New York Jets: What to Watch for in Preseason Game Action
After months of roster-retooling and waiting, the 2014 New York Jets are set to make their first televised appearance to kick-start a crucial, expectation-laced season.
With a few exceptions, news of unexpectedly impressive performances in camp have been few and far between. Not much is known about how much this roster has improved over the last eight months, if at all.
Of course, all eyes will be on the quarterbacks as the Jets try to settle the position once and for all this season. Geno Smith's legacy will be determined by what he does in the regular season, but the first few preseason games will be crucial for Smith to build momentum going into the season.
Here is a list of what to watch for during the Jets' first preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Geno Smith's Development
This goes without saying, but all eyes will be on Geno Smith until he proves himself to be the unquestioned franchise quarterback.
Thursday's game will be the first time the public will get a chance to see an evolved version of Smith live in action, sans the red non-contact jersey. Now heavier (in a good way) and more confident than ever, this is the first assignment in what could be a career-defining season for Smith, per Rich Cimini of ESPN.
It would take an epic collapse on Smith's part to lose the starting job before Week 1, but these preseason games are more meaningful than carrying out a scripted "competition." Smith needs to play well enough so that the Jets don't need to force him into the starting job at the risk of dividing the locker room.
Vick is one of the most respected players on the team—most of his teammates wouldn't have any issue with Vick starting over Smith if he gave them a better chance to win. Smith needs to play well enough to ensure that this scenario doesn't come to fruition.
From a football perspective, it will be interesting to see how much the Jets let Smith loose in the opening game. Will offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg ease Smith into the 2014 season or come out guns blazing?
Dee Milliner's Confidence
No defensive player is under more scrutiny this offseason than Dee Milliner. Last year's ninth overall selection, Milliner finished his otherwise disappointing rookie season strong but has yet to regain his momentum this offseason.
Milliner has already been called out by his head coach for his conditioning in the spring and has done nothing to impress so far in camp, at least according to former special teams coach Mike Westhoff:
These negative vibes surrounding the Jets' prized cornerback prospect can all go away with a good night against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. After all, Milliner flashed ability at the end of last season with three interceptions in as many games—he just needs to get his momentum back just in time for the season.
At the same time, a poor 2014 debut for Milliner can set his confidence back even further to make the Jets even more nervous about the development of their Alabama standout.
Milliner will only be judged on what he does in the regular season, but these next four weeks will be crucial in his development into a shutdown cornerback.
Offensive Guard Rotation
The team's first depth chart does not list any unexpected changes along the starting offensive line, but that does not mean shifts within the depth chart are on the horizon.
In his second season as a starter, it has been assumed that Brian Winters is a lock to start at left guard. However, Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com suggests that Winter's job is not as safe as it was once believed to be.
According to Cimini, former fifth-round pick Oday Aboushi is inching closer and closer to the starting lineup, getting more reps with the first team. For now, Aboushi will be the team's primary swing tackle, but a promotion could be on the horizon if Winters fails to improve and Aboushi's rise continues.
Willie Colon is all but guaranteed to resume his role as the team's starting right guard, but injuries have followed him throughout his career. Recovering from a biceps and knee injury, the Jets may need to call on Aboushi earlier than they envisioned if Colon's injuries come back to haunt him.
The Wide Receiver Battle
The wide receiver position is "ground zero" for competition in Jets camp this year, making each member of this unit a key player to watch this preseason.
Among the most important players to watch in all of camp is Stephen Hill, who is trying to salvage his career after an unproductive two-year start. Hill is currently listed as the No. 3 receiver, according to the team's depth chart, but he needs to show up during game action to keep his spot.
The public will also finally get a good eye on some of the rookie receivers, especially in the second half of the game. While Shaq Evans will be absent as he faces injured reserve, per Seth Walder of the New York Daily News, rookies Jalen Saunders and Quincy Enunwa will have a chance to gain some separation in what is a tight competition.
Eric Decker is the most sure thing on the roster, but it will be interesting to see how he looks donning the green and white for the first time. In particular, watching the timing between him and Geno Smith will be crucial.
Meanwhile, the Jets' rookies have not have a memorable start to training camp. With first-round pick Calvin Pryor ruled out of the game after dealing with a concussion this past week per Cimini, second-round pick Jace Amaro instantly becomes the top rookie to watch in his preseason debut.
Not only will Amaro be the highest-drafted rookie on display, but he too has had his share of training camp struggles. Cimini notes that he has "struggled with the offense," specifically the Xs and Os aspect of the game. Amaro has also been prone to some untimely drops, per the New York Post's Brian Costello, which could simply be a result of his head spinning while trying to adapt to his new environment.
Just as, if not more, important than Amaro's play during the game will be how he looks from a health standpoint. Dealing with a case of knee tendinitis, Amaro has yet another distraction to pull him away from a new, complex playbook.
Also worth watching is exactly how Amaro will be used alongside starter Jeff Cumberland. Amaro is far from a finished product, but his skill set as a mismatch for linebackers in space, making him a valuable chess piece whether he catches the ball or not.
Surely, offensive coordinator Mornhinweg won't spill out his playbook in a preseason game, but it is worth noting where Amaro lines up—how often he is in the slot, attached to the formation, blocking, in motion, etc.—to give us clues to how he will be used during the season.
Dimitri Patterson's Alignment
There is no question that Dimitri Patterson is going to have a huge role in the Jets defense this year—but where he lines up on a regular basis may not be as clear-cut as we initially thought.
During Saturday's scrimmage, Patterson took some reps inside at his natural position at slot cornerback, moving usual slot man Kyle Wilson to the outside:
Kyle Wilson playing outside corner and Patterson in the slot. #nyj— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) August 3, 2014
This move comes just a few days before Rex Ryan recently called out Patterson for a lackluster practice. Are the Jets simply flexing their versatility, or are they realizing that forcing Patterson to play out of his element on the outside is destined for failure?
Rex Ryan tweaks CB Dimitri Patterson, says he gave up a bunch of completions today. Says he needs tighten up coverage. #nyj— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) August 5, 2014
Patterson will see the bulk of the first-team snaps at outside cornerback, but it is worth watching to see if he takes any snaps in the slot. Kyle Wilson may have found a comfort level in the slot last year, but if he is a better outside corner than Patterson, it may make sense to make a switch.
Tajh Boyd vs. Matt Simms
The top two quarterbacks will demand all of the attention, but the real competition is at the bottom half of the depth chart between veteran Matt Simms and sixth-round rookie Tajh Boyd.
According to J.P. Pelzman of The Record, the incumbent Simms has a slight edge over Boyd in the competition for what is almost certainly the final No. 3 quarterback job.
Listening to his offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, the Jets simply have more trust in Simms to get the Jets out of an emergency situation than the rook. "Matt Simms knows what he’s doing within this offense," Mornhinweg said. "I have very good confidence in Matt. [If you] put him in, he’s going to run the show and do the right thing."
Boyd, on the other hand, is still learning his first professional offense, "second-guessing" himself too often.
The good news for Boyd is that unlike Simms, he is still eligible to stick around on the practice squad if the final roster falls out of reach. However, he can change the perception of himself with a few strong preseason performances to prove that the stage is not too big for him, even if he is still learning the playbook.