The Jets have been practicing for a few days now, but I wanted to take a step back and map out some of the key things I want to see the team get out of summer practices when it’s all said and done.
Maintaining good health throughout camp is without a doubt the top priority for every NFL team.
However, it’s an extremely tough factor to control. Each team wants to go as hard as possible in practice. Training camp is an important stretch for each and every player and coach for so many reasons:
- Working off the football rust
- Reaching peak physical condition
- Developing camaraderie
- Mastering the playbook
A team can’t accomplish these things if they slow everything down just to avoid injuries. And if they fail to sufficiently check off any of those boxes, they could be in for a rough season.
Ultimately, staying healthy just boils down to luck. Coaches and players can do their best to limit injury risk, but at the end of the day, there’s not much they can do. Football is a physical sport, and if a player is giving the level of effort they should be in practice, the possibility of injury is going to be there.
Training camp health can give a huge shakeup to the league pecking order entering the season. The teams that stay the healthiest could gain an advantage over their rivals — however slight. In the NFL, sometimes a slight advantage is all a team needs.
All anybody can do is hope for the best.
HOW WILL CORNERBACK SHAKE OUT?
Cornerback is an interesting position group for the Jets. As of right now, it’s clearly their weakest position on defense, and is in a battle with offensive line for the weakest position group on the entire team.
This definitely isn’t a position the Jets expected to be in when they made Trumaine Johnson one of the richest corners in football back in March of 2018, but here they are.
Johnson is a lock to make the team, but the Jets desperately need him to have a huge bounceback season. The former Ram battled injuries last season, and struggled mightily in the 10 games he was on the field. He appeared athletically limited and made some baffling coverage decisions, often playing way too far off and giving out 15-yard first downs like they were business cards.
A strong training camp and/or preseason from Johnson wouldn’t guarantee a single thing, but from an outsider’s perspective, an impressive summer would be a welcome sign of hope that a turnaround could be on the way.
Beyond Johnson, things get muddy. Darryl Roberts seems poised to be the number two corner. He’s had fleeting moments, but still hasn’t proven he is an ideal starting outside corner.
Free agent addition Brian Poole, a former Falcon, seems like a lock to earn the starting role in the nickel spot. However, he too has struggled with inconsistency. What are the Jets going to get from him? Buster Skrine was far from a fan favorite, but he received a much richer contract on the open market than Poole did, despite being 30 years old. Is Poole actually going to be any better than Skrine?
Beyond those three, it’s a dogfight. Jets draft picks Parry Nickerson, Derrick Jones, and Jeremy Clark headline the battle, but underdogs such as Arthur Maulet, Montrel Meander, and Dee Delaney are in the mix as well.
It seems like there are two opening day backup spots up for grabs in the cornerback room, with no surefire favorites to win them. With how thin the Jets are at this position, one of the aforementioned fringe players could end up starting a game this year. This is certainly a battle to keep an eye on.
SORTING OUT THE RECEIVER GROUP
The Jets have three absolute locks at wide receiver in Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and Jamison Crowder. Free agent pickup Josh Bellamy, mostly known for his special teams ability, is probably a lock as well.
There will be a battle for a spot on the team beyond those four. Maybe that competition is for only one spot, maybe it’s for two. We can’t be sure at this point, but I think we will learn a lot about the team’s philosophy through the outcome of this position.
Deontay Burnett headlines the group. Burnett, who is still only 21 years old, was the youngest wide receiver in the NFL to appear in the regular season last year. He was also the youngest Jet of all time. He played with Sam Darnold at USC, and their chemistry flashed in two road games against the Bears and Patriots. In those two contests, Burnett made some really impressive plays in the intermediate range, showcasing some chemistry with his college quarterback.
Charone Peake has fizzled out as a pass-catcher in the NFL, but he’s stuck around with his special teams value.
How many wide receivers do the Jets keep? Do they value having a fourth or fifth pass-catcher, special teams ability, or both?
Brant Boyer fielded the NFL’s best special teams unit last season, but the front office elected not to keep his two brightest stars in Andre Roberts and Jason Myers. With that said, the Jets did go out and spend on a pair of Bears specialists in Bellamy and Daniel Brown.
I’m curious to see which skills the Jets prioritize in this wide receiver battle. It was refreshing to see the Jets perform so well on special teams last year, and some continuity there could go a long way.
I’d also love to see Burnett make the team. I’m a huge fan of what he showcased last season, and am really intrigued by both his youth and his history with Darnold. At the same time, if the team doesn’t think he’s worthy of a roster spot, I can’t complain since I’m not there in practice or the film room to fully evaluate him like the coaches and staff members are.
There are a few other underdogs in this competition, such as veteran Deonte Thompson, undrafted free agent Greg Dortch, and J.J. Jones, who made a cameo with the team in 2018.
This will be a battle to watch very closely in the preseason — I’m talking “analyze the punt team gunners” closely.
WHERE DOES JACHAI POLITE END UP?
Jordan Jenkins is a lock to start at outside linebacker for the fourth consecutive season. Opposite him, there are a few interesting candidates in the mix.
Brandon Copeland emerged from out of nowhere to rank number two on the team in outside linebacker snaps last season, playing only 49 fewer than Jenkins. He seems to be the favorite to maintain that spot for the time being, but the Jets added an exciting player to the competition back in April.
One of Mike Maccagnan’s final two third round picks as the head honcho in Florham Park was Jachai Polite. He had an offseason riddled with question marks, but he was considered a first round talent before those came in.
Things haven’t been peachy for Polite thus far. He’s reportedly been working with the third team, not yet sniffing a starting role.
Polite has the most exciting upside of any edge rusher the Jets have had in a while. I’m really interested to see where the coaches slide him in on the depth chart, and how he performs in the preseason. I think Polite could provide some juice as a situational player this year, but it seems like his breakout might not come until at least his second season.
There are tons of other mini-battles that will take place between now and September 8th, but these are some of the most intriguing ones that I’ll be watching closely.
Which Jets roster battles are you keeping a close eye on?