Likes, dislikes from Jets, Patriots minicamp
June, 14, 2012
By James Walker | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Charles KrupaPatriots quarterback Tom Brady looks to have picked up where he left off last season.
The AFC East blog is wrapping up its two-stop minicamp tour in the Northeast with the New York Jets and New England Patriots. It was a fun week in which I was able to see both teams up close.
But before we head back to our Miami headquarters, here are some things we liked and disliked from the Patriots and Jets:
Things we liked
No. 1: Patriots QB Tom Brady
Brady looked sharp, as expected, and was by far the best quarterback I saw during my two stops. He was accurate and his passes had zip. Brady also is concentrating on his mechanics and it shows. On Wednesday Brady made several big connections in team drills with Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker and tight end Aaron Hernandez. Brady's two deep touchdown throws to Welker were particularly impressive.
Brady, 34, is in great shape and says he's already at his ideal playing weight of 228 pounds. He was very modest about his minicamp performance. But we liked what we saw from the future Hall of Famer.
No. 2: Jets’ defense
Watching the Jets practice and talking to players in the locker room, it's clear the Jets' defense is hungry. The defense was a top-five unit last year, but the players still do not feel they played to their standards. The Jets' defense was flying around the football in minicamp and appears to be getting its swagger back.
In-house players such as linebacker Bart Scott and second-year defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson look in great shape and much improved. Outside additions such as rookie defensive end Quinton Coples and veteran safety Yeremiah Bell also are making plays. If the Jets can get hard-hitting safety LaRon Landry (Achilles) healthy, they will have defensive playmakers at nearly every position. Jets linebacker Calvin Pace says they want to be the No. 1 defense in the NFL this season. If everyone stays healthy, the Jets could have a shot.
No. 3: Jets WR Chaz Schilens
During my Tuesday trip to Florham Park, N.J., Schilens was the receiver who made the most plays in practice. The former Oakland Raider has good size, strong hands and athleticism. Schilens could be an underrated find if he’s able to stay healthy, which has always been an issue.
AP Photo/Julio CortezChaz Schilens stood out among the Jets' wide receivers at minicamp.
Schilens made a play Tuesday that most Pro Bowl receivers couldn’t make. One-on-one against Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, Schilens beat Revis to the corner of the end zone, leaped over the cornerback and snatched a high pass from quarterback Mark Sanchez for a touchdown. It was the most impressive catch of practice, especially considering who Schilens beat.
The Jets need playmakers on offense. Schilens will earn playing time if he makes more plays like that in training camp.
Things we didn't like
No. 1: Patriots QB Brian Hoyer
I didn't take over the AFC East blog last year until the start of the regular season. So I was curious to see a player like Hoyer, who backed up Brady last season and got most of his work in training camp and the preseason. I thought Hoyer struggled in practice.
Hoyer's size and arm strength looked average and his accuracy and decision-making weren't great this week. In team drills Wednesday, he threw a bad interception in coverage to Patriots rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower. According to the Boston Globe, Hoyer also threw two picks on Tuesday.
This could be the year that Ryan Mallett pushes -- and perhaps surpasses -- Hoyer for the No. 2 job in the preseason. Mallett, a 2011 draft pick, still has a lot to learn but has the physical tools (size, arm strength) Hoyer lacks.
No. 2: Patriots CB Ras-I Dowling
Dowling was another player I missed watching in training camp and the preseason last year and was curious to see where he stood. Dowling is a former second-round pick whom New England had high expectations for until a hip injury in 2011 put him on injured reserve.
In some ways, Dowling could be considered an extra draft pick this year. He played in just two games as a rookie and is trying to work his way back into football shape. But Dowling still looks a step slow and had trouble covering quick receivers. He has to make a lot of progress between now and training camp in order to win a meaningful role in the secondary.
The Patriots need play-making cornerbacks. Dowling was that type of player in college but still has a lot to prove at the NFL level.
No. 3: Jets WR injuries
Speaking of injuries, I didn't get a good evaluation of New York's receivers this week, because many of them were banged up. Projected starters Santonio Holmes and rookie second-round pick Stephen Hill both have hamstring injuries. Backup Patrick Turner also is banged up.
The good news is we got to see receivers like Schilens, Jeremy Kerley and Royce Pollard get extra work. But Holmes and Hill are the big guns the Jets will be relying on this season. Quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow need reps with New York's starting receivers, because the team is learning a new offense under first-year offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. Holmes, Hill and Turner will have to make up for missed time next month in training camp.