Things to Look For During Training Camp
Normally every year I do a camp countdown for each position, but with the lockout basically leaving the team in limbo there was no chance to do that this season. Instead, with camp underway lets take a look at some of the bigger stories and battles going on in camp:
1. Will WR Jerricho Cotchery continue to decline?
Last year the Jets had visions of Cotchery playing the slot and putting up a tremendous season with Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards drawing so much attention. It never happened. Cotchery had 4 games as a starter early in the year and was terrible, looking nothing like the player that caught 1100 yards in 2007. Injuries made the season worse as it went on, but it was bad from the start. J-Co has seen his stats decline every year since 2007, and he is starting to get some little injuries here and there causing him to miss time. 858 yards in '08, 821 yards in '09, and 433 yards in '10. This is two years in a row the Jets have looked to replace him as a starter and the interest the team showed in TE Todd Heap seems to indicate they are looking at other passing options. There is an outside possibility the Jets could move on if he has a poor camp and can not seem to find a defined role within the offense.
2. Who emerges from camp as the primary runners?
The Jets have a glut of bodies going into camp all with big question marks. Shonn Greene exploded in the 2009 postseason, but failed as a starter last season and continued to have some issues with ball security and passing situations. LaDainian Tomlinson played great early in the year, but tailed off and at his age the expectations are not high. Joe McKnight, drafted in 2010, was a complete disaster early in the year before rehabbing himself with the team. The Jets also added Bilal Powell in the draft, but the lack of offseason has not allowed the team to get any real look at him. The battles would seem to be Greene vs Powell and Tomlinson vs McKnight for snaps. LT just took a paycut to stay with the team and that should ensure his roster spot. This is a very important camp for McKnight. He has the chance to steal snaps from Tomlinson and also looked like a potential special teams star at the end of last season. If he fails to look good he will be cut. Greene vs Powell I think is a very underrated fight. The Jets seems to not be sold that Greene keeps himself in great shape and they know there is a market for him. If Powell looks really good might the Jets consider trading Greene away? I don't think his roster spot is as safe as people make it out to be.
3. Does the team have a starting Safety?
Lost in all the cornerback drama of free agency is that the fact that the real weak spot of the secondary came at the Safety position. Not great in coverage. Not great in run support. So where is the help coming from? Jim Leonhard is coming back off major injury. Can he still play? Eric Smith was re-signed to see if his nice run in the playoffs was a fluke or a sign of things to come. Can Dwight Lowery make the transition to safety? Can any young player impress enough to take a job? Something to keep a very close eye on.
4. Can any Linebacker make the grade and become a pass rusher?
Bryan Thomas is due 3.7 million this season. Calvin Pace has been a disappointment as a Jet. Neither guy generates a consistent pass rush and the Jets are not paying these guys money to be versatile and move around the field. The Jets have to find a pass rusher and they will be giving the young players all the opportunity to do something. The two names to look at will be Jamaal Westerman, who has appeared on the cusp of being a player in prior camps, and former CFL star Garrett McIntyre, who the Jets hope they can lineup on the outside and make into a pass rusher. There are other names on the roster, but these are the two to keep an eye on for cracking the rotation and sending the bigger names into a more rotational role.
5. How does rookie Muhammad Wilkerson look?
The Jets need size on the line and Wilkerson certainly has that. He is coming into a role where most players seems to contribute early on, but this is a big leap from Temple. I think we may know very early on if this looks like a project or an immediate contributor. If he starts off camp and the preseason slowly expect the team to try to convince Trevor Pryce to return to the team.
6. Is CB Kyle Wilson already done?
The Jets drafted a total bomb in OLB Vernon Gholston in 2008 and Wilson looks to be on that same career path. Wilson had a terrible rookie year. The Jets gave him a chance to start in week 1 and he was completely overwhelmed by the NFL game. He was rarely seen after that. That's not a big deal for the position, as many take a year to learn the game, but it speaks volumes that the Jets retained Antonio Cromartie at $8 million per year rather than handing the reigns over to the second year pro. Veteran Donald Strickland was signed as insurance and Marquice Cole is also there to both compete with Wilson for the nickel corner spot. If Strickland or Cole looks like the frontrunner in camp its probably a bad omen for the former first round draft pick. If Wilson participates in 45% of the defensive snaps he will earn a $1 million bonus so he is going to have to really earn that playing time.
7. Do the Jets have a Punter and a Kicker on the roster?
This seems to be an issue every year for this team. Steve Weatherford brought some stability to the P position, but a bad audible call plus a terrible late season collapse sealed his fate. TJ Conley is a favorite of the team and this is his third and likely last opportunity to make it. His competition will be Chris Bryan a former Aussie player who saw some time with the Bucs last year. K Nick Folk was brought back to compete with Nick Novak. Novak is a pure journeyman just looking for a home, but Folk's consistency battles make him a problem. Might the team bring in another kicker if one or both look shaky early on? I would think so. Because of the style the Jets play this is a pretty important role to fill.