CORTLAND, NY– The New York Jets are finishing up their first week of training camp and you get the sense the team is trying to make a clean break from last year’s disappointing 8-8 record. Training camp is a time of hopefulness and possibility for all teams but the Jets in particular are striking a different tone from previous camps. There is no HBO Hard Knocks crew following the team around, no over-the-top Super Bowl predictions. Much like their head coach, the Jets appear to have shed a few unnecessary pounds and recommitted themselves to football. That being said, the New York Football Jets remain one of the more fascinating teams in the league with plenty of story lines to keep their beat writers notepads full. Here are the top 5 stories, in no particular order, coming out of Jets minicamp.
1. TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW!
Whether the Jets like it or not, this is going to be a story all year. Tim Tebow is a polarizing figure for football reasons and reasons having nothing to do with football. With what happened in Denver, he was unquestionably one of the biggest stories in the game last year. He has legions of fans chanting his name during practice and there are more #15 jerseys being wore by fans at camp than any other. Hardly a typical backup quarterback’s kind of following. What’s more, Tebow, Sanchez, and Ryan are asked about the starting quarterback position in virtually every interview they give. “Mark is our quarterback” has become a mantra. The Jets have backed that up by restructuring and extending Sanchez’s contract, making it a 58.25MM/5 year deal. He has taken almost all the snaps during the first string reps and is throwing the ball really well. The team is clearly committed to him at QB. But, if there are chants for Tebow in Cortland, NY in July, you can imagine that if Sanchez struggles (coming off of a subpar year in 2011) those chants may be a little louder in New Meadowland and a little harder to ignore.
2. Competition and Depth
While there may be a trumped up position controversy at quarterback, there are some honest to goodness competitions for roles on this team. Most notably, the right tackle position seems to be up for grabs. Wayne Hunter is coming off a forgettable season last year (8.5 sacks allowed, 11 penaities) so the team went out and traded for Jeff Otah, acquiring him from Carolina for an undisclosed draft pick on June 23rd. However, Otah has failed his physical (on which the trade was contingent) so the Jets may be looking for another trade partner while not entirely giving up on Hunter, hoping that right tackle can become a position of strength and depth instead of the problem area it was last year.
With the retirement of LaDainian Tomlinson, the Jets are in need of a reliable third down running back. The general consensus going into camp was that the job was Joe McKnight’s to lose, but Bilal Powell has been playing very well in camp and may play his way into the third down role. McKnight hasn’t played poorly and is still valuable as a special teams player because of his exceptional speed. Powell has just shown some flashes of the player the Jets thought they were drafting in 2011, particularly with his ability to catch the ball.
There are some issues with depth at wide receiver. Obviously Santonio Holmes is going to have to play a variety of roles. He’s a talented and experienced enough receiver to do that. The most intriguing wide receiver option is rookie Stephen Hill. Hill, a second round draft pick out of Georgia Tech, seems to be emerging has a deep threat receiver. The rookie has looked fast and strong (6’4’’, 4.30 40), making an impressive catch over Darrelle Revis, however Hill still looks very raw and it remains to be seen if he can be consistent in an NFL offense. If he can, he’ll go a long way in spreading defenses and opening the field for the running game.
Another area of concern is backup center. After Eric Mangold went down last season with an ankle injury the offensive line never played the same. The Jets would do well to have a competent backup to avoid last year’s woes.
3. Team Chemistry
Winning cures almost everything, but losing makes things worse. Missing the playoffs last year clearly contributed to a locker room that had been described as fractured by many media outlets. The response to this so far has been an emphasis on trust. Santonio Holmes, who was at the center of much of the locker room controversies last season, said that fostering and repairing the bond with Mark Sanchez is about, “building trust. If he can trust me, that I’m going to be where I’m supposed to be, I’m going to do what I say I’m going to do and he’s going to feel comfortable about it. I think the connection can only get better from this point on.” The sense here was that trust broke down towards the end of last season; however, with the return to Cortland and a “back to basics” approach preached by Ryan trust seems to be on the rise, along with optimism about the coming season.
4. Revis’ Contract
No man is an island. For all the noise surrounding Darrelle Revis and his contract situation, Revis has been a shining example this camp on how the handle a contract dispute. He reported to camp on time in great shape and ready to play. Revis has made in know through his agent and through the media that he thinks he is vastly underpaid (he is), that he wishes to remain a Jet for his whole career (he does), and that his “band aid” contract should be restructured (it should). He did not hold out and is here putting his faith that upper management will to the right thing and pay him according to his contribution to the team. If this gets resolved during camp, a situation that seems unlikely, it could continue to be a story throughout the regular season when the focus should be on next week, not the next 3 or 4 years.
5. Tony Sparano and the New Offense
A Wildcat is coming to New York. There is a feeling here that along with a return to the “ground and pound” that for so long has come to define the Jet’s offense, there will be some unexpected and unorthodox plays added to the playbook. Sparano is bringing the Wildcat as an offensive tool to the Jets and his not-so-secret secret weapon, Tim Tebow, might be the perfect instrument to run it. In Miami the Wildcat was centered around running back Ronnie Brown. As much maligned as Tebow’s throwing has been, he is a vastly superior thrower than Brown. This, coupled with the fact that Tebow is highly mobile and difficult to tackle, should force defenses to respect his arm enough to make the Wildcat more effective with Tebow.
The Jets are nothing if not interesting and this season should be no different.
By David Benson