So, how long until the "Free Simms!" chants begin?
In the annual reprisal of the least meaningful game of the season, the NY Jets backups defeated the Philadelphia Eagles backups 27-20. This capped off a preseason which saw the Jets compile a 3-1 record, clearly presaging a February trip to Metlife Stadium.
The author of Thursday night's stirring triumph was none other than 4th string ( now maybe 3rd string) quarterback Matt Simms, who managed to complete 33 of 44 passes for 285 yards and a 91.6 passer rating. This performance, coming on the heels of last Saturday's strong showing in a come from behind triumph against the NY Giants, may have been enough to vault Simms past erstwhile 3rd string QB Greg McElroy and into the lead for what is likely the final QB slot on the 53 man roster.
The battle for the final spots on the 53 man roster and the 8 man practice squad is traditionally what the final preseason game is all about. Hence final scores and records are meaningless. What really counts here are personal battles for NFL survival. So rather than engage in a boring recap of the ebb and flow of the game, it is probably more helpful for the final preseason recap to simply skip right to the chase and discuss who helped themselves, who hurt themselves, and who had mixed results in their personal quests to obtain a seat when the music stops.
Before we get to that, however, there is one oddity about this game from the Jets standpoint I want to mention. Usually the final preseason game will see the team empty its bench. Every player remaining on the roster and not either injured or being held out because their starting position is secured gets to play in this game. Such was not the case in this game. The Jets did something I've rarely seen in the final preseason game. They trotted out their "starters" for the game, and by and large they stuck with them for almost the entire game. Thus the offensive line of Jason Smith, Brian Winters, Caleb Schlauderaff, Vlad Ducasse and Oday Aboushi played a ton of time, with William Campbell also getting some snaps. But as far as I could tell without seeing official snap counts, Eric Cook and J. B. Shugarts didn't play at all. Neither did Titus Ryan or Clyde Gates on offense. What does this mean for those players not seeing action? Is Gates' spot completely secure, or is his roster spot in trouble? Cook and Ryan are probably gone, but what about Shugarts? The Jets seemed to like him; is he finished, or has he already secured a spot? Very strange. Guys like these usually all play in a final push to impress the coaches and solidify back of the roster spots -- if they are goners, why even keep them prior to the game? And if they are not yet goners, why not give them a last chance to impress in an otherwise meaningless game? Curiouser and curiouser.
Likewise, on defense the Jets started Kyle Wilson, a player one would have thought would have been rested for this game, and appeared to not play Darrin Walls at all, a player who was supposedly behind Wilson on the depth chart. Does this mean Walls has surpassed Wilson on the depth chart? Does it mean Walls has somehow fallen out of favor and is in danger of being cut? Does it mean he is dinged up? Who knows? A curious development.
In another odd development, the Jets appeared to often line up with three safeties on the field. Jarrett, Allen and Bush all shared the field for much of the game. This 3 safety lineup is something the Jets are unlikely to use much during the season, so why use it to evaluate the safeties who are trying to earn a starting spot? Very curious indeed.
At LB, Antwan Barnes and Jacquies Smith appeared to never get in the game, while LB Danny Lansanah played a ton. DL Tevita Finau also appeared to play little or none. Does this mean Barnes has earned a spot already? Does it mean Smith, who has put some pressure on the QB this preseason, and Finau are already doomed? And if so, why not at least let them showcase their talents for another team in the last quarter or two? Or, in the alternative, why not cut them previously and let them try and catch on with somebody else? And for all the guys who played nearly the entire game, if they did so because they've already made the team, why not take them out at some point and not risk injury, and let the other guys showcase their talents for some other team to play out the final quarters? All in all, it was an odd way to handle the final preseason game. I don't think I've ever see one quite like this one, where so many guys who are not starters never leave the bench.
Well, whatever the reasons Rex handled this game in this manner, it was still no doubt final tryouts for roster spots. So let's take a look at who may have helped themselves, who may have hurt themselves, and who had mixed performances.
Players Who Hurt Their Chances
Zach Rogers leads the way here. Rogers had a nifty run and catch for a first down early in the game. But in the 4th quarter he had a brutal clean drop of a deep pass that might have produced a TD, and a fumble of a punt at the end of the game. You could see the distress on Rogers' face on the sidelines, and for good reason. He almost surely cost himself any chance he had at making the practice squad with this performance.
Also in this category are Jason Smith and Brian Winters, and to a lesser extent, the entire backup offensive line. Simms was under heavy pressure all night, and Smith and Winters both gave up multiple sacks. It was not an encouraging performance by anyone on the offensive line. Winters is probably safe as a 3rd round 2013 pick, but Smith may have played himself right off the team last night. Surprisingly, 6th round draft pick William Campbell may have been the only one to have done himself some good. I don't recall him being badly beaten at all in the time he played. He may have secured a practice squad spot with his decent play when his teammates all around him were failing.
TE Konrad Reuland also hurt himself last night with a fumble. His roster spot is likely safe, but plays like the fumble will only hurt his chances of actually seeing the field much.
Players Who Helped Their Chances
Of course this category has to be headlined by Matt Simms. He was under heavy pressure all night, but exhibited a very strong and, for this night at least, accurate arm. He also exhibited some mobility, ability to elude the pass rush, and ability to throw on the run. He was sacked 7 times yet rarely let the sacks destroy drives. He confidently led the offense up and down the field, completing 75% of his passes for 285 yards and zero interceptions. It was a very strong performance by Simms, and it may well have earned him the third string QB spot ahead of McElroy. Despite all the positives, however, Simms also demonstrated some troubling tendencies that likely would get him into hot water against better competition. He too often locked onto targets. He repeatedly made incorrect reads, missing open receivers while throwing into double coverage. Only his strong arm and poor play by the Eagle's defensive backs prevented this from being a multiple interception night for Simms. I counted 3 times where he threw to a receiver into extremely tight or double coverage and the defensive backs should have intercepted the ball. Against 1s those interceptions probably take place. A stat line like Simms had last night but with 3 interceptions and a safety would not be nearly so impressive.
Still, this was Simms' night. He likely earned a roster spot. And with his strong arm and what looks to be improved accuracy, he at least raises the question, if he ever got the chances Sanchez has gotten, could he be better than Sanchez? Those chances of course are unlikely to ever come. First round picks get privileges UDFAs can only dream of. And even if Simms were to prove himself better than Sanchez, that is hardly a ringing endorsement. But it does make you wonder if it is Sanchez's spot and not Simms' which should have been in jeopardy this training camp.
Also helping themselves last night were the following:
Ricky Sapp, who had 2 tackles, an assist, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass defensed. It was by far the finest performance by Sapp as a pro, and it might have been enough to secure him a spot on the final 53.
Jaiquawn Jarrett, who led the Jets in tackles, had a pass defensed, and several times put heavy pressure on the quarterback. Antonio Allen had the flashy pick 6, but Jarrett had the better night and has had the better training camp. He should earn the starting nod when the games start to count.
Michael Campbell, who had one bad drop but otherwise led the Jets in receiving and had a very nice 41 yard catch and run down the sideline, flashing a little big play ability. There likely is no room for Campbell on the 53 man roster, but he may have earned himself a spot on the practice squad and a chance to replace somebody in the event of injury.
Players Who Were A Mixed Bag
Ryan Spadola. He caught 6 passes for 47 yards, but lost a fumble and looked terrible in the late Eagles onsides kick, failing to go up after the ball and almost costing the Jets possession. As a rookie receiver at the back end of the rotation, Spadola will have to contribute on special teams. His performance on the onsides kick was poor, and together with his lost fumble soured just a bit an otherwise very strong preseason.
Khalil Bell. I suppose most would say Bell had a strong game with 80 yards rushing and 2 TDs. I didn't see it that way. I think he showed himself to be a worthy short yardage back. He showed power and good leg churning, but little else. He looked slow, had very little wiggle and no cutback ability, little field vision, did not particularly set up his blocks well and showed little in the passing game. He also failed to keep a blitzing linebacker off of Simms, resulting in a safety. Bell is good enough to have what looks on paper to be a very nice day against 2s and 3s. However, I saw nothing to indicate he would be anything other than his usual ineffectual self against 1s. To me he may have earned a spot as a short yardage specialist with his power and constantly churning legs. Other than that, Bell is not really an NFL quality back, and is a poor fit in the WCO.
Mossis Madu. Madu did some nice things out there. He showed field vision, explosion, speed and wiggle that Bell lacks, and he showed several flashes in the passing game with 6 catches for 34 yards. He is a much better fit in the WCO than Bell and a more talented all around back. But he did not show enough to think he could be special in any aspect of the game. Bell at least showed he might be useful as a short yardage specialist. Madu showed only that he could be a useful all around back against 2s and 3s, without flashing enough to make you believe he would do it against 1s. I think Madu is superior to Bell in nearly every aspect of the game. But I am not convinced he will ever be good enough to carve out a role for himself against 1s in this league. I'd rather keep Madu over Bell to see if he might develop into a useful pass catching back in the WCO, but I don't know if he has flashed enough for the coaches to agree.
Jets Linebackers. Ricky Sapp flashed a bit, as did Danny Lansanah and Nick Bellore. But overall, while Coples is out, this unit is awful. With Coples out, the Jets may have only 1 NFL caliber linebacker on the entire roster, David Harris, and even he is fading fast. This may be the worst linebacker unit in the entire NFL. As a group the backups flashed a little something last night, but not nearly enough to make you believe any of them have any business garnering serious playing time in the NFL. While much has been made of the Jets' QBs, WRs, TEs and Safeties, in the end it may well be the LBs that are the weakest position on the team. If guys like Lansanah, Sapp or Barnes don't surprise on the upside, it could be a very long year indeed for Jets linebackers.
Well, that about sums it up. That's what I saw and how I think players helped or hurt themselves last night. What about you? What did you see, and who do you think may have gained or lost a spot with their final performance before cutdown day?