New York Jets' July: Five Battles To Look Forward to As the Jets Go to Camp

Jeremy JacksonContributor IMay 25, 2009

The Jets start their travelling training camp circuit on July 31.  The plan for Rex Ryan is to take the camp to central New York (Cortland, to be exact), then to Long Island and Northern New Jersey. 

I applaud Ryan for this move, he is trying to make Jets camp more accessible to the fans that can't or won't drive to Hofstra University (where camp was held in the past).  As the Jets make the trip up north, keep you eye on five battles that can affect the Jets' starting roster.

Can Chansi "Stuckey" to the starting lineup, or will he get Clowned on?

The Jets failed to acquire a receiver in the offseason, which is a huge mistake, and leave the open spot next to Jerricho Cotchery (not exactly No. 1 material himself) in the starting lineup. WR Chansi Stuckey seems to be the natural place in line, considering he was the No. 3 last season.

However, Stuckey isn't very big or particularly fast, so he's not a lock.  While he does run decent routes and has a decent set of mitts on him, he doesn't really offer much that Jerricho Cotchery doesn't.  He doesn't look like much more than a fringe starter with his skill set.

David Clowney, who will be vying for the job also, does offer something different.  He has some serious speed.  He clocked a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash coming out of Virginia Tech.  He also offers roughly the same size that Chansi Stuckey gives you. 

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Clowney displayed that speed in a preseason game against Cleveland last year, going for 136 yards and 2 TDs on 4 catches, but soon afterwards he broke a collarbone that turned out to be a major setback. Still, he has a shot to compete for playing time.

Brad Smith *could* be a wild ard in this battle, but I think the Jets are going to keep him where he is as the slot receiver and utility player.  I like Smith's game, but he's a former quarterback who doesn't have great hands or routes and isn't a blazer. He works as a reverse runner and Wildcat QB, though, because he has good moves and running instinct.

My prediction: Chansi Stuckey wins out due to familiarity and polish. I'm hoping Clowney wins it, but I doubt it. He'll be able to stretch the field from the slot, however.

Can Gholston shake the "Ghost"on label, or will Thomas keep him at bay?

Now, knowing Rex Ryan, he'll want to use all of his potential pass rushers to run his aggressive defense. However, that doesn't mean there won't be competition to be an every down player.

Vernon Gholston is the guy who needs to perform and win this job for the good of the Jets. He's fast, strong, has natural pass rush ability, and is receiving a heck of a pay check. Last year, Gholston lacked a motor and struggled with the transition from college DE to 3-4 OLB.

As such, he never saw the field except in spot duty. Under Rex Ryan, Gholston will have every chance to succeed.

Bryan Thomas has been a solid player in the 3-4 but has yet to fulfill his expectations as a first round pick out of UAB. Still, he's experienced and kept Gholston at bay while notching 5.5 sacks (though 4.5 of those sacks were in the first five weeks, and the final sack came in Week 17). 

He has solid pass rush moves and good size, but he's very streaking and doesn't possess Gholston's athleticism.

Prediction: It'll be a battle to the end, but I think Gholston winds up the starter, and Thomas will play like 50 percent of the snaps in a rotational/package role.  Assuming Gholston shows some desire after an embarrassing rookie campaign.

Gettin' so many PD's you can call him Dwight Lowery...but can you call him starter?

Darrelle Revis is an absolute stud on one corner slot, but the other side was a big problem area last year. The Jets were so strapped for solidity, they signed a 90 year old Ty Law to man the spot. Yikes.

Fourth round pick Dwight Lowery was thrown into the fire as a rookie last year, which was a terrible move. He struggled mightily, which led to the Law signing.

However, there was some good as he got some valuable (even if rough) experience and did wind up forcing five fumbles, deflected 16 passes and grabbed a pick. There's almost nowhere to go but up for Lowery.

The Jets traded a 2009 fifth rounder and a conditional 2010 pick for two-time Pro Bowler Lito Sheppard. You'd have to believe Sheppard is on the inside track for the job, but is he really worthy?

According to various sources, such as KC Joyner and Pro Football Prospectus as well as having watched plenty of Eagles games (my mom lives in South Jersey), Lito Sheppard has been a overrated, awful cover corner. 

He made the Pro Bowl based on the strength of his interception total, with five in 2004 and six in 2006, but when he's gambling and failing to grab interceptions he's nearly worthless on the field.

This may not be an obvious battle as I'm thinking Lito has the edge on the basis of his resume, but if Lowery can improve upon last year and fulfill his ability he could vie for the spot. After all, Lito Sheppard did fall behind Joselio Hanson on the Eagles depth chart, and it wasn't all for contractual reasons.

Prediction: Lito Sheppard wins out, but unless he returns to 2006 form, his grasp on the job isn't firm. Unless Lowery doesn't improve.

Can Leon find a role, or will Shonn Greene be the primary backup?

This may not be a direct competition between the two since I think they'll have different roles, but it's still interesting to see who can prove worthy of getting more snaps. 

I've gone on record stating I would reduce Washington's role on returns to half in order to use him more on offense.

Washington is a similar player to Felix Jones and Reggie Bush in that he creates matchup issues offensively due to his speed and game breaking ability as both a runner and a pass catcher.  That type of explosiveness isn't to be kept on the bench.

However, Washington and the Jets are in a contract dispute. While it's been positive thus far, it's impossible to predict how these things wind up and teams have never been beyond reducing one's playing time due to these disputes.

Shonn Greene was a bulldozer at Iowa. He seems to have the type of ability you look for out of a lead back: sturdy, strong, decent speed, able to wear teams down.

Depending on how much the Jets see fit to get their presumed future feature back ready, they may be more willing to spell Thomas Jones more often. Unfortunately, it could be at the expense of Washington. 

Incorporating three running backs can be a tough task, so someone's going to wind up with too small a cut of the pie.  That won't be Thomas Jones, coming off a career year.  Camp could be the deciding factor.

Prediction: Shonn Greene sees the field a little more often than Leon, who doesn't get any type of scale back from his return duties.  I continue to get frustrated that Leon is on the bench too much.

The ultimate showdown: Who will captain the ship?

The obvious battle, but it's the most important and most widely anticipated battle as the Jets near the season. This hasn't been a settled position since 2002 for the Jets, outside of last year's Brett Favre rental, considering how hot and cold (and injury prone) Chad Pennington was as a Jet. I don't expect any miracles in 2009, either.

Kellen Clemens was drafted out of Oregon in the second round in 2006 to be the heir apparent for the aging and oft-injured Pennington. Three years later, the Jets have seen it fit to trade into the top five for Mark Sanchez.

That does not bode well for what the team thinks of Clemens, who has failed to impress in limited action. However, Clemens still has a nice arm and talent, so if he can develop some there is a place for him in this league.

Sanchez is the anointed one, and for good reason. I actually like him better than No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford. Sanchez has a legitimate arm, leadership skills, and his accuracy on the run is VERY impressive.

HOWEVER, rookie quarterbacks are not the ideal starters for a team with playoff and Super Bowl aspirations.  Despite the success of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco last year and Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, rookie QBs historically struggle.  Especially ones that come out as underclassmen with limited college starts.

Sanchez has all the tools to be a great one, but a true franchise QB need not be rushed.  Though the Jets have the ability to protect a rookie QB with their line and run game, you still run the risk of rookie QB struggle.

The Jets also lack the dynamic downfield receiver to make the quarterback look better.  Guys that sit their first year tend to have more success, like former USC QB Carson Palmer.

Clemens has experience with Brian Schottenheimer and experience inside the offense.  He's not great, but after riding the bench another year he should be more equipped to run the offense.

He only needs to manage the game, get the ball to his running backs, find TE Dustin Keller for the underneath routes, and throw downfield enough to force teams to respect the deep ball. 

If the competition is close, Clemens should get the nod as starter.  If Sanchez completely outclasses Clemens, then he deserves to start.  Just don't rush him in there.

Prediction: Clemens is your game 1 starter, but he's likely on borrowed time.  Sanchez is the future, and the future may begin sooner than later if Clemens bombs early.