Across the country a new season of NFL football has or will shortly begin. In 32 training camps in 32 cities optimism is once again being served on tap. Gone are the previous years premature endings and glorious finishes. The 2008 season has been written and it's book has been closed but for the fans of each and every NFL football team the 2009 season brings unbridled enthusiasm and hope because it's book is wide open, all of it's pages unwritten.
In the tiny town of Cortland, NY the golden anniversary season of the NY Jets begins in just four days with a new head coach, a new QB and the hope that the often tortured history of this team is on an upswing that will once again bring a Super Bowl trophy back to it's fans, many of whom were not yet born the last time the Vince Lombardi trophy was seen in these parts.
Both GM Mike Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson have spared no expense trying to eradicate the awful taste left in the mouth of Jets fans by last season total collapse. For Jet fans the dreaded cry of "same old Jets" was once again heard in 2008, yet even for a team with a history for this sort of thing last years collapse was a very different experience then the collapses of previous years. A stirring OT victory in NE against the Bradyless Patriots followed by the three TD manhandling of the previously undefeated Titans in Tennessee had Jets fans thinking anything was possible, that is until the bottom fell out, the final nail in the coffin being hammered home by ex-Jet franchise QB Chad Pennington of the AFCE Champion Miami Dolphins.
What followed was both a cleaning of house and a breath of fresh air. Rex Ryan was brought here not only for his defensive experience hybrid but for his attitude as well. From Day 1 Ryan has energized the franchise and installed a brand of toughness not seen here since Parcells. Gone arethe days of the Jets as a finesse team, gone are the 4th a half a yard dump passes to the RB four yards behind the LOS. This Jets team will play a brand of physical football on both sides of the LOS but unlike the rampant paranoia and joyless atmosphere created here during the almost self ordained Mangenius years Ryan promises to make football here fun again for those playing, watching and even covering the team.
The defense should be a lot of fun to watch. Kris Jenkins will be a very busy man in this defense, playing anywhere on the defensive line. Playing behind Jenkins will be LB's David Harris and newly acquired Brad Scott, both of whom should no doubt reap the rewards of anplaying behind Jenkins in the aggressive defensive scheme favored by Ryan in his days as the Baltimore Ravens defensive co-ordinator. Playing alongside Darrel Revis at CB will be former Eagle CB LitoSheppard, who will be teaming with new Jet SS Jim Leonhard and FS Kerry Rhodes in a defensive backfield loaded with talent and big play making ability.
The question on the defense is twofold. One, where will the QB sacks come from? Without a bonafide QB killer on the roster who is the guy who will be THE guy on this defense? The answer, who knows? The strength of the DB's should give the Jets some coverage sacks and they should be able to deliver enough QB pressure from the design of the aggressive game plan to keep QB's running for their lives.
Question number two is will Vernon Gholston step up in the place of Calvin Pace, suspended for the first four games of the 2009 season? The answer, again, is who knows? Rex Ryan has already named Gholston as the starter to replace Pace for the first four games which means Gholstonwill be getting plenty of reps withthe first team defense to see if he's up to the job. If he's not look for Bart Scott to slide outside to take Pace's place with Larry Izzo picking up the slack inside. Overall the Jet defense and special teams will carry the team, the majority of the question marks on this team are on the offensive side of the ball.
On offense question #1 is who will be the starting QB when the Jets open their season @Houston on Sept. 13th? With $28M in guaranteed money, two draft picks and three roster players required to get Mark Sanchez to be the new face of the franchise one would have to think that barring Clemens playing extremely well in camp or Sanchez playing very poorly in camp that the job is Sanchez's for the taking. Ryan saw first handthat with a good running game and solid defensive andspecial teams play that you can win in the NFL witha rookie QB. The success of both Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco and Falcon rookie QB Matt Ryan last season would seem to pave the way for Sanchez to win the starting QB job in training camp if he proves equal to the task, but even if Clemens does win the starting QB spot in camp it shouldn't be long before we see Sanchez move under center for the next ten years.
Another big question mark on the offensive side of the ball heading into training camp is who will, if anyone, will step up to become the #2 WR? With the departure of Laverneus Coles Jerricho Cotchery is now the Jets #1 WR but between Stuckey, Smith, Wright and Clowney who will step up to fill that void left by Coles exit to Cincinnati, or will the Jets need to look outside the organization for the answer? The answer, once again, who knows? All signs would appear to point to Stuckey as the most likely candidate to be the guy but at this point it could be anybody, or nobody! Sanchez and or Clemens would no doubt help that process along by finding the guy he feels the most comfortable throwing the ball to when he's under the gun,
The next question mark is two fold. Will the Jets running game be affected by the unhappiness withthe contract situations of both their #1 and #2 RB's? The answer, probably not. Both Thomas Jones andLeon Washington are pros and should be 100% ready to go when the bell rings but don't be surprised if both create a little bit of a distraction during training camp about their contracts.
Another thing to consider is with the departure of Chris Baker and the release of Bubba Frank can 2ndyear TE Dustin Keller provide the necessary blocking skills to help contribute to the Jets groundgame? Keller showed excellent promise as a pass catching rookie TE in the first three months of the '08 season but saw his production grindto a halt in December along withthe rest of the team. The question is can Keller make the next big step toward being an elite NFL TE? His rookie numbers compare favorably with current TE names such as Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez and Anthony Gates but all three saw their numbers greatly improve in their second seasons.
All things considered I doubt if many are expecting miracles this season. SB champions are not pulled together overnight but the adage that it takes 3-5 years to build a SB champion no longer applies. In the salary cap free agent era of the NFL teams are down one year and in the SB a year or two later. The Jets play in one of if not the toughest division in the NFL, with perennial SB contender NE, the improved Dolphins team and the enigmatic Buffalo Bills so just escaping their own division can be a monumental undertaking but that's not to say it cannot be done, even in year one.
Tom Brady is on the mend from a major reconstruction of his knee and remains a question mark until he returns to form and the Pats also have their own set of problems. An older defensive line, a suspect offensive line, questions at the RB position and depth problems don't necessarily mean that NE will be any less formidable than they have been in previous years but it doesn't mean they are a shoo in to win the AFCE either. Miami had something of the perfect storm last season, few injuries, favorable schedule and a rejuvenated Chad Pennington all came together in South Florida last season but that doesn't mean Miami cannot be a better football team in 2009 then it was in 2008. It also doesn't mean they can't improve as a team andwin 3-4 less games. As for Buffalo, until they prove they can play after the leaves begin to fall they remain a team you prefer playing after the first month of the season. The Jets play the Bills at home in Week 6 and on the road in the lifeless Rogers Center Dome in Toronto in Week 13.
This Jets team does indeed appear to be heading in the right direction but that's something Jets fans have seen before only to be undone by a myriad of bad luck, bad play and bad coaching. These Jets are more of a team built to win now or in the very near future then they are a rebuilding team starting from scratch. Much like an experienced sailor Ryan has his ship pointed into the right direction and he needs nothing more than to catch a favorable wind to fill his sails, but since you cannot always count on the wind here's what you can expect from this years Jets.
You can count on this team and it's new HC growing up together, they will look after each other, they will play very hard all season and they will be a better team at the end of the year then they will be at the beginning. What that will translate into depends on many variables both in and out of their own hands but what you can hope for is that it will translate into is a constant inexorable moving forward toward the goal of winning a Super Bowl.
It would appear, to borrow from Parcells, that the ingredients to prepare a good meal have all been bought. All that remains to be seen is if Ryan and his minions can cook.