Thursday, July 29, 2010

Coles expected to sign, McKnight fails conditioning test

Two-time former Jet Laveranues Coles is expected to sign tomorrow after he visited Jets camp today for a workout. After a disappointing season with Cincinnati, Coles was released after just one season, and he struggled to find work.

With the Jets, Coles will serve as the third receiver during Santonio Holmes's four game suspension, and as injury insurance afterward. In a limited role, Coles should be able to make some plays, but it's hard to expect much more from him than that. He's had a litany of injuries in his career, and he couldn't make enough plays last season for the Bengals.

But in a system he's had success in, and a much smaller role, Coles is a low-risk signing, and he should be an upgrade over David Clowney, whose roster spot must now be in jeopardy. Brad Smith will remain in the mix, but mostly as a gadget player.

The other big news as training camp approaches is Joe McKnight failing his conditioning test. The specifics aren't out yet, but as someone who had conditioning issues in mini-camp and vowed to change, this is a disturbing start for the man who has been compared to Leon Washington and Reggie Bush. At this rate, Danny Woodhead and Chauncey Washington may have better chances of making the final roster than previously thought.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jets sign QB Mark Brunell for 2 years

To no one's surprise, the Jets signed quarterback Mark Brunell to a two-year contract to backup and help mentor Mark Sanchez. Brunell started one game last year for New Orleans where he went 15-30 for 102 yards and an interception playing with mostly backups. Before that, his last action was way back in 2006 with Washington.

The lefty will be 40 years old this season, so he's been around the block a few times. By the same token, he's finished as an effective quarterback. This move is being made to give Sanchez another voice in his ear who has had success in the playoffs, nothing more. In terms of actually playing quarterback, Kellen Clemens would probably be more effective in the case of a Sanchez injury. Even Erik Ainge and Kevin O'Connell have far more physical talent to get the job done at this point.

If Sanchez stays healthy and plays 16 games or close to it, then the veteran presence of Brunell is a positive. But if Sanchez gets hurt and the Jets need to rely on Brunell for an extended period of time, the Jets' talented receiving corps will go to waste. Granted, it's not as if Clemens is Peyton Manning back there, and the Jets do have the defense and running game to take a lot of pressure off the quarterback, but there is no reason to have any confidence in Brunell's quarterbacking ability.

This signing likely marks the end of Clemens's Jet career. Teammates have called him a true professional and have supported him as a backup, but the front office must not think he offers enough in terms of leadership or talent to keep him around. Expect Ainge and O'Connell to battle for the third quarterback job. Give Ainge the edge after an effective 2009 preseason, but O'Connell does have more physical tools, so he stands a fighter's chance. There is a slim chance the Jets keep both Clemens and Brunell, but they may feel either Ainge or O'Connell has more long-term growth potential.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Position Overview: Tight End

Tight end is one of the few positions where the Jets know exactly what they have. In Dustin Keller and Ben Hartsock, Gang Green has two complimentary tight ends. Keller is a pass catcher with the athletic ability to create mismatches in the open field, while Hartsock is one of the better blocking tight ends in the league.

Keller was slightly disappointing in year two as he failed to build on his 2008 numbers. With a rookie quarterback on a run-first offense, it's certainly understandable why he plateaued. But in the playoffs, the former first-round pick stepped up his game, scoring a touchdown in all three playoff games. The Mark Sanchez-Dustin Keller connection was extremely inconsistent during the season, but their rapport in the playoffs is a cause of optimism heading into 2010.

Heading into last season, Keller was expected to be the #1 or #2 option in the passing game. But with the additions of Braylon Edwards last season and Santonio Holmes this offseason, opposing defenses can't gameplan for Keller so easily, and if he gets matched up one-on-one with a linebacker, chances are Keller is winning that battle. If Sanchez improves his accuracy and decision-making, Keller could be in for a big year.

Hartsock came under a lot of criticism early last season for his frequent penalties, but he proved to be an extremely effective run blocker. Late in the season, he played more and more as his run blocking skills better suited the Jets' ground-and-pound offense of a year ago. He isn't much of a receiving threat, but he doesn't need to be. The former Colt had just one catch all season, but it was for a touchdown against Tennessee after a brilliant play action fake left him wide open in the back of the endzone. Bottom line, he''s paid to block people, not catch passes.

Heading into 2010, the two should maintain the same roles. When the Jets are in passing mode, Keller will get most of the playing time, and Hartsock will play when the Jets want to run. With the increased depth at runningback and wide receiver with the additions of Santonio Holmes, John Connor, and Joe McKnight, the Jets may use less two tight end sets this year.

Keller and Hartsock are not big names, but what they lack in star power, they make up for with functionality. If you could combine Keller's athleticism and pass-catching ability with Hartsock's size and blocking, you would have a perennial Pro Bowler. As it is, the Jets can play matchups pretty effectively. Just like at runningback and wide receiver, the Jets' tight ends offer complementary skill sets that should allow Brian Schottenheimer to use lots of different packages on gameday.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Position Overview: Offensive Line

Since D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold were both drafted in the 2006 NFL draft, the Jets' offensive line has slowly risen from one of the worst units in the NFL to one of the best. When Alan Faneca and Damien Woody were added in 2008, the unit helped Thomas Jones set Gang Green's single-season rushing touchdown record with 13. Last season, they were even better, with Jones breaking his own record with 14 touchdowns. The pass blocking was also above average, keeping Mark Sanchez upright most of the year.

It appeared as if the line would have a third straight year returning everyone, until the draft when the Jets unexpectedly released Faneca. The highly regarded veteran was the weakest link on the line, particularly in pass blocking, but with the Jets still on the hook for $5.25 million in dead money, it was surprising. 2nd round draft pick Vladimir Ducasse is expected to beat out 2nd year man Matt Slauson for the vacated left guard spot.

Ducasse is a mauler from a small FCS school who will be offensive line coach Bill Callahan's pet project. He has the size, strength, and raw skill to be a great player, and it will be up to Callahan to help Ducasse harness those abilities right away. If he can, the Jets won't miss a beat up front.

It helps having two of the best players at their positions in Mangold and Ferguson. Widely considered the best center in the NFL, Mangold has made it clear he wants a new contract. While he's upset the Jets haven't made a big push to resign him, he has stated he will not be a distraction, so expect him to maintain his elite play. Ferguson was less vocal about wanting a new deal, but the Jets locked him up first to a long-term contract. The former 4th overall pick deservedly made his first Pro Bowl last season and has gotten better every season.

The other two players on the right side of the line are much less heralded but similarly effective. Right guard Brandon Moore may just be the best run blocker on the team. New York nearly let him go last season, but Moore was a key part of the league's leading rushing attack. The Jets loved to run behind him and Woody last season, and that shouldn't change this year with both linemen returning.

At 32 years old, Woody is the line's oldest member, but he's not old enough to be too concerned about a major drop-off in play. Barring injuries or an unexpected lack of performance from left guard, this line should remain one of the best in the league. The Jets have been extremely lucky avoiding injuries to their offensive line in previous seasons, and they are banking on that to continue this season if they hope to have success offensively.

In case of an injury, most of the Jets' offensive line depth is unproven largely because the starters never get hurt. Robert Turner and Wayne Hunter have the most experience, subbing in on goalline packages as extra tight ends. Slauson was drafted last year as versatile depth, but he's rarely played outside of preseason and practice.

If all goes according to plan this year, those three will rarely see the field again. The way the Jets like to play offense requires the offensive line to dominate the line of scrimmage. With more raw talent at the skill positions, the Jets now have more firepower to get big plays and not require long drives all the time to score points. But until proven otherwise, the offensive line is the best unit on the Jets' offense and there's little reason to think differently.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Position Overview: Wide Receiver

This is the second in the offseason position reviews. Previously, I have reviewed the quarterbacks.

Remember last season when Jerricho Cotchery and Chansi Stuckey were the opening day receiving corps? The Jets have come a long way in less than 12 months, as now they feature the talented but enigmatic Braylon Edwards as well as a former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes to go with the sure-handed Cotchery. But first, let's look at the 2009 unit.

Looking back: A Work in Progress

Last year, there was very little pressure put on the receiving corps and the passing game in general. Rex Ryan knew the Jets' only way of winning with a rookie quarterback and non-explosive receivers was by following the Baltimore method: run the ball and play dominant defense. Still, the Jets started 3-1 last year with Mark Sanchez throwing to Cotchery, Stuckey, David Clowney, and Brad Smith.

The addition of Braylon Edwards before week five provided a deep threat that, according to the coaching staff, not only improved the passing game but also stretched defenses enough to open up the running game. However, his inconsistent hands came with him from Cleveland, and while he flashed brilliance, he also had some head-scratching drops.

While not as big a name as Edwards, Cotchery was the Jets' steadiest receiver. He's a professional receiver who lines up all over the field, rarely puts the ball on the turf, and has great feet along the sidelines.

Clowney made a few plays in the middle of the season, but when Edwards and Cotchery were healthy, he wasn't versatile enough to get on the field. Smith was the anti-Clowney, as the Jets put him all over the field, including behind center, because he can block, catch, and run well.

Looking Forward: More Talent, More Problems

The Jets' passing game will be an interesting case study. Rex Ryan has called Edwards one of the most impressive players in camp so far while Sanchez has gushed about Holmes's all-around ability. With both players needing new contracts after the season, many speculate the two will be battling each other to see who stays long-term with the Jets.

Cotchery remains the consummate professional, and by far the most reliable of the three with his sure hands. He doesn't have as much big play ability, but with Edwards and Holmes on board, that's not a problem.

The clear upgrade in talent at the position as well as Sanchez's continued growth should make the passing game an integral part of the Jets' offense rather than an afterthought. Will it be enough to satisfy everybody? Holmes is coming from a winning organization in Pittsburgh, and Edwards was a model citizen since he arrived in New York.

Bottom Line
While it's hard to predict what could happen after 2010 with the contract situations of Edwards and Holmes, for just this coming season, you may not find a more talent trio in football than the Jets' group. And that's saying something considering what the Jets started last season with. Holmes will miss four games, but Edwards and Cotchery are plenty good enough to win by themselves as starters. Once Holmes is in the mix, watch out.

New York is still going to be a run-first team, but if something happens to Shonn Greene or LaDainian Tomlinson, the Jets are far more likely to entrust Mark Sanchez with the offense to make things happen. With the league's top rushing game from a year ago and now a far more sophisticated and talented passing game, the Jets have come a long way. The big question, as is the case across the board, is how well the chemistry will work. But Edwards and Holmes have received nothing but positive reviews since they've arrived here. It seems as if everyone is on board that the ultimate goal is the Super Bowl, and everything else can wait. Hopefully, that remains the case come late December and beyond.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Jets re-sign D'Brickashaw Ferguson

The story of the offseason was how the Jets would take care of the "Big Four" as they have come to be known: Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, David Harris, and D'Brickashaw Ferguson. While Revis has been extremely outspoken and Mangold has been a little vocal as well, Harris and Ferguson have barely said a word. Today, the Jets rewarded Ferguson with a 6 year, $60 million contract extension to lock him up for the next 8 years.

Unlike Revis and Mangold, Ferguson has not clamored publicly for a new contract, making it ironic that he's the first one signed. But in reality, it makes a lot of sense. Ferguson has a high base salary right now, due to his status as the 4th overall pick in 2006, and with rules in place that teams can only increase salaries by 30%, a new deal with Brick wasn't that hard to get done. Mangold wants a big raise, more than 30%, so the Jets have had a few issues making both parties happy. Revis's situation has been well-documented: he still has three years left on his rookie contract and now wants to be paid higher than any corner in the NFL. As for Harris, as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme drafted a year later than Mangold and Ferguson and a round after Revis, he's likely the #4 priority of the group.

The next contracts to be done will probably be OL Vladimir Ducasse and CB Kyle Wilson, the Jets' first two picks in the draft. It's possible Mangold, Revis, or Harris is extended as well, but time is starting to run short.

Update (3:20 PM): Ducasse has been signed. 4 years, $3.25 million, with a $1.025 million dollar signing bonus.