New York Jets Preseason: Most Intriguing Training Camp Battles
Preseason is the perfect time for coaches to see which new players deserve a starting role and which players will be watching the season from the sidelines.
Battling for a position during preseason is a common occurrence as every player wants to be the No. 1 guy at their position. Last year, we were treated to a three-way battle between fullbacks, which included the veteran Tony Richardson, "The Terminator" John Conner and Jason Davis.
This year, there are a handful of positions up for grabs, with numerous players at the ready; all they have to do is perform and the position is theirs. As the first New York Jets preseason game approaches, here are the training camp battles of 2011.
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Donald Strickland vs. Kyle Wilson
Possibly one of the more intriguing battles this preseason is the classic young vs. old battle between second-year player Kyle Wilson and eight-year veteran Donald Strickland.
As for their familiarity with the Jets defense, the two have equal credentials as they have both played one year with the Jets before the 2011 season. Wilson was drafted last year in the first round and primarily used as a backup while Strickland started as Revis' counterpart in 2009.
While these two will not be competing for a starting role on the Jets defense, they will be competing for a significant amount of playing time. The position available for one of these two players is the nickel cornerback position. Last year, Dwight Lowery took over that position when Wilson struggled to get acclimated to playing in the National Football League.
During the lockout, Wilson spent a considerable amount of money and time to go out to Arizona to work out with Darrelle Revis and study film of receivers the Jets will play in 2011. Wilson is being groomed by Revis to become an elite cornerback like Revis, while Strickland is on the outside looking in.
The Jets signed Strickland as a free agent, but it looks as if it was more of a depth at the position move more than anything; because of that, Kyle Wilson will get the nickel cornerback spot. Just because Wilson looks like the front-runner for the spot, does not mean that Strickland does not have a chance to show the coaches he deserves the role and that Wilson should spend some more time developing on the bench.
Nick Novak vs. Nick Folk
Most people would not expect a battle between kickers to be in this list, but the truth is, Nick Folk has not played at the level the Jets expected him to play this season. Since the beginning of training camp, the newcomer Nick Novak has out-shined Folk.
One example of Novak's success and Folk's faltering is Tuesday's practice; according to Rich Cimini's training camp report, Folk practiced indoors and still went 2-4, missing from 33 and 45 yards out, while making kicks from 36 and 40 yards. Meanwhile, Novak went 3-4 only missing from 40 yards out.
The day before, Cimini also reported that while Folk went 3-4, missing from 48 yards out, Novak made all four of his attempts; his longest coming from the same distance as Folk's miss.
The Jets do not want to lose the money they spent re-signing Nick Folk, but it looks like he may be on his way out. When it comes to being a kicker in the National Football League, consistency is what matters. Since Day 1, Novak has shown that he has a boot and can be consistent, something Folk has not been able to show yet.
As for the decision on who the Jets will release, they probably will not decide until preseason gets closer to its last week as they will give both kickers a chance to show of their legs in game situations rather than practice. If the current situation continues, Nick Folk could be on his way out of New York.
Ropati Pitoitua vs. Muhammad Wilkerson
After the 2010 season, the Jets made it known that their biggest weakness was their defensive line. To resolve this issue, they used their first two picks of the 2011 NFL draft to get two defensive lineman. In the first round, they drafted Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis in the second round.
As of right now, the favorite for the starting role at defensive end is rookie Muhammad Wilkerson. He is a versatile player that could play at the defensive tackle position but will likely spend most of his time playing at end.
Meanwhile, the dark horse of this battle is Ropati Pitoitua who is returning from a season-ending Achilles injury he suffered last year against the Panthers. Pitoitua shows great promise and has already shown that he has the skill set to dominate in the leg. His one downfall is his height, the 6'8" lineman becomes a big target if he stands straight up.
Right now, Wilkerson has the slight edge over Pitoitua because of his raw talent and the fact that he can be used almost everywhere on the line. That does not mean that Ropati does not have a chance to earn the starting job; during Tuesday's practice Wilkerson sat out because of a hip injury, and Pitoitua took over the spot by practicing with the first team defense.
Both players bring their own talents to the table, and it will be interesting to see which one earns most of the playing time when the regular season approaches.
LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Joe McKnight vs. Jeremy Kerley
This is the perfect time of the season for the Jets to find their replacement for Brad Smith who signed with the Buffalo Bills during this year's compressed free-agency period. One of the formations the Jets have brought out to confuse defenses is their version of the wildcat formation, which they call the "seminole."
The three leading contenders to run this formation (according to Rich Cimini) are LaDainian Tomlinson, Joe McKnight and the rookie Jeremy Kerley. The most likely result is going to be that Kerley runs the formation.
While Tomlinson would be a good fit, the Jets will look to him more as a traditional running back, especially on third down. While McKnight seems like a good fit, he will likely be the Jets primary kick returner and has not been making coaches notice him during training camp this season.
Meanwhile, Kerley has experience with playing out of the wildcat and has some throwing ability (which can be seen in his highlight film), which can lead to big plays for the Jets. Kerley also has speed and agility, which will be deadly out of the backfield. It is all about Rex Ryan and the coaching staff as to who will take over the wildcat or if it will even be used this season.