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The New York Jets' Five Most Vulnerable Positions Heading into 2009

Angel Navedo@NamedAngelSenior Writer IMay 8, 2009

MIAMI - SEPTEMBER 07:  Kris Jenkins #77 of the New York Jets looks on against the Miami Dolphins at Dolphin Stadium on September 7, 2008 in Miami, Florida. The Jets won 20-14.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

It's never safe to assume that a final roster is set in stone for an entire season. It would defy all football logic to keep the opening day starters penciled in for 17 weeks without a viable contingency plan.

In a league where every game counts, every single player has a role that his teammates rely on him to complete. Being able to make any necessary adjustments is critical to maintaining success.

It's what separates the good teams from the bad ones.

While fans are excited about the violent style of football Rex Ryan promises to bring to the New York Jets, disregarding any possibility of devastating injury at a critical position would be absolutely reckless.

With players trying to make every hit harder than the last one, the probability of losing someone increases exponentially. With the Jets' depth, or lack thereof, how significant will the drop in production be if the team had to look down the depth chart? 

5. Offensive Line

Entering their second season together, the New York Jets' offensive line has the potential to be even stronger as they build on the chemistry they established in 2008.

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After releasing RG Brandon Moore at the start of free agency, GM Mike Tannenbaum worked out a deal to bring him back and keep the unit that led Thomas Jones to the AFC rushing title intact.

While Tannenbaum did not break the bank on re-signing Moore, it does appear as if the team is banking too heavily on the starters remaining healthy. With a run-heavy offense planned for 2009, is it a safe gamble to make? 

The advancing ages of LG Alan Faneca and RT Damien Woody did raise some concerns early in the offseason, but they quieted down until the team drafted Nebraska G Matt Slauson.

While Slauson has the look to be a tough lineman, most scouting reports describe him as a developmental project. After Slauson, the depth chart is an assortment of undrafted free agents and under-qualified veterans.

The depth doesn't instill the same confidence as the men they would supplement in case of an injury. Playing behind a patchwork offensive line is never advised.

Ask the 2008 Seattle Seahawks how it worked for them.

4. Cornerback

Here's a tough question: How much would the defense lose if Darrelle Revis couldn't play?

Touted by his own head coach as the best cornerback in the league, Revis is, without a doubt, an irreplaceable player. The shoes would be impossible to fill, but can anyone on the roster even come close?

After being snatched away from the Philadelphia Eagles, the expectations are high for Lito Sheppard to return to Pro Bowl form as the starter opposite Revis. But he comes to the Jets with legitimate concerns.

Battling back from injury-plagued seasons, Sheppard found himself slipping down the Eagles' depth chart. It is unknown if the reason for his demotion was a result of diminishing skills, or if his contract dispute with the team was a factor. Perhaps both?

Sitting behind Revis and Sheppard is second-year CB Dwight Lowery, who lost his starting role after a strong showing in the first half of 2008.

Lowery’s speed was a concern coming out of college, but he showed impressive coverage skills as a rookie. Eventually he was replaced by an older and slower Ty Law midway through the season.

The Jets made a quiet free agent acquisition when they picked up Donald Strickland, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. Not expected to be much more than a nickelback, Strickland would be a liability in coverage if he had to climb up the depth chart.

The remaining cornerbacks of note are Drew Coleman and Ahmad Carroll—two players who are typically relegated to special teams duty.

3. Wide Receiver

The best coverage Laveranues Coles broke through within the last two years was on his contract.

Forcing his way out of town in pursuit of a long-term commitment, Coles found a home with the Cincinnati Bengals, clearing the way for Jerricho Cotchery to become the new primary receiver.

The men behind Cotchery are in a position where they need to impress or be replaced.

Tannenbaum recently told the New Jersey Star-Ledger that he is content with letting the best man win between David Clowney and Brad Smith as they battle it out to complement Cotchery.   

But Tannenbaum also said he was excited for the Kellen Clemens-Brett Ratliff showdown before making the move for Mark Sanchez.

Chansi Stuckey could emerge as a viable option during training camp, but he seems to be better suited as a slot receiver. 

Keeping their personnel thoughts very close to the chest, it is expected the team will determine their comfort level after spring activities and minicamp in June. Their observations should help them decide how aggressive they need to be in pursuit of a starting-caliber receiver.

Recent rumors circulating through the mill involve trades for Cleveland's Braylon Edwards, while some maintain hope for an Anquan Boldin deal.

2. Tight End

To call it a depth concern would be an understatement. The New York Jets simply do not have a tight end on their roster.

Dustin Keller may be listed as a tight end, but he is more of a wide receiver who lines up alongside the offensive line. His run-blocking isn't on par with the more traditional tight ends in the NFL, making him a liability for an offense that's fixated on the ground game.

Right behind Keller is James Dearth, a long snapper by trade who is only listed as a tight end. For clarification purposes, Dearth is entering his 10th season in the NFL with only three career receptions credited to his name—all from 2001.

The Jets stockpiled tight ends as they sifted through the pool of undrafted free agents, and could be hoping for Antonio Gates-esque results from Cleveland State basketball player J'Nathan Bullock. 

If the undrafted free agents fail to impress, the Jets will have to look for an available veteran or hope for a serviceable player to become a June cap casualty.

Relying on another team's clippings is a terrible idea, though. As it stands, the Jets have to hope there is a diamond in their rough.

1. Kris Jenkins

The New York Jets' defense was defined by Kris Jenkins in 2008. A man of his stature and ability simply cannot be replaced. The defense learned that the hard way when his back started to give way.

Being the warrior that he is, Jenkins managed to play through his pain, but the defense suffered down the stretch of the season.

Even at less than 100 percent, he was still better than the options behind him, but New York has to alleviate the stress for the 360-pound tackle. Finding ways to keep Jenkins from aggravating any pre-existing injuries while preventing fatigue late in the season is of the essence.

The Jets signed DT Howard Green away from the Seahawks, making New York his sixth team in as many seasons. The hopes are that he could provide depth behind Jenkins, but he still comes with question marks. 

Can a 30-year-old journeyman be expected to complement a Pro Bowl defensive lineman effectively? Ryan has familiarity with Green from a brief stint in Baltimore in 2002, but is he a significant upgrade over Sione Pouha?

The best thing Kris Jenkins can look forward to is the hybrid defense Ryan promises to install. The pressure he faced as the center of the 3-4 defense should be replaced by the confusion created by multiple fronts.

If that doesn't work out as planned, the Jets will be trapped in defensive purgatory every time Jenkins has to come off the field for an extended period of time.

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