Candidates: Josh Bush, Antonio Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett
Background: After getting terrible play out of the position in 2011, the additions of LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell turned the spot into a position of strength for the Jets in 2012. Strong safety play was one element in the Jets weathering the loss of Darrelle Revis and fielding an above average defense.Both Landry and Bell left in free agency so the Jets are looking at two new starters once again. LaRon's brother, Dawan, was signed to fill one spot. The second spot is still open. Josh Bush, a 2012 sixth round pick, Antonio Allen, a 2012 seventh round pick, and Jaiquawn Jarrett, a 2011 second round pick by the Eagles appear to be the main contenders.
No matter what, the Jets are probably going to be starting somebody without much experience. Allen played 72 snaps his rookie year. Bush got 17. Jarrett has 254 career snaps, albeit largely ineffective ones. A Rex Ryan defense is very complicated, and a lot is put on the safeties. They have to understand a big playbook. They have to make sure everybody is lined up correctly. They also serve as the last line of defense in a system that is very aggressive and at times vulnerable to allowing big plays. Where the safety needs to be to protect against a monster play changes depending on numerous split second decisions by what defensive and offensive players do. This is why Rex Ryan usually entrusts seasoned players at safety. It is why the team tried so hard to make the heady Jim Leonhard-Eric Smith combo work in 2011. This defense gives the safeties a lot to process. Going with somebody inexperienced will be a challenge.
Handicapping the battle: For what little it means, Allen indicated that Bush had taken the lead in OTA's. There is still all of training camp and the preseason, however, for other players to step up. Jarrett might have a difficult time winning the position. The Eagles essentially gave up on him after one year because his play was so poor and he looked so unpromising. It is a very big deal when a team gives up so quickly on a second round pick. Even Vladimir Ducasse has gotten three years.
On paper, Bush seems to fit better with Landry than Allen. Landry is a strong safety better at stopping the run than playing the pass. Bush is a stronger pass defender than run defender, and his range in theory could help make him an effective centerfielder. This pair seems to compliment each other the best of all the options. Allen is much stronger playing the run than the pass.
Interestingly, however, the Jets have in recent years typically played two strong safeties together. Was it because Rex Ryan values the ability to be an enforcer in a safety more than play in coverage? Was it because with Darrelle Revis the Jets did not need their safeties to do as much in coverage, leading them to reallocate resources to play the run? Was it because this was simply the best way to go given the personnel? My guess is probably a little bit of each. The Revis factor is obviously gone, but if the past in any indication, the coaches will not hesitate to go with Allen should he outplay Bush.
JB's optimal use: If all things are equal, Bush seems like a better option. He compliments Landry better than Allen. His skillset also fits today's game better. Offenses these days look to the tight end for an advantage in the passing game. Having a safety who can succeed in coverage and limit the effectiveness of tight ends is pretty important. Bush at the very least seems to have Allen beaten in this area.
In truth, though, this competition is difficult to handicap because we have seen so little of either player. If Allen comes out and plays way better than Bush, having two effective strong safeties is better than having one effective strong safety and one ineffective free safety.
Here's what we do know. The two favorites are a second year sixth round pick and a second year seventh round pick. This is not a confidence-inspiring situation. I would not be surprised if John Idzik is keeping close tabs on the waiver wire and looking out for a veteran camp cut.