Tuesday, May 12, 2009


At the Daily News Rich Cimini gives his top 10 reasons to be fired up and concerned about the Jets:

Top 10 Reasons to be Fired Up:

The season ended 4 1/2 months ago, and it's four months until the 2009 regular season, which puts us in the middle of nowhere in terms of the football calendar. It's not exactly a "dead" period, as OTAs begin today (Thursday is open to the media), but you get the point. To pass the time, we're going to gaze into a crystal ball and take a look at 2009.

Today, we'll examine the top 10 reasons to be fired up about the Jets in 2009.

Tomorrow, we'll list the top 10 concerns.

Here we go:

1. Philosophy + attitude = plan. By this, I mean the Jets know what they want to be. Under Rex Ryan, they will be a defensive-minded team that plays ball control with a strong running game. He established that mindset from the beginning. They will be a "ground and pound" offense and attack on defense. A year ago, the Jets suffered an identity crisis, as Brett Favre's late arrival forced them to change their plans. They never found a comfort zone. Eric Mangini's beloved "game plan-specific" approach never afforded the players a chance to develop a personality. Basically, they were all over the place, especially on offense.

2. Attacking D. The read-and-react days are over; the Jets will be playing downhill in the front seven. Technically, Ryan's base is a 3-4, but he uses multiple fronts and it's not a pure two-gap system, as it was under Mangini. You will see a lot of 4-3 looks with OLB Bryan Thomas, or perhaps OLB Calvin Pace, as a down lineman. You won't see Kris Jenkins head-up on the nose every play; he'll move around. You won't see S Kerry Rhodes disappear for long stretches; there will be schemes tailored to his play-making ability.

3. Continuity on the O-line. All five starters return, a rarity in the NFL. That will help tremendously, especially with an inexperienced quarterback. C Nick Mangold and LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson are ascending players. LG Alan Faneca and RT Damien Woody, both on the wrong side of 30, are getting close to the downside, but neither player has hit that slope just yet. In other words, on paper, the line should be better than last season.

4. Improved secondary. With the additions of CB Lito Sheppard and S Jim Leonhard, this should be the most improved area on the team. There will be a lot more man-to-man coverage in Ryan's scheme, but Sheppard and Darrelle Revis should be up for it. Under Mangini, the Jets were scorched by short-passing teams because the corners played "off" coverage and the linebackers were too slow in their drops. As a result, they made heroes of pedestrian quarterbacks like Shaun Hill, Seneca Wallace, etc. Better coverage will help the pass rush, too.

5. Bart Scott. The $48 million inside linebacker's confident attitude is infectious, and he will bring energy and swagger to a defense that lacked both last season. He also knows Ryan's defense, as does Leonhard and DE Marques Douglas, which should make the transition period easier for the entire unit.

6. Three-headed monster. With Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and rookie Shonn Greene, the Jets have a deep and diverse backfield - and that's what you need to be a smashmouth offense. The Jets are stealing a page from the Giants' playbook, but, hey, it works. The trick will be managing the "touches," making sure each player's ability is maximized.

7. The QB competition. In a sense, this is a huge question mark, considering neither Kellen Clemens nor Mark Sanchez is proven, but let's take a look at the positive side: Nothing stirs a team like a legitimate QB competition. Clemens knows he's the underdog, but this is his chance to take a stand and make the organization feel like it screwed up by making such a huge splash for Sanchez. If Clemens has anything, he'll show it now; his career is riding on it. Those around Clemens and Sanchez should be able to feed off the intensity of the competition.

8. A chance for B Schott to be Schott. Ryan is giving coordinator Brian Schottenheimer complete control of the offense, which means he won't have to change his system to suit a geezer quarterback (see Favre) or a micro-managing coach (Mangini). This will be Schottenheimer's baby and, from the early indications, he wants to go back to the style he ran in 2006, when they relied heavily on motions and shifts to create mismatches. He had to scrap that last season because of Favre, who preferred static formations. This will be a great opportunity for Schottenheimer to sell himself as a head-coaching candidate.

9. The Leon King. Washington is one of the top playmakers in the league. Now all they have to do is get him the ball more than 12.5 times per game, last season's average (based on rushes, receptions, kickoff and punt returns). Washington is dangerous in space, making him the ideal complement to Ryan's "ground and pound" approach.

10. Vernon Gholston. He has to get better, doesn't he?

Top 10 Reasons to be Concerned:

1. No proven quarterback. Kellen Clemens has a 3-5 career record as a starter, and only one of the starts (a close loss in Baltimore in '07) could be considered a meaningful game. Rookie Mark Sanchez started only 16 games in college, albeit at a high level of competition. The point is, the Jets don't know what they're going to get from the quarterback position, and that's a scary proposition in the NFL. You've read a lot about Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, both very successful as rookie QBs, but those were rare, perfect-storm situations. Flacco and Ryan started 26 and 32 games, respectively, in college - a huge help.

2. No No. 1 wide receiver. They have a very good No. 2 receiver (Jerricho Cotchery) and a handful of candidates for the No. 3 and No. 4 jobs, but the lack of a true 1 will have a major impact on the offense. With no one to stretch the field and/or draw extra coverage, the Jets will see more blitzes and more eight-man fronts, designed to choke the running game. It's hard to score points when your offense is operating on a 20-yard field, but that could be the case. I wouldn't be shocked if the Jets make another inquiry into Anquan Boldin before the start of training camp. And they will continue to monitor the Plaxico Burress situation.

3. Is there a blocking tight end in the house? The Jets are delusional if they think Bubba Franks is the answer. He hasn't played a full season since 2006, he's an old 31 and he didn't exactly light up the place last summer in training camp. He was dropping everything. But the front office botched the Chris Baker situation, and now it's paying the price. No matter what they say, Dustin Keller can't block. Nice receiver, can't block. It's hard to believe that a team with smashmouth intentions would fail to address such an important position.

4. A rookie coach. Rex Ryan has an impressive resume, a winning personality and good football genes, but he's never been a head coach in his life. There are bound to be some mistakes along the way, especially with game management. He's also had no experience on the offensive side of the ball, so it'll be interesting to see how he coordinates all three phases - offense, defense, special teams - into weekly game plans. Defensive-minded head coaches tend to be conservative on offense, and that's okay, but will that jibe with Brian Schottenheimer's vision for the offense?

5. Lack of depth - in a lot of places. The Jets are thin at tight end, offensive line, defensive line, inside linebacker and safety. Of course, that's what happens when you trade away draft picks. They've picked only 13 players in the last three drafts, and that catches up to a team in terms of the bottom third of the roster. They'd better hope they stay healhy, especially on both lines.

6. A shortage of edge speed. Truth be told, the Jets haven't had a speed rusher since John Abraham. Calvin Pace is a solid, three-down linebacker, but he's not going to draw two blockers. Neither will Bryan Thomas, who has had two straight subpar years. Vernon Gholston was supposed to have edge speed, but he plays about 2/10ths of a second slower than his 40 time. It looks like Ryan will have to manufacture sacks with clever schemes.

7. A short of long speed on offense. Other than Leon Washington, they don't have any home-run threats. WR David Clowney is a burner, probably the fastest guy on the team, but he doesn't have any pelts.

8. Unhappy campers. Washington has joined Thomas Jones on the "disgruntled running back" list. Recent history suggests the organization will eventually cave in. They gave Pete Kendall a "Get Out of Jail Free" card, trading him to the Redskins even though there was no adequate replacement, and they placated Baker by basically granting him free agency before he was due to become free. They pretty much did the same for Laveranues Coles. Washington is underpaid and, I suspect, will land a new deal before training camp. The Jones situation could be trickier. Will Mike Tannenbaum take a hardline approach? Will Jones try to shoot his way out of town? This one could turn ugly.

9. Learning a new D. Ryan's system is radically different from the Mangini scheme, and it will take some getting used to. Players say they're still thinking too much on their feet, not reacting instinctively. It's early in the process, very early, but it would be unrealistic to expect the defense to be as smooth and efficient as Ryan's old team in Baltimore. There will be growing pains.

10. Can anyone punt? There are no experienced punters on the roster. T.J. Conley, a rookie free agent from Idaho, has a chance. If he bombs, they'll sign a veteran for training camp.

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