Jets’ Training Camp officially opens this week. It will be the first time players will be required to show up since the 1-week Minicamp held in June and the first time they’ve put on pads since late December/ early January. OTAs is where players started to install the system and get to know their teammates and coaches, but now is when they’ll earn (or lose) one of the coveted 53 roster spots the team can hand out. There are obviously the locks to make the roster, such as Sam Darnold, Le’Veon Bell, and Jamal Adams, but for 2/3rds of the 90-Man Preseason Roster, their future is up in the air. The Jets had quite an eventful off-season, with an influx of new faces at virtually every level of the franchise. From players to coaches to even all the way up to General Manager, this is a completely new look New York Jets. With a new season comes new opportunities, but with no pre-existing relationships, the door is even more wide-open for fringe guys to make their mark during Training Camp. Here are three things to watch as Training Camp quickly approaches.
Although the Jets made quite a splash in Free Agency, they still have some major holes left to address, with the most notable of them being the CB position. Not only are they lacking depth, but even their starters are less than ideal, at least when you look at it in this current moment.
Last year, they signed CB Trumaine Johnson to a massive $72.5 million contract, and it’s safe to say he has not come close to living up to it. He struggled mightily last season, and hopes to have a bounce back season. However, he is getting up there in age (He is now 29) so it will be interesting to see if age is truly whats holding him back or if new Jets DC Gregg Williams (who Johnson has had career years under) can inject some life into the struggling corner. Either way, it is imperative he has a bounce back year or the secondary will suffer through a very long season.
The projected starter opposite Johnson is Daryl Roberts. Roberts, up to this point, has been nothing but a career backup, however he has steadily improved every season since he was claimed off waivers by the Jets in 2016. In his very limited sample size last season as an outside corner, he filled in exceptionally well and one could make an argument he was the best corner on the field at times. The Jets must’ve seen something in him (albeit the former regime under now-former GM Mike Maccagnan), as they signed him to a rather lofty extension relative to what you’d expect a player like him to garner, at 3 Years / $18 Million. No matter which way you slice it, that’s starting-caliber salary, and one has to worry if a 28 year old Roberts with no Week 1 starting experience can hold up and stay consistent for a 16 game stretch, especially with the #1 CB role being surrounded by just as many questions.
The Jets lost nickel corner Buster Skrine to the Bears in Free Agency, and in-turn signed former Falcon’s corner Brian Poole who is basically a younger version of the former. He, for all intents and purposes, has the starting slot job locked down unless former 6th-rounder Parry Nickerson makes a sizeable leap in Year 2.
The Jets are also lacking severely in depth. If one of their outside starters go down, they would be forced to play a young guy with little to no experience. The projected 3rd-string outside corner currently rostered is Derrick Jones, who has a whopping 1 game of starting experience in his 2-year career. This is unless someone unexpectedly steps up, such as the last draft pick of the Maccagnan era, Blessuan Austin. If not, the new Jets GM should (and will) scavenge the waiver wire during cut-down season for any form of relief. If the starting 2 really struggle, you could even expect a trade for bubble guys or cap casualties/aging veterans.
Last week, the NFL released a mini-bombshell when they announced starting TE Chris Herndon would in fact be suspended for 4 games instead of the largely anticipated 2. This was huge news because the Jets now are without a key piece of their offense until Week 6, and in that span they play 4 very good teams with a bye in-between. (BUF, CLE, NE, PHI)
That means the Jets must find someone worthy of starting for the first quarter of the season, and from the looks of it now, it seems to be an open and equal race. Rookie TE Trevon Wesco is the fan-favorite, but he is just that, a rookie. He certainly has underrated athleticism and recieving ability, but he was drafted to be used in a H-back kind of role, to be a role player while Herndon took the reigns. It would be a difficult task to go from being quite unused in an air-raid West Virginia offense to starting TE for an NFL team in less than a year, however not entirely out of the question.
The other two “front-runners” for the starting job while Herndon is out would be the longest tenured Jet TE on the roster, Eric Tomlinson, and late-stage Free Agent acquisition Daniel Brown who has been a majority special-teams player but does have ties to Jets Head Coach Adam Gase. It is truly an open competition and it will be very interesting to see who comes out on top. Edit: It was announced that the Jets signed former Texans TE Ryan Griffin. He will be a name to watch to see if he can develop a rapport with Darnold and win the battle in camp. The race still seems to be lacking a clear favorite.
Special Teams Battles:
Last season the Jets had the best Special Teams unit in the NFL, with both their Kicker and Kick Returner receiving Pro Bowl nods and the latter even making the All-Pro 1st team. However, the Jets must’ve felt their success had more to do with Special Teams coordinator Brant Boyer and less with the players, because they extended Boyer and let their 2 Special Teams aces walk for nothing. To make up for the losses, they signed K Chandler Catanzaro in Free Agency (who has had a previous stint with the team) and signed a motley of Kick Returners. Catanzaro’s job is safe for now, but that could easily change. The kick return roles, however, are a completely different story.
The Jets have quite a few “return specialists” competing for one job. For many of these players, becoming the return man is the only way they will make the roster, as they would provide little elsewhere. The main names to watch are Rookie WR Greg Dortch, WR Quadree Henderson, WR Deonte Thompson, and RB Trenton Cannon.
Like the TE battle, it is a completely open race. Dortch is the fan-favorite, but he has just as much of a chance as anyone else. It’s hard to point out a clear favorite because of how evenly matched it seems from this current point. It will be interesting to watch if one of them separate them self from the pack. If none of them impress the coaches, the Jets can just delegate the Kick Return duties to RB Ty Montgomery and the Punt Return duties to WR Jameison Crowder. Preseason is where these 4 fringe guys will earn their spot.