No one really knows just how good the 2012 New York Jets will be. With the combination of years of brash talk from HC Rex Ryan, last season's locker room meltdown, and the acquisition of Tim Tebow, it's anyone's guess. The media has been unusually harsh this years squad. The way the current administration does business has rubbed more than a few people wrong. The usually pessimistic Jet fanbase seems unusually upbeat about our chances. Where exactly is the middle ground between these two?
Last season the New York Jets finished a disappointing 8-8 after a late season meltdown. With Rex and Co. missing the playoffs for the first time under his leadership. The question on everyone's mind is, how will they respond? The media seems swayed to the notion that the locker room discord from last season will rear its ugly head again in 2012. While the fanbase seems to think the Jets have changed their tune. Let's break down the changes and possible consequences of our moves this offseason.
First and foremost, we'll take a look at the changing of the guard on the coaching staff. Leaving are: Brian Schottenheimer OC, Henry Ellard WR Coach, Bill Callahan OL Coach, Jeff Weeks OLB Coach, and Mark Carrier DL Coach. Enter:Tony Sparano OC, Sanjay Lal WR Coach, Dave DeGuglielmo OL Coach, Mike Smith OLB Coach, and Karl Dunbar DL Coach. I will focus only on two of these moves, because they seem to be the only ones which will show any significant impacts.
Brian Schottenheimer vs. Tony Sparano - Schottenheimer was the scourge of Jets fans everywhere last season. His playcalling was more confusing than creative. The problem was it was more confusing for his own players and fans than it was for other teams. It was obvious, atleast with these personnel, Schotteneheimers offense wouldn't work. Tony Sparano didn't call plays during his stint as the HC of the Miami Dolphins, but during his tenure, the Dolphins offense didn't exactly strike fear into opposing defenses. He preaches tempo and execution. Sparano, more than Schottenheimer, is willing to mold his offense around his players, rather than forcing his players to fit into his system. How does this change affect the Jets? Ground and pound or not, Sparano will focus on protecting the football. The downfall of the Jets last season was the offense not holding up its end. A punt beats a fumble or an interception. Even if his offense is as inept at moving the chains as Schottenheimer's was, look for the Jets to punt more and turn it over less, leading to closer games. The Jets know how to win close games.
Mark Carrier vs. Karl Dunbar - Carrier did an admirable job as a DL Coach. I don't think any Jet fan was calling for his head; Dunbar, however, is still an upgrade. Dunbar built one of the NFL's most punishing defensive lines in Minnesota. He is given 2 semi-raw players to mold; Q. Coples and M. Wilkerson. The Jets DL was stout against the run last season, but generated very little pressure in the passing game. Look for Dunbar to change that. The Jets will implement more 4 man fronts, and should show marked improvement on the DL this season.
Next lets look at the personnel moves. The Jets had 2 glaring weaknesses last season on their roster; wide receiver and safety. Gone are WR Plaxico Burress, S Jim Leonhard, and S Brodney Pool. Their replacements are WR Stephen Hill, S Laron Landry, and S Yeremiah Bell. Lets break down the moves.
Wide Receivers - Plaxico Burress was a huge red zone target last season, but between the 20's he was virtually inept. He failed to draw safety help away from top WR Santonio Holmes. The million dollar question is, will Stephen Hill do any better? Hill has the physical tools, he is big and fast. He isn't, however, a gifted route runner. He has the ability to burn teams for huge chunk plays, but in order to free Holmes from double teams, he will have to show he can do it with consistency, which has yet to be seen.
Safetys - Simply put, the safety position was the only glaring weakness on last seasons top 5 defense. Jim Leonhard was a tough, smart player who knew the system well. He however was undersized and not fast enough to compete with some of the upper echelon TE's. Landry is a wildcard. If he is able to stay healthy, he is athletic enough to make a difference in covering slot receivers and TE's. If history truly is doomed to repeat itself, Landry will re-injure himself like he seems to do every season. The move to look at here is Yeremiah Bell. Bell is a smart, durable, veteran safety who will fit into the Jim Leonhard role. The upgrade is his physical stature and ability. While he is aging, he is still an upgrade if nothing else in the physical stature field over Leonhard. It is a great possibility that Landry will end the season on the IR. The tandem of Bell and Eric Smith does seem to stand a better chance against opposing TE's than Leonhard and Smith of a season ago.
The final change from last season to this that I will highlight is the state of the locker room. Last season the locker room fell apart. Rex Ryan has vowed to keep a pulse on the team this season. So far he seems to be on top of it. He has responded more harshly than before when signs of discord have appeared. It appears that the scapegoat from last season, Santonio Holmes, has mended his relationship with QB Mark Sanchez. While he still has a sharp distrust for the media, he seems to be less of a locker room problem. The Jets have manufactured their own locker room turmoil in bringing in QB Tim Tebow. If Sanchez minimizes turnovers, and Rex keeps his thumb on the notion of Tebow starting, the crisis could be averted. There is still a very explosive mix of players in the locker room. This team is built to win, and if it begins to lose, look for the locker room to fall apart again. This talented group could just as easily fall apart at the seams as it could develop the 'us against the world' mentality.
Exactly where in between a negative media predicting a full blown meltdown and a positive fanbase predicting a breakout year? We will never know for sure until the end of the season, but it seems to almost be for sure the 2012 Jets will land somewhere in between.