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News » New York Jets Strategy and Personnel 2008-08-28

New York Jets Strategy and Personnel 2008-08-28

New York Jets Strategy and Personnel 2008-08-28
Wide receiver Laveranues Coles (leg) and Shaun Ellis (hand) have been sidelined during most of August, but the Jets expect both to be ready for opening day. The status of cornerback Justin Miller (toe) for that Miami game is a bit more dicey. If he can't go, rookie Dwight Lowery or veteran David Barrett will start at right corner, although it's possible Lowery may start even if Miller plays. Running back Musa Smith, who played five years with Baltimore, was released.

PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Brett Ratliff -- Ratliff, who signed in 2007 as a rookie free agent, was a practice-squadder last year but broke out this preseason, both in practices and in games, showing not only a strong arm but an ability to make good reads. He could leap above Kellen Clemens on the depth chart at some point, and that could be significant if Brett Favre's incredible iron-man streak of 253 consecutive regular-season starts somehow ends.


Rd. 1/6, LB Vernon Gholston, Ohio State -- Still is making the adjustment from a 4-3 end in college to a 3-4 standup linebacker, but could be a good situational pass-rusher.

Rd. 1/30, TE Dustin Keller, Purdue -- A tight end who can stretch the field and also make Cover-2 defenses pay by exploiting the middle. Needs work on his blocking.

Rd. 4/113, CB Dwight Lowery, San Jose State -- Cerebral ballhawk who is quickly moving up the depth chart and could start in place of injured Justin Miller at RCB on opening day.

Rd. 5/162, QB Erik Ainge, Tennessee -- Finished camp as clearly the No. 4 quarterback. Spring surgery on a broken finger last season has held back his growth.

Rd. 6/171, WR Marcus Henry, Kansas -- Lanky (6-feet-4) receiver could help Jets in red zone, but may have trouble cracking logjam at reserve receiver.

Rd. 7/211, OT Nate Garner, Arkansas -- Only started as senior in college and is thus raw, but has potential. Perhaps will be a practice-squadder.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Brett Favre. Backups -- Kellen Clemens, Brett Ratliff, Erik Ainge.

Favre took over the starting job after the Jets' surprising acquisition of the future Hall of Famer, and he has shown that his 38-year-old arm still can bring the heat when necessary. The Jets have tried to give him as quick of a crash course as possible in offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's complicated system, while also streamlining some of the playbook and adapting the terminology to both fit Favre, and thwart some of the scheming of the Jets' early opponents. Miami's Chad Pennington, who appeared to be the front-runner for the job before the Favre trade, will play against the Jets in Week One, followed by New England and former Jets LB Victor Hobson in Week Two. Favre's ability to read defenses is tremendous, and all of the Jets' receivers have quickly learned that there are no clear-out patterns with Favre. Everyone in the pattern is a threat to catch the ball. But Favre, who will be 39 in October, still sometimes tries to fit the ball into too tight of a space, and it will be interesting to see how Schottenheimer and Eric Mangini deal with interceptions by Favre. Clemens didn't provide much of a spark when he became the starter midway through the 2007 campaign. Including one end-of-the-half kneeldown, the offense produced nine touchdowns in 88 possessions with Clemens at the helm. The second-year pro displayed his strong arm at times, but also showed a tendency to lock in on his primary receiver too often, leading to interceptions. His pocket presence also needs to improve, as he had lots of trouble reading pressure from the back and blind sides. He had a spotty training camp but looked better toward the end and has held off Ratliff, a 2007 practice-squadder who had an impressive training camp and had been pressing Clemens for the backup job since Favre's arrival. Ainge, a f=

ifth-round pick, had surgery on the pinky finger on his throwing hand in May and that seemed to slow his progress as he had the fewest reps of any QB in camp. Ratliff likely will be the third quarterback and the Jets may try to sneak Ainge through waivers to the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Thomas Jones, FB Tony Richardson. Backups -- RB Leon Washington, RB Jesse Chatman, FB Jehuu Caulcrick.

Jones struggled in 2007, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry, his lowest average since he had 3.4 with Arizona in 2001 in his second pro season. A large part of the problem was an offensive line that didn't generate much of a push, particularly in short-yardage situations. He again has had a tough time shaking loose for any big gains in the 2008 preseason, and had only 29 yards on 12 carries in the first three games. He was unable to turn the corner against the Giants in the third preseason game, and maybe he would be better suited to run between the tackles at this stage of his career. Washington averaged only 3.6 yards per carry through the first 11 games last season but finished at 5.0 after a late-season burst. He looked even more explosive in summer practices, and the Jets need to find ways to get him the ball in space more often on offense. In 2007, the Jets tried to use tight ends as H-backs, instead of a conventional fullback, last season, but it didn't work. Enter free agent Richardson, who still is a big-time blocker at age 36 and also is flexible enough to catch an occasional pass. Chatman, formerly of the Dolphins, is a change-of-pace guy who was slowed somewhat early in camp by a rib injury that cost him some time. Caulcrick also is vying to be Richardson's backup, but he committed two penalties against the Giants in the third preseason game.

TIGHT ENDS/H-BACKS: Starter -- Bubba Franks. Backups -- Chris Baker, Dustin Keller, Jason Pociask.

This figures to be a key position now that the Jets have acquired Favre. The former Packer likes to throw to his tight ends, and Franks was a favorite target of his in Green Bay earlier this decade, although his production has dropped in recent years. Baker is unhappy with his current contract but the Jets played hardball by putting him on the PUP list with a back injury at the beginning of camp. It took 11 days for him to get back on the field. Both Baker and Franks have been starting in the preseason as the Jets have been opening the game in two-tight end formations, and all of them figure to get work in Favre's passing game. Baker is a crisp route-runner who probably has the best hands on the team, as evidenced by his many excellent one-hand and fingertip grabs. He still was needed to help block on passing downs sometimes and would've had even more than his career-high 41 receptions last seaso=

n otherwise. Franks still is effective in the red zone although he had problems with some drops early in camp before Favre arrived. Keller, a first-round pick from Purdue, showed this summer he has the speed to stretch defenses vertically as a receiver, but he needs to work on his blocking. Pociask is a good blocker who has yet to prove himself as a receiver. Eric Mangini has indicated he expects all four to be on the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- FL Jerricho Cotchery, SE Laveranues Coles. Backups -- Brad Smith, Chansi Stuckey, Wallace Wright, Marcus Henry, David Clowney.

Coles' 55 receptions in 2007 were his fewest since his rookie season in 2000, but he was beset with both a concussion and a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for four games, and he missed all but a few plays of two other contests because of the ankle. A different leg injury (possibly a hamstring) has forced him to sit out the first three preseason games this year, and he also must deal with not having close friend Chad Pennington around anymore. With Coles having trouble staying on the practice field, Cotchery seems to be developing into Favre's favorite target among the wideouts. He isn't a speedster but is fast enough to get downfield and figures to be a vertical target for Favre. Smith's route-running improved in 2007, and the former quarterback seems to be developing the ability to make the tough catch, something he had trouble doing last season. Stuckey has bounced back from a recurrence of the foot problems that plagued him at Clemson, and it appears he will be the fourth receiver. He combines great hands and good route-running. Rookie Marcus Henry, a sixth-round pick from Kansas, was injured early in camp but has come on since. Wright, an ace special-teamer, seemed on the verge of not making the team until Clowney suffered a collarbone injury that will sideline him indefinitely. Clowney had impressed with his ability to catch the deep ball.

OFFENSIVE LINE Starters -- LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, LG Alan Faneca, C Nick Mangold, RG Brandon Moore, RT Damien Woody. Backups -- C/G Will Montgomery, G/C Robert Turner, T Jacob Bender, T Wayne Hunter, T Nate Garner.

The Jets spent a total of $65 million over five years in free-agent signings to rebuild their offensive line, a major weakness in 2007. The Jets signed seven-time Pro Bowler Faneca as a free agent to a five-year, $40 million deal, and he already has become a leader in the locker room and a mentor to the younger offensive linemen. Ferguson had his moments in 2007, but has yet to develop into the shutdown left tackle the Jets expected when they drafted him fourth overall in 2006. However, he looks more chiseled than ever and had a solid off-season and a strong training camp. Mangold had a decent 2007, but slipped slightly from his rookie season, possibly because he had to do more in the absence of Kendall. Both figure to benefit from flanking Faneca. On the right side, Moore has been solid as usual in the summer, but Woody has had problems with false starts in practice. Woody has been a guard much of his career, but started the last five games of the 2007 campaign at right tackle for the Lions before signing a five-year, $25 million deal with the Jets. The line has done a decent job in pass protection this preseason but still hasn't provided many holes for the running backs. Almost all of the backups are very inexperienced and the Jets seem to have depth problems here.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Shaun Ellis, NT Kris Jenkins, RE Kenyon Coleman. Backups -- E Mike DeVito, E C.J. Mosley, NT Sione Pouha, E Kareem Brown.

Jenkins, a three-time Pro Bowler as a 4-3 defensive tackle for Carolina, seems to have made a smooth transition to a 3-4 nose, as he has been occupying two blockers on a regular basis during preseason, something undersized predecessor Dewayne Robertson, now with Denver, couldn't do. At 6-4 and 359 pounds, Jenkins has the size for the role and he also has shown the desire. The Jets overpaid for Coleman when they signed the former Cowboy as a free agent last March, but he played fairly well and fits the 3-4 system. Ellis was better as a 4-3 end in the previous system, although he tied for the team lead in sacks with five in 2007 and sometimes played OLB during the latter part of the season. But he missed the first three preseason games with a fractured right hand, although coach Eric Mangini expects him to be ready for opening day. Mosley played well in spurts last year and figures to be a bigger part of the D-line rotation in 2008. Pouha came on during the second half of the 2007 campaign and will back up Jenkins. He is especially effective in goal-line and short-yardage situations. Second-year players DeVito and Brown, a New England castoff, need more seasoning, although both showed flashes during the preseason.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Bryan Thomas, ILB Eric Barton, ILB David Harris, OLB Calvin Pace. Backups -- OLB Vernon Gholston, OLB Matt Chatham, ILB =

David Bowens, OLB Marques Murrell, OLB Cody Spencer.

Barton and Harris are a solid tandem in the middle. Harris wowed people after stepping in as a starter in the eighth game last season after the since-traded Jonathan Vilma went down with a season-ending injury, and he tied for the team lead in sacks with five while also being stout against the run. Barton was steady and was second on the team in tackles behind Harris, and both have looked just as sharp this August. Thomas, who slumped in 2007, has played better in preseason as he realizes his job is on the line. Pace already has become entrenched at the other OLB spot, and is showing why the Jets gave him a six-year, $42 million contract in free agency. He can rush the passer but also can play the run and drop into coverage, and seems to be the quintessential 3-4 OLB. The Jets drafted Gholston with the sixth overall pick, but he is off to a slow start as he must make the transition from a 4-3 DE at Ohio State to a 3-4 OLB with the Jets. That switch wasn't helped by the fact that Gholston missed most of spring practice because of an NFL and NCAA rule preventing players from reporting full-time to their teams until their school's semester has ended. Bowens was a good situational pass-rusher in the second half of the 2007 campaign and has moved inside, where he has been effective in camp and in preseason games. ILB Brad Kassell (knee) is on injured reserve, which will hurt the rotation and the special-teams units, as he was a standout there. Chatham seems more mobile than he was last season, when he missed the first seven games after off-season foot surgery. Spencer, a special-teams ace, returned and his looked sharp after being sidelined by an undisclosed illness last season. Murrell has potential as a pass-rusher and showed flashes of that during the preseason.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Darrelle Revis, RCB Justin Miller, FS Eric Smith, SS Kerry Rhodes. Backups - CB/S David Barrett, CB Dwight Lowery, CB Drew Coleman, FS Abram Elam, CB Hank Poteat, CB Ahmad Carroll, CB James Ihedigbo.

Revis started every game as a rookie last year and already is a star in waiting. His three picks were second on the team to Rhodes' five, and he has big-time coverage skills. He's also good in run support. Rhodes, the best playmaker on the Jets' defense, was turned loose in the second half of the 2007 season and was signed to a lucrative contract extension during the offseason. He has become the leader of the defense after the Jets traded his close friend Vilma to New Orleans last winter. Rhodes can cover and make plays on the ball and also can wreak havoc while blitzing. Poteat finished the season as the starter at RCB but wasn't re-signed by the Jets until May and appears to be a little further down the depth chart. Miller, who missed all but two games last season with a knee injury, could miss opening day with an injured toe on his left foot. He appeared to be the front-runner to start at RCB opposite Revis. Elam, signed in Sept. 2007 after being released by Dallas, won the FS job over the since-departed Erik Coleman but appears to have lost it to Smith, who has been starting during the preseason. Smith is a good ballhawk but needs to become a surer tackler. Elam is a good tackler, but he must channel his aggressiveness. Lowery, a fourth-round pick from San Jose State, is a ballhawk who already has impressed the Jets' coaches with his mental approach to the game. He also could start at RCB, sooner rather than later. Barrett is another candidate at that position, although he has worked some at S during camp. Carroll, a first-round pick of Green Bay in 2004, was signed in July as a street free agent and had a pretty good camp. He also can return kickoffs.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Mike Nugent, P Ben Graham, LS James Dearth, KR Leon Washington, PR Leon Washington.

Nugent had another very solid season in 2007, connecting on 26 of his last 28 field-goal attempts inside 50 yards. He also got more distance on his kickoffs, notching nine touchbacks, but was only 1-for-4 from 50 yards and beyond on field goals. He missed a 23-yarder in a preseason game and admitted he needs to focus a little better sometimes. Graham held off challenges from free agents Jeremy Kapinos and Joe Smith in the spring and summer, but needs to avoid the costly shanks he had at inopportune times last season. Dearth was almost automatic on snaps in 2007, as usual, although one bad one against Philadelphia led to a miss from 44 yards by Nugent. He's made the preseason snaps despite being slightly limited by a nagging left leg injury. Washington took over kickoff returns after Justin Miller's season-ending injury last year and seemed headed for the Pro Bowl, where Miller went in 2006. But Washington, who had three returns for touchdowns, tailed off in the second half as teams began adjusting kickoffs to neutralize his returns. He was unspectacular on punt returns, however. It will be interesting to see how the Jets' special teams fare with Kevin O'Dea as the coordinator, taking over for well-respected Mike Westhoff, who resigned for medical reasons after the 2007 season finale. According to sources, Westhoff could be back on staff before the season opener.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: August 28, 2008

Chris Baker Name: Chris Baker
Position: TE
Age: 28
Experience: 7 years
College: Michigan State
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