Camp Countdown '09: Cornerbacks
If there was one bright spot in the 2008 pass defense it was the continued development of Darrelle Revis, who made the pro bowl in just his second year in the NFL. Revis was a blanket in 2008 lining up on the oppositions best player and limiting him to just a few looks. Revis’ interception totals were up despite being thrown on less and he began showing much better instincts as the year went on. Revis looks poised to be one of the top cover corners in the NFL and the Jets will need him to be that this year based on their schedule. Revis will have to match up against Randy Moss and Terrell Owens twice as well as Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Antonio Bryant and Chad Ochocinco. That is a great deal of pro bowl talent.
The bright spots ended with Revis for the Jets as the secondary was brutalized, giving up a ridiculous amount of receptions underneath for a huge number of first downs and touchdowns. Needless to say the Jets were active in finding players to take over the 2nd and 3rd corner positions on the depth chart. The Jets made a low risk trade bringing in Lito Sheppard from Philadelphia, a former pro bowler with a knack for making plays in the past. He has the potential to be the type of impact presence Rex Ryan likes. That said, the team isn’t going to hand the job to Sheppard. Sheppard is often a feast or famine player and the last two years has been much more famine. Sheppard was routinely beat in Philadelphia to the point where he no longer was a starter and reports were he had some problems playing second fiddle to Asante Samuel. With Revis on board Sheppard could be in the same situation in New York. Sheppard also has a major injury history, having only completed 16 games twice in his career, one of which was 2008 where he did not play often. The team will be lucky to get 12 games out of Sheppard in 2009.
Sheppard’s primary competition should come from 2nd year pro Dwight Lowery. Lowery started the year strong for the Jets, breaking up a key pass in the first game of the season against Miami, but faded away as the season wore on. Lowery does not have good speed and teams routinely targeted him week in and week out. The Jets eventually replaced him with Ty Law in hopes of repairing the secondary. Lowery has a good head for the football, but may not have the athleticism to play corner at least on a full time basis. He should see a significant amount of playing time in 2009. Donald Strickland was signed out of San Francisco as an insurance policy specifically to slide into the 3rd corner role once Sheppard eventually goes down with an injury. Strickland does not do much well, but he at least would be considered competent. The final spot should come down between Ahmad Carroll and Drew Coleman. Carroll is a former first round pick of the Packers who never grew into a quality corner, but could be called on in a pinch for the Jets in a reserve role. Last season he played very well on the Jets special teams which will help his case. Coleman is in his fourth, and likely final. year with Gang Green. Coleman shows almost no ability on the field to contribute. Also in camp are Marquice Cole and Rashad Barksdale, both of whom look like extreme longshots to make it.
Everyone knows that Revis is good, but the question is did the team do enough to repair the rest of the secondary? Against a team like New England, probably not, but the Jets should have done enough to keep from getting torn apart by the lower level passing offenses like the Oakland Raiders, something they could not do last season. If Sheppard, who is playing for a contract, can somehow stay healthy for 16 games and dial up his performance the corner play could end up being surprising in 2009. If not the Jets are going to have to get by on defensive smarts and a pass rush that covers for the inability of the team to cover down the field. Most likely that is what the coaching staff is planning on.