No one around the Jets are talking about winning the Super Bowl this offseason.
Going 8-8 and missing the playoffs can do that to a team. The Jets ended last season fighting with each other more that the opposition, leading to a coaching change on offense, Rex Ryan’s pledge to get more involved with all quarters of the team and a headline-grabbing trade for a backup quarterback/punt protector by the name of Tim Tebow.
This Jets team doesn’t look much better than the one that limped to the finish last season. There are serious questions almost everywhere you look and a lingering suspicion that the locker room hasn’t been cleansed of the toxicity of last year. Some of the same things that took them to two straight AFC titles are in place, though, and they went 8-8 with just about everything going wrong.
Same glass, two ways of looking at it. It shouldn’t take long to figure out which one is right.
Simplicity has been the common thread of the successful moments of Mark Sanchez’s career with the Jets. The simpler the offense has been, the more successful Sanchez has been at running it so the switch to Tony Sparano looks good on that front. It might not say much that Sanchez often looked frazzled running Brian Schottenheimer’s multiple looks, but you might as well work to what the guy does best.
All the chatter about a potential Darrelle Revis holdout has resonance because the Jets would be mightily lost without him on defense. His ability to lock down one side of the field is essential to making the entire scheme work, especially if the Jets continue to struggle to generate pass rush. If Antonio Cromartie can tighten up on the other side, the Jets will be able to take more risks up front.
As long as you exclude right tackle Wayne Hunter, the Jets are in good shape up front. Center Nick Mangold and right guard Brandon Moore are strong in both phases and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson rebounded from a bad first half of the season in 2011. They’ll all have to be very good for the Jets to pound the ball on the ground the way they’ve talked about doing this offseason.
You have to start at quarterback, don’t you? Sanchez appeared to regress at times last season and there were calls to bring in real competition for him this offseason. The Tebow trade and a contract extension for Sanchez were the answer to those calls, complicating matters all the more. Every throw of the offseason was tweeted to the world, which portends a circus on every drive this season unless Sanchez comes out of the gate on fire. It’s probably safer to bet on the circus.
It would help if the Jets had a few more skill position players capable of making things happen. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes and tight end Dustin Keller are about as exciting as things get and neither one seems particularly well suited to the kind of grinding offense Sparano’s been pitching.
We mentioned the pass rush while discussing Revis, but the need for it to be better is worth mentioning twice. Outside of Aaron Maybin, the Jets didn’t generate much without sending the house and their blitzing was less effective than it was in Ryan’s first two years. The hope is that first-round pick Quinton Coples and 2010 first-rounder Muhammed Wilkerson will bring more heat from defensive end while different looks lead to mismatches.
It’s fitting that the biggest change for the Jets this offseason is one that they’ve talked about without yet putting into action. The locker room meltdowns last season led to promises of a more hands-on approach from Ryan and the elimination of captains in favor of more diffuse leadership on the team. The idea that talent wasn’t a huge part of the reason for the Jets’ slide is silly, but that doesn’t mean more accountability is a bad idea.
Second-round pick Stephen Hill has the potential to be a deep threat in an NFL offense, but it is unclear if the Jets offense will be able to make use of his skills this season. Their wide receivers are short on athleticism, though, so Hill will get plenty of chances to fill that role in the coming season.
The Jets reshuffled their safeties, adding Yeremiah Bell and LeRon Landry while saying goodbye to Brodney Pool and probably Jim Leonhard as well. That can be an upgrade if Landry is healthy, but that’s a big if for a player with his injury history. Even if Landry isn’t 100 percent, it will be hard for the safety play to be much worse than it was last season.
The biggest battle will be for everyone watching the Jets during camp to resist the notion that there’s a full-blown quarterback controversy. The Jets have said that Tebow’s not an option to start, but they consistently hedge those statements by saying it remains to be seen exactly what role Tebow will play on the team.
It would be nice if the Jets had a running back to push Shonn Greene, but Joe McKnight isn’t suited to the task and Bilal Powell has almost no experience. It’s not unthinkable the Jets could add a veteran during camp, especially if Greene looks as sluggish as he did last season.
Bart Scott will start alongside David Harris at inside linebacker, although his ultimate playing time will have something to do with rookie Demario Davis. The third-round pick is better suited to pass coverage and if he is able to handle more of the job, he could move Scott into the background sooner than expected.
The Jets are hoping to pare things back so that they can win with defense and a grinding offense that is effective enough to overcome deficiencies at skill positions. It worked out well for them in Ryan’s first two years, although even those teams had more dynamism on offense. It’s their only chance at winning, though, so that’s the path the Jets will be traveling.
There are so many things that can go wrong for the Jets this season, from dysfunction in the locker room to Landry getting hurt to the lack of a consistent edge rusher, that it is hard to feel too bullish about their chances of pulling it off. It doesn’t help that there’s so much uncertainty at quarterback and early struggles for Sanchez will send the team directly into a full-blown quarterback controversy.
We should know what we’re getting from the Jets pretty early in the season. Four of the first six games are at home, providing some comfort amid early matchups with the Steelers, 49ers, Texans and Patriots that will test the offense’s ability to move the ball well enough to win games. If the Jets don’t handle the early stretch, the second half will almost certainly be full of questions about how much longer Ryan will be in charge.