Camp Countdown '10: Secondary
If there was one standout performance last season it came from the Jets secondary, who effectively shut down every passing attack they faced other than that of the Indianapolis Colts. Clearly the biggest contributor towards the play of the secondary was CB Darrelle Revis. Revis was all world in 2009 and had what many would consider the greatest season by a cornerback since the heyday of Deion Sanders. Revis was tested over and over by top of the line wideouts and was never beaten. Revis has the unique ability to go play man up on every teams number one all game long and receive almost no over the top support from the safeties. The biggest question looming over training camp will concern Revis and what his frame of mind will be as he is in the midst of a bitter contract dispute with the team. Should this affect his on the field performance? It is doubtful as he looks like the true elite type of player that is such a competitor that he wont let his level drop simply due to being unhappy with money, but if he has a poor showing at any point in time you can bet that the contract will be brought up as the reason.
What made Revis extra special last year is that his surrounding cast was poor. The Jets know that teams are going to be more likely to “believe the hype” surrounding Revis in 2010 and veer away from “Revis Island”, something no team did in 2009. Revis was tested over and over again in 2009 which let the likes of Lito Sheppard, Dwight Lowery, and Drew Coleman get somewhat of a free pass in most games. That would not have happened in 2010 and the Jets know teams went to work on the way Peyton Manning and his lower level receivers went to work on the Jets secondary and exposed everyone not named Revis. The solution was to bring in Antonio Cromartie from San Diego and draft another corner in the first round. Cromartie is a tremendously gifted athlete with good size for the position. He is just two years removed from a 10 interception season after which he was regarded as the next big corner to play in the NFL. Whether that went to his head or he was extremely discontent with schematic changes in San Diego he never played like that again and was below average in 2009. The Jets are hoping to catch lighting in a bottle by placing him as a number two in a scheme more well suited for his talents. It's worth watching him very closely in the preseason. The Jets had similar expectations for Sheppard and it was clear in the preseason that there was no hope of those expectations being met.
Kyle Wilson was drafted by the club at the end of the first round. There were many who felt Wilson was the best corner in the draft and he is going to get an opportunity to play in 2010. Wilson is a stellar athlete that projects to have the ability for true one on one coverage in the league. He has big play potential once he gets his hands on the football and should fit nicely in the defense. He will be starting out in the nickle, but if Cromartie fails could find himself seeing significant playing time for the team. Lowery and Coleman will both compete for playing time and the loser may find himself out of a Jets uniform. Lowery has better skills but does not really have the speed to play corner. He may get a look at safety this year, which could prove his best chance to see playing time. Coleman has never really developed into a contributor and often seems lost on the field. This will be his final opportunity to impress. The other corners competing for a position are Marquice Cole, Brian Jackson, and Bo Smith. Cole was with the team last year and did an adequate job on special teams. Jackson, an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma, has good size but is more likely to compete with the safeties for a spot. Smith is a CFL star that is a big longshot to make it.
The Safeties present an interesting battle in training camp. Jim Leonhard remains the one certainty at the position. Leonhard is a pesky defender that is undersized, but plays hard every down. He understand the ins and outs of the defense and is a decent help in pass coverage though he can get run over while playing the run. Along with Bart Scott he has been instrumental in transitioning the defense from the Mangini model to the Ryan model. The departure of Kerry Rhodes has left the other safety spot wide open. Rhodes was a solid player for the team at times, but he quickly fell into the doghouse, alienated his teammates, and now finds himself in Arizona. Everyone is going to have a chance to replace him. The two prime candidates look to be Eric Smith and Brodney Pool, both of whom have their warts. Smith is entering his fifth year with the team and was thrust into the starting role last year when Rhodes found his way to the bench. Smith is not a good pass defender and often is found somewhat out of position when given a direct coverage responsibility. He can lay an occasional big hit on a runner, but that is about as far as his game goes. Brodney Pool is a more complete player than Smith. He is decent in coverage and banqueter in run support, but Pool rarely plays 16 games and has a concussion history. Neither player has the ability to be a playmaker the way Rhodes did, but Pool should be able to come close to matching the way Rhodes played last season.
Also vying for a spot will be James Ihedigbo and Donovan Warren. Ihedigbo has been with the team for two seasons and is a big hitter. The Jets have tinkered with the idea of using him as a linebacker and he also has found a home on special teams. His biggest challenge may actually come from CB Smith, who will likely end up in the safety battle. Warren is a somewhat highly touted UDFA that looks to have a realistic chance to make the team in some capacity. Most thought Warren would be drafted by round 6 at the latest, but that never occurred so the Jets scooped him up. Warren is going to be converted from corner to safety and if he makes the conversion could be a player down the line.
Between the way the Jets play defense and the way they value special teams it is probably a good assumption that the team will carry at least 10 defensive backs. Revis, Cromartie, Wilson, Leonhard, Pool, and Smith all should be guaranteed to make the squad. Lowery and Cole should have the inside edge to remain in the rotation as well. With more uncertainty at the safety position Ihedigbo and Warren will likely be the remaining two players to make the team.
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Five safeties is a lot , but there is talent here,
Pool, Leonard, Ihedigbo and Smith, with Warren being your fifth Safety, a cover safety in D. Warren. I would be willing to deal Smith or Ihedigbo to a desperate suitor, but I'm greedy it would require a fourth. Obviously I believe that Pool will make it through the season.