New York Jets: Questions That Still Must Be Answered This Preseason
The New York Jets may be just a few weeks away from opening the season against the Oakland Raiders, but they have at least as many questions to answer over the next three games than they had at the start of training camp.
Thanks in large part to injuries, the secondary will need to undergo even more renovations with players changing positions and rookies entering the lineup for the first time.
The offensive depth chart is a bit more stable, but there is a glaring lack of production that still needs to be addressed. Geno Smith is still expected to be the starting quarterback, but he needs to do more on the field to convince his superiors of his abilities and that he's the right man for the job.
Here are the remaining questions the Jets need to answer before the season starts.
When Will Geno Smith Flash Dominance?
So far, Geno Smith has yet to do anything that would cost him his status as the Jets' top quarterback. At the same time, he has yet to turn in a "wow" performance that convinces his superiors (and peers) that he is, unquestionably, the right man to lead the Jets through the 2014 season.
Smith's 4-of-6 debut against the Indianapolis Colts last week was hardly a worrisome performance, but the Jets are still waiting on Smith to grab the job by the throat by lighting up a vanilla, preseason-form defense.
During the Colts game, Smith's counterpart, Andrew Luck, moved the ball against the Jets' defense—superior to that of the Colts from a pure talent standpoint—with ease. That is the type of performance Ryan and his coaches are looking for from Smith.
The preseason won't write the story of Smith's make-or-break 2014 season, but a strong showing in at least one of these otherwise-meaningless games can give Smith a huge confidence boost heading into the season opener.
How Will Antonio Allen Fare at Cornerback?
This is a question the Jets certainly did not anticipate answering before training camp started.
A slew of consecutive injuries at the cornerback position has left Rex Ryan with few options, forcing him to tap into the "mad scientist" portion of his defensive mind. His latest creation has converted promising young safety Antonio Allen into a cornerback—for now.
According to Dennis Waszak of The Associated Press, Allen will start Saturday's preseason game in his new position, because, well, why not?
Antonio Allen will start at CB at Cincy. Rex: "He'll start. What the heck?" #Jets— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) August 12, 2014
Allen will get a harsh baptism into the cornerback realm, assigned with handling the likes of A.J. Green and Marvin Jones right off the bat. If this surreal position switch does become a permanent move in the near future, there is no better practice than against some of the league's best.
So far, Allen has fared better than expected at his new position, intercepting Geno Smith twice in his first practice at cornerback according to Rich Cimini of ESPN. He showed great man-to-man cover skills against tight ends of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham's caliber—who is to say he can't replicate his success against wide receivers?
A hybrid safety/linebacker at the University of South Carolina, the transformation Allen has made as a player to being a coverage specialist is remarkable. If Allen fares better at cornerback than he has at safety, the Jets will have at least manufactured one positive output from a negative situation surrounding their injuries.
Can Calvin Pryor Start Right Away?
After getting off to a slow start to training camp because of a concussion, first-round pick Calvin Pryor will finally get his first live action against the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday.
With Antonio Allen making the aforementioned switch to cornerback, the door is now open for Pryor to slide into the starting safety spot opposite veteran Dawan Landry.
If Allen is successful in his cornerback venture, it would clean up the otherwise-murky safety depth chart—but it would also put a lot more pressure on Pryor being able to play immediately. Pryor has a lot of ability as a former first-round pick, but missing two weeks of training camp certainly won't help him learn the defense any faster.
As a rookie, Pryor's biggest concern is learning and absorbing enough of the Jets' defensive system so that he's able to react instinctively. If he finds himself thinking too much about his assignments or when trying to diagnose what an opposing offense is doing, the Jets secondary could be in for some more growing pains.
How Pryor is used in Saturday's preseason game will be very telling in terms of how far along he is in his acclimation to Rex Ryan's defensive approach. If he is all over the formation, dropping into deep coverage then later covering tight ends man-to-man, we could speculate that he is quickly picking up the defense.
However, Pryor sitting in a deep zone for most of the game would indicate that he still has a long way to go before he's ready for real game action.
What Will Michael Vick's Role Be?
Barring an unforeseen nose dive in Geno Smith's game, the Jets' opening day starter may as well be printed in the event program.
The fate of their (highly paid) backup, Michael Vick, is much more clouded.
A situation in which Smith seizes the starting job and never looks back is ideal for the Jets, but it also presents an unique and awkward situation. Not only is Vick the highest-paid backup in football, but he showed in the last preseason game that he is still capable of playing football at a reasonably high level.
Leaving Vick on the bench may also be leaving precious yards, points, and even wins on the field.
Rex Ryan has yet to confirm or deny the possible use of a wildcat formation that involves Vick (h/t Rich Cimini of ESPN). On paper, the wildcat seems like an ideal way to get Vick involved while being able to keep Smith as the starter—but do the Jets really want to go down that road again?
It is difficult to digest the idea that a healthy, capable Michael Vick will sit on the bench for the entire season but in the long run, the Jets would be better off treating Vick as nothing more than an expensive, premium insurance policy.
Vick is a quality, expensive player the Jets hope never has to see the field in meaningful action—if they treat him as anything else, they never should have brought him on board in the first place.
Can Rex Ryan Flip-Flop His Defensive Philosophy?
Rex Ryan does not need a ton of talent to engineer a great defense, but his thirst for cornerbacks has always been unquenchable:
After losing his top three cornerbacks in a matter of days, Ryan's worst nightmare has come to fruition. With such little talent available at the most important position on Rex's defense, can he prove his defensive brilliance once again by inverting his defensive philosophy?
Ryan's best defenses have always been built around great cornerbacks: before trading Darrelle Revis, Ryan's Jets were always ranked near or at the top of the league in pass defense, despite accompanying it with a dinosaurish pass rush.
When Ryan finally obtained the pass-rushing horses needed to balance out his defense in 2013, his secondary fell apart under the injured Antonio Cromartie and then-rookie Dee Milliner's watch. The result was a pass defense ranked 22nd in football.
A year later, and Ryan's cornerback situation is somehow even worse than it was in 2013. Ryan insists that his defenses will work under any circumstances, but will his words be enough to cover up a glaring lack of talent and depth at a key position?
Building a top defense with such gaping holes in the secondary will be quite the challenge, but Ryan does have the benefit of having a full month to prepare for life without Milliner or Dexter McDougle.
If Ryan does manage to field a great defense in these circumstances, his defensive brilliance should never come into question again.
Who Will Seize the No. 2 Receiver Job?
It is now less than a month before the season opener, and the New York Jets are no closer to finding a No. 2 receiver than they were at the end of the draft.
Playing for his New York Jets career this August, Stephen Hill has yet to do enough to claim the starting job opposite Eric Decker. He regained his starting job in time for the preseason opener, but he took another step back in a drop-filled practice this week, Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger reports.
Meanwhile, David Nelson has been no more spectacular than Hill (for better or worse) so far in camp. Jalen Saunders appears to have cooled off since his hot start to spring practices, while fellow fourth-round pick Shaq Evans appears destined for injured reserve.
The Jets have seen some flashes from Philadelphia Eagles castoff Greg Salas, but it may be a bit much to ask him to step into a starting job after being on the Eagles' practice squad at this time last year.
The closer we get to the start of the season without any definition in the depth chart, the more likely it is that the Jets ultimately settle on a committee approach to the second outside receiver position. Hill and Nelson could be used in red-zone, jump-ball situations while Salas and Saunders are utilized more in the middle of the field on screens and short-to-intermediate routes.
Either way, it is now abundantly clear that this is a position John Idzik will have to revisit next offseason.