With the start of training camp upon us, let's take a look at five important questions that must be answered.
5. How competitiony will things get?
We have heard the word "competition" thrown around a lot this offseason. Saying it during the offseason doesn't mean a whole lot. Every team has competition in training camp on some level. The question remains how serious the Jets are about it.
Is Kenrick Ellis going to have a chance to take the starting job from Damon Harrison if he plays better? Will some of the young linemen be given the opportunity to take starting jobs from Willie Colon and Breno Giacomini? Is Brian Winters assured a starting job?
To me the only players who have the pedigree to automatically earn starting jobs are D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Eric Decker, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Sheldon Richardson (and Jeremy Kerley if we're including slot receivers). The other spots should be subject to competition at least to some degree. Will the Jets see things the same way, or will they limit their competition to spots where there is no entrenched starter like wide receiver?
4. Will the offensive line have time to gel?
Chemistry and continuity are very important on the offensive line. You need to know exactly how the player(s) next to you will respond to every subtle move the defense makes. It takes time to get comfortable with what your partner will do. The Jets' situation on the offensive line is unclear. What we do know is there will be a new right tackle. Willie Colon's status, coming off a serious injury, is uncertain. There also might be competition as mentioned above. That is a good thing. Finding the best players is the most important thing, but getting the line settled is also important.
3. Who will emerge as the second option in the passing game?
I think you can win in this league with Eric Decker as the top dog in your passing game. I don't think he's a talent like a Calvin Johnson/Andre Johnson/Dez Bryant, etc. where he is going to produce big even if he doesn't have a great supporting cast. A defense can take Decker away. He and the Jets will need to find a second option to make defenses pay for dedicating too many resources his way. Gang Green does have supporting pieces ranging from borderline functional to good in David Nelson, Jeff Cumberland, Chris Johnson, and Jeremy Kerley. None of these guys will wreck your defense from paying too much attention to the top guy.
The two most likely candidates to fill this role? Jace Amaro and Stephen Hill. Both have the athletic ability to make a difference on offense. Both face obstacles, though. Amaro's position features a notoriously steep learning curve. Hill, meanwhile, hasn't produced much in his two NFL seasons. The problem isn't so much Hill's failure to become a superstar as it is his inability to show much tangible improvement in his two seasons. He's essentially the same raw, flawed player the Jets took two years ago.
2. How much better will Dee Milliner get?
You could argue Quinton Coples, but I don't think there is any player whose development is more important to the Jets defense than Milliner. The run defense is likely to be stout again. Can the pass defense recover? A lot of it has to do with Milliner.
The choices the Jets made in sitting out the deep free agent class at the position have left the team in a position where Milliner almost has to become a star. Milliner had a really rough rookie season, which was not all that surprising given the struggles most rookie corners have. He ended it on a strong note with a pair of good performances against the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns.
If Milliner builds on that and can take away number one targets from the opposition, the pass defense could be quite strong. The Jets will be able to roll coverages to help protect the guy on the other side of the field. A Milliner who grows into average will probably have some problems and leave the pass defense exposed against the strong throwing teams the Jets face early. If Milliner looks like the same player he did as a rookie, the pass defense could be as bad or even worse than it was last year.
We will not know how much better Milliner is until the season starts, but camp will at least start to paint the picture on whether some of the more technical aspects of his game will get better. In particular I am hoping to see a more physical player. Dee's lack of physicality most of last year was alarming to me and bad news in the defense Rex Ryan runs.
1. Who will start at quarterback?
Again, there has been plenty of speculation about whether a competition exists at quarterback. Let's look at reality. Marty Mornhinweg said Geno Smith will get 70 to 75 percent of first team reps in training camp. That is a sign Geno Smith does not have the starting job in the bag. If he did, the Jets would dedicate all of their reps to getting him ready. Do you think the backups in New England and Green Bay are seeing a quarter of the first team reps at camp?
The Jets want Geno to win the job. If all things are equal or close to equal, the tie will probably go to the younger player with room to grow. If Geno does not show improvement over what was all too frequently poor play in his rookie year, a coach who might need a good year to keep his job will be tempted to go with a more proven veteran.