Football is finally here! If you're a fan of any of the 30 teams that don't play in New Jersey, it started already, but the first Monday Night Football game of the season is the battle of New York (New Jersey): the Jets vs the Giants. Both sides have talked entirely too much trash for a preseason football game as the final score really doesn't matter as much as how well teams play and how everybody works out the kinks of the first live game of the year.
Both teams want to win, but the starters will only play about a quarter. Rex Ryan has said the Jets' first unit could play a series into the 2nd quarter, a rarity for a first preseason game, but it's been a long time until the Jets have been able to hit people and play, and with another game just five days from now against Carolina, Ryan wants to see what his team can do.
Expectations are high for the Jets this season. However, there are still a ton of question marks this team needs to answer. Will the running game stay at the same high level without Thomas Jones and Alan Faneca? How much will Mark Sanchez and the passing game improve? Without Darrelle Revis, are the additions of Antonio Cromartie, Brodney Pool, and Kyle Wilson enough to shore up the secondary? These questions can't be completely answered in one preseason game in the middle of August, but you can start to draw some conclusions.
How does Mark Sanchez look?
Until he stepped up his game to another level in the playoffs, Mark Sanchez's rookie year was not very impressive. But with another year in the system and an entire offseason to work with Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, bigger things are expected from last year's 5th overall pick. He can start by throwing the ball to the right team. Sanchez needs to protect the ball, starting from the first series in preseason. Also, after having to wear two knee braces last season, how is his mobility? And how will he react to his first big hit of the new season?
Life after Revis
Every Jets fan knows Darrelle Revis isn't in camp. Every Jets fan hopes that Antonio Cromartie can revert to his 2007 form and Kyle Wilson can be the next Revis. Both players have drawn raves in camp, but now they face live opposition. The Giants' passing game was underrated last season, and Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, and Mario Manningham provide a challenge to this secondary. Shutting them down will be a nice confidence boost that this defense doesn't need Revis. But if the secondary is shredded, fans will start to clamor for Revis again.
Special Teams Questions
There are a lot of little things to watch for on special teams. The most important question surrounds Nick Folk: can he regain the form that made him a Pro Bowler in 2008? He was awful last season, and a miss inside 40 yards would be a real punch to the gut in terms of having confidence in him. The new long snapper is Tanner Purdum, who apparently had some issues snapping the ball a few days ago in camp. Any problems in a game scenario for Purdum, and the Jets will scour the waiver wires for a challenger. Steve Weatherford was an average punter last year after the Jets signed him late in training camp. T.J. Conley is back to try to take Weatherford's job, and their play in preseason will have a lot to do with it. In the return game, Brad Smith is expected to return kicks with Kyle Wilson on punt return duties, but the Jets have a few other players they would like to try out at both spots.
The Ghost at End
Vernon Gholston is at his last chance when it comes to impressing the Jets' coaching staff. In a last ditch effort to salvage his career here, Rex Ryan moved him to defensive end, his more natural position. His poor football instincts won't have as much of an effect at end where he'll be required more to fill gaps and beat his man one-on-one. He still is a physical specimen, so while he's a little undersized for the defensive end spot in the 3-4, he has enough strength where he should be okay. He's drawn some positive reviews in camp, but remember, he still hasn't recorded a regular season sack. How he performs in a game situation will mean a lot more. Also keep an eye on Matt Kroul, Ropati Pitoitua, and Rod Wright, as all three have the potential to either help out this team a lot or not even make the final roster.
The Runningback Race
Shonn Greene is expected to be the early-down back with LaDainian Tomlinson serving primarily as the third-down back. Can L.T. play well enough to possibly earn a bigger share of the workload? And will Greene assert himself as the no. 1 guy? However, the most interesting guy to watch in the backfield is Joe McKnight. The rookie from USC can make some electrifying moves in the open field and bouncing outside, but the Jets want to see how he can do between the tackles. He'll get a lot of chances this game, and if he wants to crack the rotation, he'll need to impress. The fullback race is also wide open. The veteran Tony Richardson should start, but rookie John Conner has been crushing defensive players all camp, and Conner could play a role. Jason Davis is also a nice all-around fullback who was featured on Hard Knocks a little. He has an uphill climb to make the roster, but he does have talent.
Slauson vs Ducasse
In the battle for the vacated left guard starting position, Matt Slauson has taken the bull by the horns. Barring a setback or rapid improvement from rookie Vladimir Ducasse, Slauson is expected to be the guy between D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. Slauson is only in his 2nd year in the NFL, but he's in his 5th year with offensive line coach Bill Callahan, so he knows what is expected of him. This is his first extended opportunity as a starter, however, so he should be watched closely. So should Ducasse. The Jets drafted him in the 2nd round to be a future left guard or right tackle. Right now, he just needs experience and coaching. He has the raw tools to be a very good player, but he's not there yet. This game will help show just how far along he is.
The Battle Behind the Marks
Mark Sanchez and Mark Brunell are guaranteed roster spots on this team, leaving one open spot for Kellen Clemens, Kevin O'Connell, or Erik Ainge. Many expected Ainge to be the guy until he entered drug rehab, so he's all but dropped out of this race. Clemens has shown very little when given opportunities, but he knows the system well. O'Connell is a wild card. He has the size and arm strength, so he might be the type of developmental quarterback the Jets want to keep around. As usual, Clemens is in a tough race here and has to really outplay O'Connell to keep his roster spot or to improve his trade value for a way out of town.
The Undrafted Free Agents
Every year, a few undrafted free agents make their mark. Last year, Jamaal Westerman and Marquice Cole made the final roster. This year names that have impressed include CB/S Donovan Warren, TE Jeff Cumberland, CB/S Brian Jackson, LB Cory Reamer, and LB Brashton Satele. Satele is one of just two players including LB Josh Mauga that will be held out this evening, but the others will all be on the field, looking to make their mark. Warren is expected to make the team, while Cumberland needs to show that his athleticism in practice translates on the field. If he can make some plays in the passing game, he might just make this Jets roster.