Brandon Copeland, Jachai Polite
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo
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The New York Jets don’t have many high profile battles, but there are still some that will impact the team going forward.

Finally, a year has arrived in which the New York Jets don’t have a to worry about who will be the starting quarterback in Week 1. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that this year’s training camp is without its fair share of battles, though.

This team has a few starting spots up for grabs and some special teams spots. The Jets still have to figure out who will fill quite a few holes. Training camp is going to be busy again this year.

Cornerback No. 2

The most high-profile battle in this year’s camp is the one at cornerback. The Jets need to figure out who is going to start opposite of Trumaine Johnson this year. Last year’s starter, Morris Claiborne, is not with the team this year, though he remains a free agent, and that means there’s a spot up for grabs.

The player most likely to take this spot is Darryl Roberts, who filled in for Johnson when he was hurt last year. He played well in his short stint at cornerback last year, before a disastrous run at safety to end the season. Former Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan gave Roberts a brand new three-year $18 million contract this offseason, which has led many to believe that he will be a starter this year.

However, the contract only has $4 million guaranteed, meaning the Jets can cut Roberts without issue after this season. Plus, the current regime has no attachment to the 29-year-old. While Roberts might be the favorite, don’t be surprised if he loses out to a younger player.

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Three players stand out as possibly being able to compete with Roberts. The first is former sixth-round pick, Derrick Jones. He was a training camp and preseason standout last year. Despite that, he rarely suited up for Todd Bowles’ defense. Jones finally got on the field for the first time in Week 17 last year against the Patriots. He was incredibly impressive in that game and graded out as one of the best cornerbacks in all of football that week according to Pro Football Focus. Jones is now entering his third year, and he has something to prove watch out for him to impress and possibly take that starting spot away from Roberts.

The second player is the Jets’ sixth-round pick from this year, Bless Austin. The former Rutgers man tore his ACL in each of his last two seasons. That being said, his athleticism and potential were too much for the Jets to pass on with their final pick in this year’s draft. Bless was cleared for football activities recently, meaning he could figure into this battle. That said many scouts thought that if Austin was healthy this past year he would have been a day two pick. If he can live up to that potential, he might shock the league and win a starting job.

The final player who has a chance is undrafted free agent Kyron Brown from Akron. Brown has been impressive in his short time with the team. In OTAs and minicamp, he was already playing with the second string players like Derrick Jones. He was one of the most impressive players on the field according to some reports.

Jones intercepted both Trevor Siemian and Davis Webb in practices and he was the only player to do so. Every year there are undrafted free agents who break out and make a name for themselves in the NFL, and Brown has a chance to be one of those guys this year. This is not the best crowd of corners in the league, and that gives Brown a real chance. If you’re looking for any UDFAs to surprise you in the coming weeks, then watch out for Kyron Brown.

EDGE

The Jets haven’t had a decent edge pass rusher in years. The last Jets edge rusher to have double-digit sacks was Calvin Pace. It seems like the Jets have a battle at this position every year because of their inability to fill this need. The team is likely set on the strong side with Jordan Jenkins, who will retain his sport from last season. Jenkins had a breakout seven-sack season last year but had maybe his worst season overall. Despite the increase in sacks, Jenkins had his worst year setting the edge and stopping the run. Hopefully, Jenkins can rediscover his ability as a run-stopper while keeping his newfound ability to get to the quarterback. This is a contract year for Jenkins, so he should be extra motivated.

The real competition is going to be opposite of Jenkins on the weak side. There are only two competitors for this spot. The first is the returning starter, Brandon Copeland. The Jets tried to replace Cope this offseason but came up short when Anthony Barr abandoned them and returned to the Vikings.

Left with little choice at that point, the Jets opted to bring him back. Copeland had a decent season last year, notching five sacks and performing adequately in coverage. That said, he’s best used in a rotational role, and shouldn’t be seeing starter snaps. He’s simply not good enough for that role.

His only competition is this year’s third-round pick from the University of Florida, Jachai Polite. The former Gator was a first-round talent who fell to the third round due to one of the worst pre-draft processes in recent memory.

Head coach Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams took notice and are making Polite earn his snaps. He came into OTAs and minicamp working with the third team, which is mostly made up of players just hoping to make the practice squad. It wasn’t until the end of minicamp that Polite finally saw reps with the second team.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Jets handle Polite this summer. He is the most talented edge rusher the team has had in a long time. If he can squash any concerns about his attitude and effort, then there’s no reason why Polite couldn’t take over for Copeland as early as Week 1. Still, Gregg Williams is known for being a hard-nosed, no-nonsense leader, and it’s yet to be seen how Polite will respond to that kind of coaching.

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Tight End

Chris Herndon is the Jets’ starting tight end, there is no question about that. The issue is that Herndon has been suspended for the first four games this year. The Jets have to figure out who is going to step up and replace Herndon for that stretch.

There are four possible replacements, and none of them are all that exciting. The first is the returning tight end, Eric Tomlinson. Tomlinson is nothing special in any area of the game. He struggles in both pass and run blocking despite that being his specialty.

He is a black hole in the passing game due to his inability to get yards after the catch. He only has 16 catches in his whole career. The only area of the game Tomlinson excels is on special team, where he led the team in break out blocks last year, meaning he was the one who made the block that allowed Andre Roberts to get a big kick return. If Tomlinson is seeing extended time on offense, the team is in trouble.

The next candidate is free agent pick up from the Chicago Bears, Daniel Brown. Brown is a former college wide receiver who transitioned to tight end when he came into the league. Brown has spent most of his career on special teams and has become a decent blocker because of it. Many regard him as a blocking-only type, seeming to forget that he used to be a wide receiver.

Brown was reportedly impressive during OTAs and minicamp this year, even seeing first-team snaps. Brown had seen an increased role on offense in 2017 with the Bears making 13 receptions as their primary blocking tight end, but was relegated to special teams in 2018 after they signed Trey Burton. Brown has shown that when given the chance he is a capable blocking tight end who can catch the football, which is more than can be said for Tomlinson.

New York Jets

The third is this year’s fourth-round draft pick, West Virginia’s Trevon Wesco. Like Brown and Tomlinson, Wesco’s best talent is his ability to block. He was an excellent in-line blocker at West Virginia and many scouts thought that he had the ability to be an excellent blocking tight end in the league, but nothing more.

However, some felt the offense at West Virginia limited Wesco and he has a good deal of receiving ability. If nothing else, Wesco showed the ability to secure yards after the catch in school, and that’s a great trait for any pass-catcher to have. Out of all the blocking tight end options, no one has the potential as a receiver that Wesco does. That alone might win Wesco this job.

The last option is former Houston Texans tight end, Ryan Griffin. The newly-signed Griffin immediately became the favorite to replace Herndon after signing. Griffin is easily the most accomplished player in this group. He is the only one of them whose had a season with more than 150 yards receiving, and he’s done that in five of his six years in the league.

In his last three years, Griffin has averaged 301.6 yards per season, and that includes a season in which he only played seven games due to injury. Griffin isn’t a great option, but he is far and away better than any other option at this point. If he doesn’t win the job, it would be a major upset.

Backup Quarterback

The Jets may not be looking for a starting quarterback this offseason, but there is a battle for the backup job. Trevor Siemian signed with the Jets early in free agency and was assumed to be a shoo-in to be Sam’s backup. It made sense too due to his history. Siemian has two seasons as a starter under his belt, including one playoff appearance in 2016. He made perfect sense as the backup, but things don’t always go as planned.

Davis Webb has seemingly passed Siemian in this race. After starting OTAs and minicamp as the clear third-stringer, Webb impressed Gase. He impressed him so much in fact, that Webb had become the second quarterback in the rotation by the end of minicamp.

Webb has never played a snap in the regular season at this point in his career. That said, he is a former third-round pick and has a cannon for an arm. The question has always been about his accuracy. If he can figure it out than the Jets could have a surprisingly good young quarterback room all of a sudden. There’s also the fact the Jets reportedly only want to keep two passers on the roster.

Siemian is owed $2 million if the Jets cut him. Webb, on the other hand, is owed nothing due to the fact he signed a futures contract. if things are close, that money might make the choice an easy one for general manager Joe Douglas. This may not be the most high-profile battle in camp, but it is certainly an interesting one that could have major implications if Darnold goes down for any length of time this year.

Returner

All-pro returner Andre Roberts left for Buffalo this offseason, leaving the Jets to replace him. The team has two different return battles ongoing. The first is the kick return battle, which is between Trenton Cannon and Ty Montgomery. The other is the punt return battle, which is between Quadree Henderson, JJ Jones, and Greg Dortch.

Ty Montgomery is heavily favored to win the kick return job. He has handled kick return duties every single season he’s been in the league. It is a familiar role for him, and there he’s been good at it for the most part. He’s no all-pro returner, but neither was Roberts until he worked with Brant Boyer last year.

Cannon struggled as a returner last year despite the Jets trying to hand him the return job on a silver platter. He failed to take it, but he’s back this year to try again. It’s not likely to happen though as Cannon is just not a good returner despite his speed. It’s more likely that Cannon finds himself back as a gunner where he excelled at the end of last season.

The punt return battle is much harder to predict. Quadree Henderson is the favorite right now, but that could change very quickly. Henderson was one of the best returners in the NCAA during his time at Pittsburgh. He went undrafted last season and signed on with the Giants where he got some run as a punt returner mid-season. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that after sitting out all season, Henderson struggled to find much success returning punts last season.

Still, he’s an electric returner and given the opportunity to stay with one team and one special teams coach the whole year, he has a chance to excel. That’s why he was the first return specialist the Jets brought in after last season. They wanted to make sure they got a look at him to replace Andre Roberts.

JJ Jones came to the Jets at the end of last season after playing for the Chargers for a short while. Another UDFA from last season, Jones also struggled to find success as a return man. He isn’t as electric as Henderson, but he did find success st West Georgia. The fact Jones hasn’t found success against high-level competition is a concern. The Jets kept him around to see what he could do, but he is likely third in this race until he proves otherwise.

The final returner is Greg Dortch. Dortch is yet another UDFA, but he comes with a pedigree as a wide receiver. Dortch was Wake Forest’s number one receiver and had an excellent college career. His biggest issue is his size, standing at 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds. Dortch is fast and shifty, not to the point Henderson is, but still enough to be electric in the open field. Dortch also found success as a returner at Wake Forrest, but that was never his main skill.

The Jets likely only want to keep so many wide receivers on the roster, and if Dortch can keep this competition close while proving that he has potential on offense as well, he could win this job running away. He has to keep up with Henderson as a returner before that can happen though.

Punter

When Adam Gase took over as interim GM from Mike Maccagnan, his first move was to add a punter. He brought in his old punter from Miami Matt Darr to compete with Lac Edwards. This was a surprising move at the time for a few reasons. One is that Lac Edwards is arguably a top ten punter in the league and there doesn’t seem like a need for a competition. The second is that Lac Edwards was handpicked by special teams coach Brant Boyer, who told the team to draft him in 2016. the last reason is that Gase cut Darr after 2016, and he’s only played in five games since.

Lac Edwards is in a contract year and is fighting to secure a long-term contract, which he’s earned with his play to this point. Gase likely brought in Darr to fight it out with Lac to make him earn that spot.

Teams hate paying special teams players, and the Jets are a great example. The Jets haven’t given a long term extension to a special teams player in a long time. Even Nick Folk signed four consecutive one-year deals. It’s possible the Jets are looking for a way to not have to pay Lac.

If this is a real battle, then don’t expect Lac to lose. He is statistically the best punter the Jets have ever had. Expect him to be the punter this year unless something completely unexpected happens.

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