- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Jets have a lot of questions offensively. Not many players performed to their potential in 2011, and it showed in New York’s 25th ranking last season. There are issues all around at quarterback, offensive line and receiver. Is Mark Sanchez the long-term solution? Does Sanchez have enough weapons and can the offensive line better pass protect this year? Most of the team’s chemistry issues also were on this side of the ball. That is why new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano was hired this offseason. It’s his job to clean up the mess and get the most out of his group. The Jets want to run the ball, but expect many opponents to stack the box and see if Sanchez and Co. can pass.
As bad as the Jets looked at times, particularly late, it’s easy to forget that New York had a top-five defense last season. The Jets’ defense wasn’t as dominant as previous years but still did a good job of keeping the team in contention until the end. New York was put in a lot of bad spots defensively due to the many turnovers on offense. That also led to some locker-room unhappiness between the offense and defense. But the Jets have the best defense in the AFC East. They have added to their pass rush by switching to more 4-3 looks and more intimidation at safety with hitters LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell. That was New York’s two biggest holes defensively last season. As long as Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis doesn’t hold out, New York's defense should be stout.
Say what you want about Jets head coach Rex Ryan, but he’s a good football coach. You don’t get to back-to-back AFC title games your first two years without good coaching. Ryan knows his Xs and Os defensively and players enjoy playing for him. That’s two big things Ryan has in his favor. The brash attitude rubs a lot of people the wrong way, and Ryan did the right thing to tone it down this offseason. Ryan also vows to do a better job keeping his locker room in tact.
The Jets locker room was in shambles at the end of last year. The Jets say things have changed, but it’s easy to say right now. Let’s see how this team responds to a two- or three-game losing streak in the regular season. There’s also the looming quarterback controversy between Sanchez and popular backup Tim Tebow. If Sanchez has a bad game or two, things could get ugly in New York’s locker room for the second straight year.
The Jets are one of the hardest teams to gauge. Last year the sense was this team’s run is over and the Jets are aging and on the decline. Then New York made some key changes this offseason and added some youth in the draft to make it possible for a bounce-back year. The Jets are not better than the New England Patriots. But New York is good enough for second place in the division if things go right and the team stays healthy and together. But those are big ifs.
The AFC East blog continues its series this week on pre-training camp grades. On Wednesday, we take a look at the New York Jets, who are coming off a disappointing 8-8 season.