New York Jets: Top Position Battles to Watch in Camp
Training camp is a bit of a tease without the action of real games, but it offers a unique element of drama in the position battles that both can change careers and reshape rosters.
With 12 drafted rookies on the roster, competition will be aplenty on both sides of the ball. After not adding a bona fide free agent (excluding Eric Decker) in the spring, the Jets are depending on competition to be responsible for the bulk of their roster growth.
Here are some of the top position battles to watch in training camp.
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Antonio Allen vs. Dawan Landry
Antonio Allen and Dawan Landry were supposed to be lined up next to each other all season. Instead, they will be battling it out for precious playing time on a suddenly deep safety depth chart.
With Calvin Pryor already taking snaps with the first team, it is all but assumed that the Jets will force their top draft pick into the starting lineup. This leaves just one spot left between the veteran Landry (31 years old) and the up-and-coming Allen.
Allen showed a lot of promise last season, particularly in man-to-man coverage against tight ends. Landry, on the other hand, is a more trustworthy player because of his experience, but he lacks the ability to make game-changing interceptions and hits.
There is no question that Allen is the better player for the future's sake (and perhaps for the present as well), but the coaching staff has been hesitant to trust Allen in a full-time role for an extended period. If they truly believed in Allen, they never would have added Ed Reed in the middle of last season.
Both players will be used in some type of role, but training camp performance will be a big determining factor in the order of the depth chart.
David Nelson vs. Stephen Hill
The wide receiving corps is set for upheaval across the board, but the biggest head-to-head matchup will be between David Nelson and Stephen Hill. The prize has yet to be determined, as either player could be as highly valued as a starter or miss the final roster cut entirely.
Nelson already won the first round, taking Hill's job in the middle of the 2013 season. Nelson appears to be carrying his momentum into the offseason, having already developed a strong chemistry with quarterback Geno Smith, as Jane McManus of ESPNNewYork.com notes.
Meanwhile, Hill has had a strong spring as well, drawing praise from offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who described his play as "excellent."
Where Hill really separates himself from Nelson is his upside. His blend of size and speed in combination with his age (23) give him a lot more room to develop into a potentially dominant player. Nelson has been the more productive player as of late, but he is not nearly as enticing to keep on the bottom of a roster to develop.
There is a chance that both players will find a way onto the roster, but the Jets will look for every excuse to keep their three drafted receivers (and two free agents), and they won't have a problem parting ways with either player if they do not impress this August.
Dexter McDougle vs. Darrin Walls
The Jets have a lot of question marks at the top of the cornerback depth chart, but the battle for the fourth spot between Darrin Walls and Dexter McDougle will be more intense than any other competition at this position.
Walls has shown a lot of promise since being a late-season addition to the 2012 roster. After ranking as the top cornerback of the 2013 preseason (according to Pro Football Focus), Walls filled in nicely when Dee Milliner was sent to the bench, allowing a 59.4 completion percentage when thrown against.
However, he will have to continue to develop into a higher-quality cover man if he wants to keep the same role he had last year. McDougle, the team's third-round pick from May's draft, has drawn rave reviews from his spring practices and has been the most impressive rookie by a wide margin.
Given the inconsistencies of Milliner and the shaky health history of new addition Dimitri Patterson, it is not out of the realm of possibility that either player winds up starting for the Jets at some point this season.
More than anything else, training camp will determine the batting order in case the Jets need to tap into their depth to replace either of their starting cornerbacks.
Geno Smith vs. Michael Vick
This "competition" is not really a competition at all. With Smith getting the vast majority of the first-team reps, the Jets have all but named him the starter.
What is important in this matchup is not the winner, but how Smith wins the battle. The Jets are hoping that formally naming Smith the starter is an anticlimactic event because of how well he has played in the preseason and avoid controversy altogether.
However, the Jets could be faced with a sticky situation if they go through with starting Smith after he is clearly outplayed by Michael Vick and could be faced with locker room division. Players are quick to lose morale when politics, not play, determine the depth chart.
So far, Vick has not outplayed Smith in practices to the point where starting Smith would be a questionable move, if at all. However, when the pads come on and the game speeds up for preseason games, Vick's superior blend of talent and experience could prove to be too much for Smith to match.
How the Jets go about handling a scenario in which Vick outplays Smith could make or break their season before it even starts.
Trevor Reilly vs. Ik Enemkpali
The Jets have two starting linebackers in place between Quinton Coples and Calvin Pace, but the backup situation is still very much in flux.
Late-round picks Ik Enemkpali (sixth) and Trevor Reilly (seventh) give the Jets an influx of young talent to work out their depth, but there may only be room for one of them on the final roster—especially if Jermaine Cunningham continues his ascent.
Enemkpali and Reilly may have been drafted in the same region of the draft, but they both bring two completely different skill sets to the table. Enemkpali lacks speed and dynamic movement ability, but his ability as a pass-rusher makes him an enticing young prospect to keep around.
Reilly, on the other hand, is much more versatile as a former walk-on safety at Utah—a critical attribute for special teams play. However, at age 26 (he spent time on missions before returning to college football), he does not offer nearly as much upside as the younger Enemkpali.
If this battle ends in a tie, Enemkpali will likely get the nod because of his youth and upside. Either way, these two contrasting styles and skill sets will make for an intriguing decision for the Jets at the end of August.
Brian Winters vs. Oday Aboushi
With incumbent veteran Willie Colon sidelined for the spring as he recovers from surgery, the Jets got a glimpse at what life would be like with second-year player Oday Aboushi in the starting lineup.
After an impressive OTA session at his new position at guard (he played tackle in college), Aboushi may have enticed the Jets enough to give him a shot to take over for Brian Winters, who struggled for most of his rookie season at left guard.
The Jets appear to be open to reshuffling their offensive line, giving Winters work at both guard positions. While this could simply be an example of the Jets increasing the flexibility and versatility of their linemen, it could also indicate that they are not content with leaving Winters at guard without beating out some competition first.
Selected two rounds before Aboushi in the 2013 draft, the Jets will need to be thoroughly convinced that Aboushi is the better player before making such a move. However, if it means keeping Smith upright and winning more games, the Jets should be open to the idea of starting Aboushi over Winters if he outplays him in training camp.
Tommy Bohanon vs. Chad Young
Fullback competitions do not exactly push newspaper sales like other positions, but the Jets' battle at fullback will be as fierce and direct as any in camp.
The incumbent, Tommy Bohanon, struggled as a rookie in the blocking game—Pro Football Focus ranked him as the worst starter in the league in this area. He did, however, contribute as a runner with 62 yards on 17 carries.
His competition will be undrafted San Diego State product Chad Young. Unlike Bohanon, Young is known for his brute force as a blocker. His 34 reps on the bench press at his pro day were better than any other running back at the combine—a combine he was never invited to.
Young can also contribute as a runner and a receiver, as shown by his 22 carries for 115 yards and his 15 receptions for 70 yards in 2013.
Bohanon has the advantage because of his familiarity with the Jets' offense and year of experience, but Young will be a source of competition he should not take lightly.