With training camp now just days away, the New York Jets prepare for a whirlwind of a time. Here are the top storylines heading in.
On Wednesday, July 27, it will officially be time.
Time to get the party started at New York Jets training camp. Time for all who wear the green and white to not only get ready for their 12 opponents slated on the 2016 schedule, but to battle one another for the right to earn a lofty yet hard-hitting living.
Admittedly, NFL Training Camps are nothing compared to days of old. Decades ago, the term “training camp” actually meant something. It meant a month worth of slobber-knocking while wearing pounds of equipment during the hottest month of the season.
It was pure hell.
Nowadays, things have changed. Not that teams now employ actual ballerinas out there on the gridiron, but contact is kept to an absolute minimum. Coaches and personnel decision makers put pieces to the already preconceived puzzle rather than allowing one underdog to physically supplant a veteran.
Still, the storylines exist.
Which veterans will be cut? Which rookies will surprise? Which free agents can shock the hell out of the coaching staff and climb the depth chart to relevancy?
All of those questions and more apply to the 2016 New York Jets. And when we say “more,” we mean it.
Here are the top storylines for Gang Green heading into next week’s training camp:
Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg Battle It Out
One, two, three…four. That’s a lot of quarterbacks.
Four isn’t just a big number, it’s a scary number of QBs to keep on a roster in this NFL – one that only allows 46 active players on Sundays and 53 in total.
Therefore, if Ryan Fitzpatrick does find his way to Florham Park, New Jersey at any point this summer, there is one guy who’ll find the need to be extremely nervous.
His name is Bryce Petty.
Geno Smith and Christian Hackenberg aren’t going anywhere. Geno has proven his worth as a top two QB, while Hackenberg is a second-round rookie. Petty’s progress, or lack thereof this summer, will mean a lot to his future with the Jets if Fitz finds his way onto the team.
Some think Mike Maccagnan could play a bold game and keep four quarterbacks going into Week 1, but let’s be honest, it’s a rarity these days.
Big Mo’s Recovery
Oh yeah, Muhammad Wilkerson is back. The problem is, he might not be better than ever.
The only reason the now $86 million richer Jet might not be better than ever, strictly comes down to the broken leg he suffered during the Orchard Park disaster.
He’s now running, as clearly evidenced in a video published recently. It was also reported that he’ll more than likely start training camp on the PUP list.
The point is: Keep tabs on Big Mo’s progress starting next Wednesday.
Jace Amaro Reclaiming His Potential
Jace Amaro’s rookie campaign was alright. His 14 games, 38 receptions, 345 yards and two touchdowns were nothing to wright home about. Like we said, it was “alright.”
The issue for the early round tight end came in 2015, not 2014. Unfortunately, he missed the entire season due to injury.
Not having the luxury of a solid receiving threat at the position, Chan Gailey adjusted and responded by utilizing big bodied Quincy Enunwa and an abundance of four wide receiver sets.
How Amaro infuses himself back into the lineup and how it’ll shake out with New York’s third wide out is a huge spot to check on in the coming weeks.
Forte, Powell Ratio
There’s a new workhorse in town. He goes by the name of Matt Forte, a two-time Pro Bowler who catches the ball as well as he runs it.
What’s beneficial for this squad, however, is that Bilal Powell is still employed. Even more substantial is the mere notion that Powell is a direct clone of Forte.
Both guys essentially have the same skillset. No longer can defenses focus on the run when Chris Ivory is in the game. No longer will Gailey’s offensive personnel reveal major hints about the pass/run pre-snap.
Figure the mix to be somewhere around 60/40 in favor of Forte, but it’s something to watch out for thanks to Powell’s extremely strong 2015. Each back can play in any offensive situation – a luxury Gailey didn’t possess a season ago.
3rd Wide Receiver, Return Game
But what about this young Jalin Marshall everybody’s been hearing of?
Yes, Jalin Marshall. The undrafted rookie out of Ohio State who more closely resembles a smallish running back has knocked the socks off everybody at Jet minicamp. While the topflight speed isn’t there, Marshall’s explosiveness and versatility could take this offense to the next level (considering the QB and OL situations are in order).
We still don’t know when Devin Smith will be ready to go (recovering from a torn ACL). Look for Enunwa and Marshall to be tabbed the third and fourth receivers, with Marshall also winning the return game duties in favor of veteran Jeremy Ross.
The Giacomini Game, Clady’s Health
Make no mistake about it, this offensive line is horrifically scary. Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Matt Forte…hell, even Emmitt Smith can’t do their thing if the offensive line in front of them is weak.
With D’Brickashaw Ferguson riding into the sunset, the Jets didn’t lose much. His play actually ranked near the bottom as it pertained to starting NFL tackles a season ago. For the Jets to capitalize on Brick’s retirement, though, Ryan Clady will have to stay healthy. Should Clady stay healthy, he, James Carpenter and Nick Mangold construct a formidable middle-to-left side.
The right side is an entirely different story.
RELATED: Ranking Jets Veteran Cap Casualties
Brian Winters at right guard will be playing for his NFL future this season and veteran Breno Giacomini will be looking over his shoulder at rookie Brandon Shell. And more importantly, he’ll be looking because his hefty $5.625 million cap hit is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to clearing space.
Depending on who you listen to, the Jets have anywhere from $5.7 to $8.7 million in cap space at the moment.
It is conceivable to think Mikey Mac could fit Fitzpatrick in even at his $12 million per year demand. But if somebody big needs to go, Giacomini could be the guy. And if Shell shines, Giacomini might as well pack his bags early.
The Manimal’s Progress
With the 20th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the New York Jets selected Darron Lee, a smallish linebacker out of Ohio State.
The guy didn’t get tagged with the nickname of The Manimal for nothing. He’s a scary football player. His speed mixed with his ferocity makes him one hell of a new-age linebacker talent.
The only question will come down to his fit into a base scheme at this level.
Keeping an eye on how Lee handles base situations will be key. We know he’s going to lead the LB grouping in sub situations – thankfully removing the pass defense challenged David Harris from the field – but can he fit into a 3-4 at his size?
Folk Or No Folk?
Speaking of potential veteran cap casualties, Breno Giacomini isn’t the only name on the radar.
Believe it or not, Nick Folk is as well.
Because Folk’s cap hit is $3.34 million this season, the Jets would save a pretty solid $2.75 if released. That pretty penny mixed with the current cap space of $8 million-plus could be just the right mix to get Fitz back in the locker room.
It will all come down to 23-year old undrafted rookie free agent placekicker Ross Martin. There’s a serious reason Maccagnan was so swift to add Martin to the roster post-draft. He understands Folk is coming off an injury plagued campaign. He also understands the cap space at stake.
Odds are Folk will look fine during the preseason and he’ll be kicking for the Jets in 2016. Don’t sleep on the competition though. It’s real this time around.
The Base Defense Look
If you’re a regular reader of ESNY, you understand this topic has been brought up time and time again.
Although Todd Bowles is a 3-4 defensive mind on paper, he prides himself as a versatile defensive front coordinator. We’ve seen it everywhere he’s gone, especially with the Arizona Cardinals.
Thus, it makes all the sense in the world that the Jets will be playing a ton of 4-3 this season. It makes sense from a Darron Lee perspective (as he’d fit a WILL spot much more efficiently at his size). It also makes sense to fit all three defensive line studs into the base at the same time (Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams).
Last year we saw it frequently in the sub package. Big Mo would slide to the edge and allow Sheldon and Leonard to work the interior. This same concept can be used in a base:
When a 3-4 is showcased, one of the three is forced to sit out (unless Wilkerson could find a way to play nose tackle).
The logical choice is that Bowles will explore both the 3-4 and 4-3 – as he usually does – but watch out for a standard 4-3 if things work seamlessly in camp.
Will Fitz Walk Through The Doors?
Ah yes, the question of the day.
Did I say day? Sorry, I meant offseason. Actually, I meant year.
To think we’re at this point in the calendar season and the New York Jets are still without their quarterback, the guy who broke the franchise record for touchdowns in a season with 31, is simply incredible.
To think Ryan Fitzpatrick is still unsigned after he led the Jets to their most prolific offensive season in history, is simply mind-boggling.
But it’s true, and it’s true because Fitz wants NFL starting quarterback money and the Jets don’t think he can duplicate that crazy 2015.
At this point there isn’t much else to say. Some believe in Geno Smith, most don’t. Whether the Jets do or not, remains to be seen.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the storyline as we head into the 2016 training camp of the NFL New York Jets. The quarterback is that important in today’s National Football League.