeping around despite his incredibly disappointing production in his first two seasons.
After a promising spring, Hill has been victimized by some drops but has otherwise shown a lot more intensity and competitiveness this summer. He responded to a fan's heckling verbally, then proceeded to catch a long pass from Michael Vick to prove his point, per Jane McManus of ESPN.com.
Some may see Hill's verbal response to a heckler as a sign of weakness, but it can just as easily be interpreted as a change in demeanor for Hill. The 23-year-old may have finally realized that the Jets are not going to wait around for him to improve—he must produce this summer if he wants to spend the rest of the fall wearing green and white.
Hill still has a lot of work to do before he earns his roster spot, but there have been more positives than negatives for Hill this offseason.
Dee Milliner Exudes Confidence
Dee Milliner was benched three times last year, but you never would have known it based on his recent comments to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. The second-year pro refused to admit that another player at his position was better.
This quote is being taken out of context, as headlines will read how Milliner declared himself to be the top corner in football. Milliner's real message was that his mindset should be that he is the top cover man in the business regardless of the undeniable reality that he is not.
Due to the nature of the position, cornerbacks need to carry themselves with this exact mindset of being unbeatable and feared—any other demeanor will have a player defeated before they step onto the field. Without a supreme level of confidence and a short memory that borders on delusion, the pressure of never allowing a big play can cripple a player's confidence.
This is a huge season for Milliner, as the Jets are counting on him to make huge steps in his development and become the No. 1 cornerback the Jets drafted him to be. The first step in moving on from his rocky rookie season is to essentially pretend it never happened—which is precisely what Milliner is doing with these types of statements.
Having this level of confidence may rub some fans the wrong way, but it is the first step toward being the dominant player Milliner is capable of being.