The end of the offseason is finally upon us as the New York Jets report for training camp on July 23rd. The early outlook for Gang Green is encouraging as the team added several playmakers to a group that went 8-8 in 2013. Will the Jets be able to make a run at a playoff spot in 2014? The team will have to answer several questions on the field before that question can be entertained.
Can the offensive line become a dominant force?
The New York Jets offense ended the 2013 season ranked 6th in rushing and 31st in passing. These rankings, especially the passing, were somewhat expected as the Jets fielded a rookie quarterback with an average supporting cast that became decimated by injuries.
While Geno Smith absorbed most of the blame for the offense’s struggles the New York Jets offensive line had some issues yielding 47 sacks (6th in the NFL) and 98 quarterback hits (9th in the NFL). Yes, some of these numbers can be attributed to Geno Smith’s learning curve as he struggled to read defenses. There were also times when the Jets offensive line was getting dominated at the line of scrimmage. If Gang Green is going to improve in 2014, the line as a unit must play at a higher level.
Veteran Breno Giacomini will be replacing Austin Howard at right tackle while the Jets are hoping that Willie Colon will return healthy enough to play right guard. The left guard position could become an open competition between Brian Winters and Oday Aboushi.
Which wide receivers will make the cut?
General manager John Idzik did a tremendous job of adding competition to the wide receiver room. The addition of Eric Decker instantly gives the Jets a player that opposing defenses must account for. Decker will create space for other players and will be a significant threat in the redzone.
Jeremy Kerley is a dynamic playmaker that should find a lot of freedom in the middle of the field due to the weapons (Decker, Johnson, Amaro etc) that Gang Green added.
David Nelson is a veteran presence that has the size (6’5) and ability to consistently make plays in the west coast offense. To me it would be shocking if Nelson is not on the final 53 man roster.
Stephen Hill is a player that many have written off after 2 disappointing seasons. Hill has struggled with consistency and route running and was hindered by injuries last season. This is clearly a make or break preseason for Stephen Hill and the early signs are positive as he had an excellent mini-camp.
The best of the rest? Greg Salas, Jacoby Ford, Jalen Saunders, Shaq Evans, Saalim Hakim, Clyde Gates, Michael Campbell, and Quincy Enunwa will all be fighting for roster spots. The ability to play on specials teams could dictate a lot for this group of pass catchers. A sleeper pick is Hakim as he is a dangerous returner and one of the fastest players on the roster.
Amaro ready for the big stage?
The expectations are very high for rookie tight end Jace Amaro as Jets fans are yearning for their own Rob Gronkowski/Jimmy Graham. Amaro has all of the tools to become a legitimate threat in the passing game, now it is a matter of learning the offense and the speed of the NFL. A two tight end set featuring Jace and Jeff Cumberland could create some match-up problems for opposing defenses.
What will Chris Johnson bring to the Jets offense?
The Jets added a bit of lightning to their backfield with the signing of running back Chris Johnson. The former Tennessee Titan is a threat to score any time the ball is in hands and should be a perfect compliment to running back Chris Ivory. Johnson is also a reliable receiver out of the backfield (272 career receptions), which is an element that the Jets offense has been missing in recent years.
Can Geno take his game to the next level?
All eyes are on Geno Smith and his ability to progress as the starting quarterback for the New York Jets. Smith is coming off of an inconsistent rookie campaign and will be facing some pressure from backup Michael Vick.
In order for Geno to stake his claim as the Jets signal caller he must do the following:
1) Display a firm grasp of the offense and embrace a leadership role.
2) Make better decisions with the football and reduce turnovers.
3) Improve his recognition of defenses before the snap.
4) Continue to use his legs to move around the pocket and to take the yards that are given to him.
The pieces are in place
On paper there is no reason why the New York Jets offense should not be much improved in 2014. The Jets have added speed and talent, and should be able to open up their playbook. Now it is up to the coaches and players to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together and to get ready for take off against the Oakland Raiders on September 7th.
Note: Eric Decker to host pro camp for children in NJ.