The New York Jets: 5 Starters That Could Hurt, Not Help, in 2011
Despite a number of signings in the 2011 offseason, the New York Jets still have a handful of question marks going into the regular season.
Many of last year's starters will return for another season when the Jets face off against the Dallas Cowboys on September 11th, but that doesn't mean there won't be problems going into Rex Ryan's third season.
Some starters, whether they are first years or tenured Jets, could wind up costing the team in 2011 if they don't improve their game. The following are the five starters that could hurt the New York Jets during this upcoming season.
Feedback is welcome.
5. Shonn Greene
New York Jets RB Shonn Greene is entering his third year with the team, and he has yet to make the impact the team wanted when they drafted him in the third round of the 2009 draft.
Although Greene had a great postseason in 2009 (three games, 304 yards, 2 TD), he was unable to turn it into a strong 2010 season, allowing LaDainian Tomlinson to take the bulk of the workload in his first year with the team.
The Jets are relying on Greene to carry the load this season, as Tomlinson has agreed to sacrifice carries and become the team's third down back. However, Greene has only surpassed 100 yards in a game twice in his career and only has four career touchdowns in two full years with the team.
Third string RB Joe McKnight is even more inexperienced then Greene is, so the Jets are going to need Greene to step up his game in year three. If he can not handle the starting job, the Jets will have to hope that Tomlinson still has something left in the tank or McKnight can step up in order for the run game to succeed.
4. Plaxico Burress
We all know the story of Plaxico Burress signing with the Jets this offseason, and many people expect him to fix the team's poor red zone offense in 2011, but will the injury bug keep the star receiver off the field?
Burress has suffered two separate injuries in practice during the preseason, including an ankle injury that kept him out of the team's first game against Houston. Most recently, Burress has suffered from a back injury that held him out of practice, but the team announced that he will still play in Saturday's game against the New York Giants.
Many critics showed their doubts in Burress's abilities after he missed two years due to his jail sentence, but the Jets put their trust into him and made him their number one receiver. They allowed Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards to sign with other teams, and they also gave Burress the same money Edwards signed for in San Francisco.
When he plays, he can be spectacular. We saw Burress's ability in the Jets second preseason game against Cincinnati, when he made a diving catch for a touchdown in the second quarter of the team's blowout win.
But a 34-year-old receiver who missed two years could turn into a disaster, and, if his health doesn't improve, many fans will begin to worry about his abilities. If Plaxico can not stay healthy in 2011, the Jets will have to rely on Santonio Holmes and the aging Derrick Mason to support Mark Sanchez.
3. Eric Smith
Safety Eric Smith is entering his sixth season with the New York Jets, and like Shonn Greene has yet to make an impact with the team.
Many fans have grown to dislike Smith since he was drafted in the third round of the 2006 draft, mostly because of his inconsistency and his poor play in big situations.
The Jets announced that Smith is expected to be the team's starter at safety, opposite Jim Leonhard, which means he will have a bigger role in the team's defense then he has in the past. Smith has appeared in 68 games in his career, but has only started 20 of them while being a role player in the rest of the games.
Smith is known to be a poor pass defender, which is why the team has used him in run situations in the past. Brodney Pool, who also re-signed with the Jets in the offseason, replaced Smith in almost every game last year in certain passing defenses, so expect him to do the same in 2011.
It would be nice if Smith could become the steady safety that the Jets wanted when they drafted him, but, if he continues to struggle in the passing game, the Jets will have a lot of uncertainty at the position. I expect the team to rotate between Smith, Pool and former cornerback Dwight Lowery during the 2011 season, which could turn out to be the team's biggest weak spot.
2. TBA New York Jets Kicker
The New York Jets have always suffered in the kicking department, and this season will be no different.
Special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff is currently trying to decide who the better kicker is: Nick Folk or Nick Novak. Folk was signed last season and went 30-39 for the Jets in his first year, including a game winning field goal against the Colts in the playoffs. Novak was signed this offseason to a one-year deal, but hasn't played in the NFL since 2008.
Folk has been known to implode in the past, more specifically in 2009, when he went 18-28 (64.3%) for the Dallas Cowboys and was later cut by the team. His inconsistency has drawn some groans from Jets fans, and Rex Ryan considered benching him last season when he struggled again.
But is Nick Novak the answer? Novak last played for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, going 6-10 (60%) in nine appearances. He is a career 63.3% kicker since coming into the NFL in 2005, but has never emerged as a starting kicker in the league.
The Star-Ledger released a story this week on Folk, who said he is focusing on the regular season and not his battle with Novak. Novak is a perfect 2-2 this preseason, while Folk is 3-4 after missing a 43 yard field goal against Cincinnati. Folk said that he is "kicking the ball well, and that's all I can feel".
Folk is currently the man to beat, considering he was the team's starter last season, but Novak is clearly right on his heels. But both men have struggled in their careers, and both could be a huge Achilles heel as the 2011 season starts.
The Jets have been known to rely on their kickers to win games (Doug Brien anyone?), and if the Jets can't find a steady kicker in 2011, expect it to hurt the team in big situations.
1. Wayne Hunter
Many consider the offensive line to be the most important aspect to a team's success, and the Jets are going through an important change there in 2011.
Wayne Hunter will replace Damien Woody at RT this season, making him the biggest question mark for the upcoming year. Hunter, who was drafted in the third round of the 2003 draft by the Seattle Seahawks, is entering his fourth season with the New York Jets.
Despite appearing in 44 games with the Jets in three years, Hunter has only started five of them (four in 2010). He did not start a game in three years with Seattle and Jacksonville, but the Jets announced that he will start all 16 games for the team in 2011.
Hunter is replacing veteran Damien Woody, who started all 45 games he appeared in during his three year tenure with the team. Woody missed three games last season due to an Achilles injury, which put Hunter in the starting lineup and ultimately led to the Jets resigning him this offseason.
The Jets are relying on Hunter to pick up the starting job well before the season begins. The team has no depth behind him on the offensive line, and backup Vladamir Ducasse has struggled in both games this preseason and has proven that he is not ready to step up this season.
If Hunter fails, the offense will fail. Right tackle is one of the most important positions for both the pass and run game, and if he can't get it together, this team will not succeed.
The Jets are taking a risk by putting him in the starting lineup for the first time in his career, and the success of this team will ride on his shoulders as we move into September.