AFC East: Brian Winters

Jets notes: McDougle makes debut

June, 11, 2014
6/11/14
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Notes and observations from Wednesday's OTA practice:

1. He-e-e-e-re's Dex: Third-round pick Dexter McDougle, who missed the final nine games of his senior year due to major shoulder surgery, made his practice debut for the New York Jets. After three weeks of wearing a red (non-contact) jersey, the rookie cornerback wore green with the rest of his defensive teammates and impressed Rex Ryan so much that the coach called him out in front of the team afterward. McDougle worked with the second-team nickel package and didn't seem tentative at all. This, of course, is good news for the Jets' revamped cornerback position.

[+] EnlargeEric Decker
AP Photo/Julio CortezThe Jets will be counting on receiver Eric Decker to produce in the red zone this season.
2. Rex comes clean: The Jets received mild criticism for taking McDougle in the third round, considering the time he missed at Maryland. Ryan admitted he, too, thought it was a risky pick, but others in the organization -- mainly defensive coordinat0r Dennis Thurman -- "eased my doubts" about McDougle. Ryan said Thurman, after watching McDougle on tape for the first time, came up to him and said, "I've got the guy right here." Ryan said they graded McDougle as one of the top "character" players in the draft. Assuming he has no setbacks, he will be able to participate in next week's minicamp.

3. Changing of the guards: 'Tis the time of year to experiment. With Willie Colon (arthroscopic knee surgery) sidelined for the remainder of the offseason, the Jets have been rotating players at right guard. On Wednesday, it was Brian Winters' turn. He traded places with Oday Aboushi, who moved to Winters' spot at left guard. No, this doesn't mean Colon is in danger of losing his starting job. Ryan acknowledged that Colon, who is expected to return for training camp, is a likely starter, but not necessarily at right guard. Interesting. Moving the players around in June creates competition and flexibility that could help in training camp.

4. Geno and Vick: There was a concentration on the two-minute offense and the red zone in practice. Both Geno Smith and Michael Vick looked sharp in the red zone, each quarterback completing four of five passes in team drills. Smith got most of the work with the starters. His best moment came when he stepped up in the pocket and found wide receiver Eric Decker in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Decker dominated in the red zone, one of the reasons why the Jets are paying him $7 million a year. Vick displayed his old form, scrambling for a touchdown. He also made a nice scoring pass to rookie wide receiver Jalen Saunders.

5. Two-minute hiccups: Smith wasn't nearly as crisp in the hurry-up situation. He started off with a deep ball to Decker, but the drive stalled as he misfired on three of his last four passes. First-round pick Calvin Pryor came on a safety blitz to disrupt Smith on one play.

6. Rex on the QB competition/non-competition: Not surprisingly, Ryan spoke glowingly on the Smith-Vick battle -- even though it's not really a battle, if you ask Vick. "Both guys are sharp," Ryan said. "They're pushing themselves and pushing each other. That's exactly what we wanted to have happen. ... I've been really impressed with it."

7. Attendance report: Players that didn't participate in the voluntary practice included wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (personal), running back Mike Goodson (undisclosed), running back Chris Johnson (knee), running back Daryl Richardson (toe), wide receiver Jacoby Ford (undisclosed), Colon (knee), rookie wide receiver Shaq Evans (school obligation) and linebacker Antwan Barnes (knee). Ryan said he expects Goodson to show up for next week's mandatory minicamp. As expected, Johnson -- six months removed from knee surgery -- isn't expected to do much, if anything, in the minicamp. Ford will be full speed by next week.

8. Dee's cranky hammy: Cornerback Dee Milliner, who sat out last week's open practice, participated on a limited basis. Officially, the team is calling it hamstring "tightness," not a pulled hamstring. Got that? Ryan said they kept him out for precautionary reasons.

9. Odds and ends: Pryor continued to work with the starters. It was Pryor and Antonio Allen at safety, with Dawan Landry practicing with the second team. Landry already knows the defense; the plan is to let Pryor and Allen get as many reps as possible. ... The Jets are continuing their penalty/push-up tradition. When a penalty is committed, the entire team drops for 10 push ups. General manager John Idzik was among the non-players that did pushups. ... Matt Simms, battling rookie Tajh Boyd for the No. 3 quarterback job, threw an interception. ... Rookie tight end Jace Amaro, coming off a three-drop day last week, had another drop but looked much better catching the ball.
Nearly four months removed from the feel-good finish to their 8-8 season, the New York Jets return to work Monday for the official start of the offseason -- a nine-week program that gradually increases in intensity and culminates with a mandatory minicamp, June 17-19.

The offseason program is voluntary (wink, wink), although many players are required to attend to collect workout bonuses. The Jets' top storylines:

Smith
Vick
Vick
1. A new locker room culture: The Jets dumped three high-profile players, Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie, all of whom wielded considerable influence in the locker room (for better or worse). The team will experience a natural change in leadership as the new players are integrated. The most compelling dynamic will be the Geno Smith-Michael Vick relationship and how it impacts the team. Smith won the team's respect last season with his resilience; Vick will command it as soon as he walks in the door.

2. The quarterback competition: It will take four months to decide Smith vs. Vick, but you can bet every pass, every action and every word uttered by them and their teammates will be micr0-analyzed by the media. Practices (OTAs) don't start until May 27, so prepare for five weeks of rhetoric, followed by pass-by-pass analysis on Twitter. Hey, it's New York and we love a good quarterback controversy. The pre-camp favorite? All things being equal, Smith gets the job, but Vick has a lot going for him and could outplay Smith in the preseason. Presumably, the Jets won't botch the competition this time, allowing them to -- you know -- actually declare a winner.

3. Sophs under the microscope: The offseason program always is important for second-year players because ... well, it's their first full offseason in the NFL. For cornerback Dee Milliner and guard Brian Winters, it's doubly important. Milliner was forced to sit out last year's workouts because he was recovering from pre-draft shoulder surgery, putting him behind everybody -- and it showed. For Winters, who played tackle in college, this will be his first offseason to train as a guard, where he struggled for most of his rookie season.

4. Learning MartyBall: It's a new-look offense, with possibly four new starters -- Vick, running back Chris Johnson, wide receiver Eric Decker and right tackle Breno Giacomini. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg set a foundation last season in Year 1 of his system, but he may have to circle back because there are so many new pieces -- and that number will grow after the draft. Vick's familiarity with Mornhinweg's offense will help a lot because it means every quarterback in the room knows the system, an important springboard in any offseason.

5. Blissfully quiet: A year ago, the Jets and Darrelle Revis' camp were locked in a dispute over whether the star cornerback had to work out with the team to collect bonus money. It didn't last long, as Revis was sent packing. There are no such distractions this year -- yet.
Our top 25 rankings continue. Remember, it's based on a total evaluation, not just 2013 performance. Weight is given to positional value (quarterbacks and cornerbacks rate higher than, say, guards and safeties), potential (young draft picks over-aging veterans) and contractual status (cost-effective contracts over huge cap numbers and free agents). Here are 11 to 15:

11. Antonio Cromartie, cornerback, (cap charge: $14.98 million): This is based, in large part, on the belief that Cromartie's disappointing year (Pro Bowl appearance notwithstanding) was an aberration due to his season-long hip problem. When healthy, Cromartie is a No. 1 corner -- and they're hard to find. His unweildy cap number clouds his future with the team.

12. Austin Howard, right tackle, (cap charge: Free agent): He's a player on the rise, a two-year starter with a chance to be good for many years. The Jets will try to lock him up before he hits the open market. It seems like he's been around for awhile, but he'll be only 27 next month.

13. Chris Ivory, running back, (cap charge: $1.75 million): There are some who wonder if Ivory will ever put it together for an entire season, but we can only go by what we see. Over the second half of the season, he rushed for 603 yards and averaged 5.6 per carry. He's still young and improving.

14. Demario Davis, linebacker, (cap charge: $764,000): Another player on the ascent. He's a run-and-hit linebacker with value because he can play in space, allowing him to stay on the field for passing downs. In time, he will be the leader of the defense.

15. Brian Winters, left guard, (cap charge: $690,000): This might seem like a head scratcher, considering Winters' rookie struggles, but he was playing a new position and should settle down in year 2. The former third-round pick was well-regarded in the draft, not just by the Jets.

Previously:

16. Dawan Landry, safety

17. Calvin Pace, outside linebacker

18. Bilal Powell, running back

19. Jeff Cumberland, tight end

20. Santonio Holmes, wide receiver

21. Mark Sanchez, quarterback

22. Antonio Allen, safety

23. Nick Folk, placekicker

24. Willie Colon, right guard

25. Stephen Hill, wide receiver

New York Jets season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
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Final power ranking: 19
Preseason power ranking: 32

Biggest surprise: The rookies. The New York Jets played most of the season with five rookie starters -- cornerback Dee Milliner, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, quarterback Geno Smith, guard Brian Winters and fullback Tommy Bohanon. The Jets figured to be a young team because of how the roster was purged last offseason, but you didn't think they'd be this young. The five draft picks combined for 65 starts. Their performances ranged from exceptional (Richardson) to inconsistent (Smith) to shoddy (Winters), but coach Rex Ryan -- perhaps on orders from general manager John Idzik -- stuck with them through difficult stretches. The growing pains hurt, but all five were ascending by the end of the season.

Biggest disappointment: Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was supposed to anchor the rebuilt secondary, but he regressed from a Pro Bowl year in 2012. A season-long hip injury obviously factored into his performance, but it didn't cause him to miss any games. He surrendered far too many big plays, exacerbating the absence of Darrelle Revis, who was traded last offseason. Instead of shutting down the opponents' No. 1 receiver, as he did on a consistent basis in '12, Cromartie struggled along with Milliner. Unable to rely on his corners to supply tight man-to-man coverage, Ryan was forced to adjust, taking a more passive approach with regard to blitzing.

Biggest need: Playmakers on offense. We're talking about wide receivers and tight ends, but mainly wide receivers. The Jets had only two pass plays more than 50 yards, and they came in the same game. Without a game-breaking element on the perimeter, the offense faced a steady diet of eight-man fronts and consistent blitzing. Stephen Hill didn't take that big step in Year 2, as the organization had hoped. Santonio Holmes is a goner, so now New York must find a No. 1 receiver through the draft or free agency. Actually, the Jets could pluck one from each because, yes, the need is that glaring.

Team MVP: Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was the best player on the dominant side of the ball, so we're picking him over running back Chris Ivory, whose physical running sparked the offense late in the season. Wilkerson recorded a career-high 10.5 sacks and, although he wasn't selected to the Pro Bowl (an injustice), he established himself as one of the better defensive linemen in the league. He faced double-teams and often rushed from an interior position, hurting his ability to produce gaudy stats. His steady, blue-collar approach set a tone for the run defense, which dominated for most of the season. Wilkerson was voted MVP by his teammates, which says something. The Jets will try to lock him up to a long-term deal before next season.

Green Day: Film review of Sunday's win

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
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One last look back at the New York Jets' 24-13 win over the Cleveland Browns:

Geno Smith delivered his best performance in two months -- easily. What impressed me the most was the poise he demonstrated on third down. As expected, the Browns came after him, rushing five or more on eight of his 12 dropbacks. They sent a couple of corner blitzes, probably going to school on the Jets-Panthers tape from the previous week. But Smith, afforded terrific pass protection, was unflappable.

He completed 9 of 12 passes on third down, including three conversions on third-and-10 or greater. To me, Smith's best play came on a third-and-12 to Jeremy Kerley. It came against a Cover 2 look, with Kerley beating linebacker D'Qwell Jackson into the soft middle for 22 yards. It was significant because, in a similar situation four weeks ago against the Miami Dolphins, Smith was intercepted by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe on a throw to the slot receiver.

Progress? Yes, but keep in mind the Browns were ranked 27th in third-down defense.

Other takeaways from the game:

1. The Marty Bunch: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did a nice job of using bunch formations to create separation for the receivers. A good example was Smith's 6-yard touchdown pass to David Nelson. They had three tight ends on the field -- unusual for third-and-6 -- with Nelson lined up in a bunch to the right. He got a free release and ran a post route through bracket coverage. Smith anticipated Nelson's break, winding up before Nelson turned for the ball -- just like you draw it up. Later, Nelson had a 15-yard reception out of another bunch formation.

2. Welcome back, wideouts: This may have been the best game for the wide-receiving corps, which produced 11 catches, 123 yards and two touchdowns. It had better numbers against the Cincinnati Bengals (15 for 130), but that was a blowout loss. The Browns used a lot of "off" coverage, playing into the Jets' hands. Everybody knows you have to play aggressive press coverage against the Jets' wideouts.

3. Tone's time almost up: It was a disappointing day for Santonio Holmes, who had as many drops (two) as receptions. On the positive side, he did a nice job of shielding cornerback Buster Skrine in the end zone on Smith's 17-yard touchdown scramble. Curiously, Holmes didn't partake in the celebration. Smith was mobbed by seven teammates, but Holmes, nearby, didn't join in, looking like he was sulking.

4. Reed responds in backup role: Safety Ed Reed, replaced by Antonio Allen in the base defense, played his best game as a Jet. In fact, the much-maligned safety group allowed only one completion in five targets, recorded an interception (Reed) and broke up two passes -- a solid performance. Then again, what do we writers know about football, right, Ed?

5. Flawless protection: Kudos to the offensive line -- no sacks, no quarterback hits. I've been critical of rookie left guard Brian Winters, but this was one of his better games. He had a key block on Bilal Powell's 39-yard run.

6. Defensive hiccup: The Jets were gashed on Edwin Baker's 5-yard touchdown run. It happened with defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (shoulder) temporarily out of the game. His replacement, Leger Douzable, was double-teamed. Outside linebacker Quinton Coples fell victim to a trap block, creating a crease for Baker. Afterward, Rex Ryan took responsibility, saying he should've used the goal-line defense instead of the base.

7. Not so special: Special-teams mistakes have cost the Jets 10 points in the last two games. There was the blocked punt in Carolina, and the failed fake punt against the Browns. Josh Bush, a safety, took the direct snap and uncorked a Tebow-esque pass into the ground, missing a wide-open Isaiah Trufant. They will say it should've worked because he was open, but I didn't see the point in resorting to trickeration against a hapless team like the Browns. The Jets also allowed a 50-yard kickoff return at a critical point in the game, but it was a treat to see Saalim Hakim turn on the jets and track down Fozzy Whittaker. Dude can fly.
One last look back at the New York Jets' 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers:

I heard this expression a long time ago (I think it came from Bill Parcells), and it applies to one element of the game: How many times do you need to get hit in the face with a skunk before you realize it stinks?

The Jets got hit with a cornerback blitz on their sixth play from scrimmage, but they did little to stop it -- so the Panthers used it over and over. The Panthers aren't known for exotic blitzes, but they kept sending Captain Munnerlyn off the corner. Why not?

[+] EnlargeCaptain Munnerlyn and Geno Smith
Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCTCaptain Munnerlyn and the Panthers used cornerback blitzes to get at Jets QB Geno Smith.
On the Panthers' first sack, Munnerlyn was unblocked on a front-side blitz and tackled Geno Smith. On their third sack, Munnerlyn came on a back-side blitz. Running back Bilal Powell picked him up, but it allowed linebacker Luke Kuechly to loop around left tackle -- unblocked -- for the sack out of a six-man rush. On the fourth sack, Munnerlyn came from the back side again. The Jets emptied the backfield, so there was no one to block him.

If Munnerlyn had a few more chances, he might have finished with three or four sacks. It wasn't a well-coordinated effort by the Jets, but a lot of those problems can be attributed to Smith's inexperience. He simply needs to do a better job of recognizing pressure and finding his hot reads.

The Panthers sent extra pressure twice as often as they usually do, surprising the Jets. Against five or more rushers, Smith was only 6-for-12, plus four sacks. He averaged only 2.9 yards per dropback, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Panthers did a nice job with their game plan, attacking a Jets weakness.

Other takeaways:

1. Another Geno hiccup: Smith, explaining his interception, admitted he should've checked down to another receiver instead of forcing the ball into a tight window to Santonio Holmes. The tape reveals that Smith had three wide-open check-down options --Jeremy Kerley, Jeff Cumberland and Powell. This was another example of poor field vision by the rookie. He also got caught up in the moment. The Panthers had just converted a blocked punt into a touchdown, and Smith wanted to reclaim the momentum by taking a risk on third down. Sometimes the quarterback has to know when to fold and wait for the next hand. Instead, he turned Munnerlyn into a hero. It was Smith's fifth pick-six of the season, tying Joe Namath for the team's single-season mark.

2. Bad Geno, good Geno: Earlier, Smith provided a glimpse of good and bad on back-to-back plays. Throwing on the run, he misfired badly on a deep ball to a wide-open Saalim Hakim, sailing a pass about 4 yards out of bounds -- a blown opportunity. On the next play, Smith did a great job of moving in the pocket against a five-man rush, throwing a strike to Cumberland for a 35-yard gain. Such is life with a rookie quarterback.

3. The nightmare screen: This was on linebacker David Harris. The Jets were in man-to-man coverage and Harris got caught peeking into the backfield, biting on Cam Newton's fake screen to the left. That drew him out of position just enough to allow DeAngelo Williams to catch the screen-right and get around the corner. Incredibly, he turned a routine play into a 72-yard touchdown. Safety Ed Reed also fell for the fake and arrived late, taking a bad angle. Cornerback Dee Milliner, who strikes me as a finesse tackler, couldn't get off the block of receiver Brandon LaFell. Milliner looked like he wanted to slow-dance with LaFell.

4. Another cold Winters: Left guard Brian Winters might be a good player some day, but he's having a nightmare of a rookie season. He surrendered one sack, allowed a pressure that contributed to another sack and committed a costly holding penalty in the fourth quarter. Vladimir Ducasse is John Hannah compared to this.

5. Odds and ends: Rex Ryan took the blame on Mike Tolbert's 1-yard touchdown run. Anticipating a run up the middle, he used what he called a "sell-the-farm" defense. He used six linemen, including four between the inside shoulders of the two offensive tackles. That left a gap on the outside shoulder of the two tackles. The Panthers ran directly into that gap on the left side. Quinton Coples slanted in and was buried. Linebacker DeMario Davis was blocked by a pulling guard, allowing Tolbert to walk into the end zone. ... The Jets' blitz didn't bother Newton at all. Against five or more rushers, he was 7-for-10, averaging 11.9 yards per dropback. He was sacked only once. ... Cornerback Darrin Walls played only one defensive snap and missed a key tackle.
The New York Jets have a Geno Smith situation unfolding at left guard.

If you haven't noticed, rookie Brian Winters is struggling, really struggling. Even though he has started only eight games, Winters tops all guards in the NFL with nine sacks allowed, according to ProFootballFocus.com. For an interior lineman, nine sacks is the equivalent of 19 interceptions for a quarterback, but at least Smith can say he's played every game.

If Rex Ryan wants to do what's in the best interest of the team, as he always says, he'd bench Winters -- if, in fact, he has that power. Look, we know Vladimir Ducasse isn't the second coming of Larry Allen, but he would be an upgrade at the position. For those keeping track, he allowed two sacks in four games before being benched in favor of Winters.

We know why Ducasse isn't playing: He's in the final year of his contract and he'll be playing elsewhere next season. Winters was John Idzik's third-round pick, and the first-year general manager is calling the shots here, folks. Winters is part of the future, so Idzik wants him on the field even if he's hurting the present. Similar politics are playing out at the quarterback position, where Smith has done nothing over the last few weeks to justify his starting role.

Idzik preaches competition, but the playing field isn't always level.

ICYMI: As expected, the Jets placed KR Josh Cribbs (shoulder) on season-ending injured reserve. To replace him, the Jets signed return specialist Darius Reynaud, most recently of the Tennessee Titans. They killed two birds with one signing, as Reynaud can return punts and kickoffs. ... The Jets worked out several players Tuesday, including Reynaud and CB DeQuan Menzie (Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs). ... The Jets dropped only one spot in the ESPN.com Power Rankings, slipping to No. 23. ... Our film review of the Jets' nightmare loss to the Miami Dolphins. Warning: Contains graphic descriptions of botched plays; for mature audiences only.
One last look back at the New York Jets' 23-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins:

The Jets ran 54 plays in the game, and the vast majority were pretty lousy. It would take too long to list all the breakdowns, so we'll start by focusing on one play -- the first one. It ended with a sack, a demoralizing way for a slumping offense to begin a game. Talk about a bad omen. We picked this play because it illustrates many of the ongoing problems on offense.

For a change, coordinator Marty Mornhinweg went into the game with an aggressive approach, looking to throw deep out of the box. Have to like that, right? Unfortunately for the Jets, it all crumbled in less than four seconds, a concern on many levels. Here's what went wrong:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Bill KostrounThe Jets beefed up their pass protection Sunday against the Dolphins, and still allowed four sacks.
A. Poor pass protection: QB Geno Smith had three pass rushers in his face -- DE Olivier Vernon (he beat LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson), DT Randy Starks (beat LG Brian Winters) and LB Philip Wheeler (unblocked).

B. Miscommunication: FB Tommy Bohanon chipped Wheeler before running a pass route into the left flat. After absorbing the block, Wheeler proceeded on his merry way, straight up the middle. No one picked him up. With a six-man protection, that shouldn't have been an issue, especially against a five-man rush. RB Bilal Powell, too, leaked out of the backfield. It's possible he was supposed to stay home to block.

C. Wrong receiver: The coaches knew Santonio Holmes wasn't 100 percent because of a balky hamstring, which he aggravated last week in practice, yet they sent him on an 18-yard vertical route on the first play. Clearly, he lacked his usual burst. It would be his final pass route of the day.

D. Bad field vision: Smith looked at Holmes the entire time, never looking to Bohanon, who was wide open in the flat. He didn't have enough time to get the ball to Holmes (3.7 seconds from snap to sack), but he could've thrown it to Bohanon. Instead, he succumbed to the pressure, ducking into the pass rush. Wheeler and Vernon combined for the sack.

One play, so many problems. Welcome to the Jets' offense.

Other takeaways after reviewing the tape ...

1. Geno's second-quarter interception. The Dolphins did a nice job of disguising, and it fooled the rookie quarterback. They put seven at the line of scrimmage, with linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Wheeler lined up in the A gaps. It looked like a double A-gap blitz, but Ellerbe and Wheeler never rushed. The Dolphins rushed five others, including a safety. The Jets blocked it nicely, giving Smith time in the pocket.

In his pre-snap read, Smith noticed Greg Salas uncovered in the slot and a two-deep safety look. He probably thought the Dolphins were in Cover 2, meaning there would be a soft spot in the middle for Salas on a deep seam. Just before the snap, Ellerbe glanced quickly toward Salas, a barely discernible tipping of his intentions. On the snap, the Dolphins rotated out of the Cover 2 look, leaving Ellerbe in man-to-man coverage with Salas, with a safety over the top. The 245-pound linebacker ran stride-for-stride with Salas, giving Smith no window for a pass. He threw it anyway -- his last pass of the day, as it turned out.

This was a well-executed play by the Miami defense, a great individual effort by Ellerbe and a poor decision by Smith.

2. Live and die by the blitz: The Jets' best defensive play came on a blitz. Their worst play came on a blitz.

In the second quarter, they rushed six, including safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry. DE Muhammad Wilkerson beat his man and clobbered QB Ryan Tannehill as he released the ball, forcing a bloop pass in the direction of Mike Wallace. CB Antonio Cromartie boxed him out, basketball-style, and made a nice interception.

In the third quarter, Rex Ryan decided to get aggressive on a second-and-8 on the Jets' 28-yard line, sending seven rushers. That included linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis, who came on a double A-gap blitz. The Jets played zero coverage, meaning no deep safety. It was man-to-man coverage across the board. This time, the Dolphins blocked it and Tannehill calmly tossed a short pass to Wallace, who broke a feeble tackle attempt by cornerback Dee Milliner and raced to the end zone.

3. Serious problem at left guard: Winters continued to struggle in pass protection; the rookie was involved in three of the four sacks. He didn't surrender the sack on the Jets' first play, but he allowed pressure that factored into the play. Later, he was responsible for two sacks by Vernon. Clearly, the Dolphins targeted Winters, lining up Vernon over him on some occasions.

4. Looking for Ed: Reed has received a lot of criticism for his performance, and deservedly so. The play that drew the most attention was his missed tackle on Brian Hartline's 31-yard touchdown -- one of the few plays in which Reed was near the ball. For the most part, Reed appeared reluctant to engage in contact. Look, we all know he's not going to the Hall of Fame because of his tackling ability -- he's no Ronnie Lott -- but at least make an effort. I watched every play on the All-22 tape, and I noticed only two plays in which he was involved in hard contact, both on runs by Lamar Miller.

5. Added security: Trying to beef up the pass protection, the Jets used more six-, seven- and eight-man protections than usual -- and they still allowed four sacks, which is alarming. The downside to the strategy is that, even when the quarterback has time, he has fewer options. When a receiver gets open, you have to hit him. Smith wasted a great opportunity on the first series, overthrowing a wide-open David Nelson. It was a seven-man protection, affording Smith all the time he needed to make at least a 30-yard play.

6. Rex tweaks defense: Burned by too many long balls, Ryan took a more conservative approach in the secondary, using more two-deep looks than usual. Tannehill wasn't able to throw any balls over the top, but he found soft spots with passes over the short middle. It also probably explains why the Dolphins ran for 125 yards.

7. Odds and ends: It was a rough day for Davis, who missed a tackle on Hartline's touchdown and allowed six completions (seven targets) for 83 yards, according to ProFootballFocus.com ... RT Austin Howard played well against DE Cameron Wake, who was held to no sacks and one solo tackle. ... It went unnoticed because it happened on a sack play, but RB Chris Ivory rag-dolled Wake while pass-blocking. ... The Jets' best chance to score a touchdown turned into a disaster. On a third down from the 2, Ivory had no chance against a nine-man box. Next, Ryan made a bad decision, opting for a field goal. Down 13-0 late in the third quarter, they needed seven points, not three.

Uh, oh: Ngata active for Baltimore Ravens

November, 24, 2013
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BALTIMORE -- Bad news for the New York Jets' offensive line, which struggled last week: Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata, who sat out last week with a knee injury, is active and will start Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

This could pose problems for the Jets' interior, especially rookie left guard Brian Winters, who was awful against the Buffalo Bills.

There were no surprises among the Jets' inactive players: quarterback David Garrard, wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, running back Alex Green, linebacker Garrett McIntyre, guard Will Campbell, tackle Ben Ijalana and tackle Oday Aboushi.

Former New England Patriots linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, who signed last week, is active and will make his Jets debut.

Inactive for the Ravens are cornerback Asa Jackson, safety Omar Brown, running back Bernard Scott, center Ryan Jensen, wide receiver Deonte Thompson, linebacker John Simon and defensive tackle Brandon Williams.

Tight end Dennis Pitta (hip), who returned to practice last week, remains on the injured-reserve list.

Same old, same old for Geno Smith

November, 20, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Geno Smith said he took his usual number of practice reps Wednesday.

The rookie quarterback's practice regimen became an issue Monday, when New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, in a likely motivational ploy, said he was considering a few first-team reps for backup Matt Simms. That, of course, created headlines -- and Ryan knew it would. After all, he's no stranger to the New York landscape.

Smith
On Wednesday, Ryan refused to reveal any specifics about practice, which is closed to the media.

"You know what? I messed up because I opened a can of worms there, and I probably shouldn't have," he said. "I really don't want to say because reps can be divided differently and things. I really don't want to go there and I certainly don't want to give an opponent a reason to think anything. So I'll just admit that was my fault for saying that. I'd rather not discuss the reps."

No need to -- he already got his point across to Smith, who said he didn't receive any notification from the coaches that his reps would be altered.

Another rookie on the hot seat is left guard Brian Winters. He, too, will retain his starting job.

"I understand where the question is coming from because he certainly struggled this past game against Buffalo, but I think he'll come back," Ryan said of the third-round pick, who allowed a strip-sack.

Ryan said Winters was at his best in the previous game against New Orleans. But against the Bills, "he looked like a rookie," according to Ryan.

Film Review: Geno's sad stories

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
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Peyton Manning likes to say that every interception has a story. In that case, Geno Smith has enough material to rival "War and Peace."

Smith has 16 interceptions, the same number Mark Sanchez had in his first 10 rookie starts. Smith added to his total in Sunday's 37-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills, perhaps jeopardizing his job. A breakdown of his three interceptions, each one with its own story:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesGeno Smith's three interceptions Sunday were largely his own doing.
1. Second quarter, second-and-13, Jets' 12-yard line: Smith simply misread the defense. The Bills played a single-high safety most of the game and, sure enough, there was Jairus Byrd in the deep middle. He didn't try to bait Smith, he simply stood his ground. A review of the all-22 tape reveals that Byrd didn't move an inch from the snap until the ball was released. Tight end Jeff Cumberland ran a deep over route directly in front of Byrd. For a safety, this is like having someone knock at your door and hand you a winning lottery ticket. Byrd came up a few steps, but only after the ball was released. The Bills rushed five, but the protection was good. Time wasn't an issue for Smith, who kept his eyes glued to Cumberland -- an easy pick for Byrd. Smith should've thrown to wide receiver David Nelson, who was open on a shallow cross.

2. Third quarter, second-and-13, Jets' 17-yard line: Smith may have been confused by a disguised coverage. Cornerback Nickell Robey went in motion with receiver Stephen Hill, usually a tip-off that it's man-to-man coverage -- except the Bills dropped into a zone. It looked like deep thirds, with Byrd -- yes, him again -- in the middle. Smith looked for receiver Santonio Holmes on an 18-yard in-cut. This time, Byrd read Smith's eyes and abandoned his deep middle, sprinting toward Holmes. Smith, under no pressure, threw it a split-second too late, giving Byrd the time he needed to make the interception. This, too, was on Smith. You can't blame a lack of pass protection.

3. Third quarter, second-and-10, Jets' 36-yard line: This was the most damaging of the three because it was a pick-six for safety Da'Norris Searcy. It was a bad throw by Smith, but I'm going to give some credit to the defense here. This play highlighted the chess match between Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. The Bills had seven at the line of scrimmage, showing blitz. It looked like an overloaded blitz to Smith's left, which had been successful early in the game. Mornhinweg had the perfect call, a quick-screen left to Holmes -- or so it seemed. As it turned out, the Bills rushed only four, with three on the line -- including Searcy -- dropping into coverage. The Bills acted like they knew the call. Searcy read it perfectly, positioning himself in the throwing lane between Smith and Holmes. No one bit on the play fake to running back Bilal Powell. Searcy made a terrific catch and took it to the house.

End of story. Make that stories. It's always plural with Smith.

Tale of two games: In the first meeting, the Jets protected Smith like the queen's jewels -- no sacks and only two hits. In this game, it was four sacks and eight hits. The offensive line, with the exception of left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, did a poor job. The Bills brought the heat, sending five or more rushers on 16 of 27 dropbacks by Smith, according to ESPN Stats & Information. On those plays, Smith was only 4-for-12, including two interceptions and four sacks. Clearly, Pettine wasn't worried about Smith beating the blitz. Unlike the previous meeting, the Bills' secondary was intact and they smothered the Jets' wideouts in man-to-man.

This was a particularly rough day for rookie left guard Brian Winters, who allowed one sack, one hit and one pressure, by my count. He was beaten badly by defensive tackle Kyle Williams on a strip-sack in the second quarter, arguably the biggest defensive play of the game. Winters also missed a block on a goal-line shovel pass that should've been an easy touchdown. Right guard Willie Colon (one sack, one pressure) had an off day, as did right tackle Austin Howard (two QB hits). Howard allowed the crushing hit on the fourth play of the game, the one where defensive tackle Marcell Dareus blasted Smith.

Pettine used some of the stuff he learned from Rex Ryan. In the second quarter, Byrd was unblocked on an overload blitz -- four players rushing from one side, only one on the other. This was straight from the Ryan handbook. In the third quarter, Pettine dialed up the same blitz. This time, the Jets blocked it up, with Powell picking up the blitzing safety. Ah, but another problem developed. They would've had a first down, but Hill dropped Smith's pass. That's what happens when you're struggling on offense. If it's not one thing, it's another.

Deep thoughts: The problems continued for the defense on long passes. Three completions proved costly.

On the 34-yard touchdown to T.J. Graham, Ryan gambled and lost. He sent Ed Reed on a safety blitz for the first time, leaving "zero" coverage on the back end -- no deep safety. Graham adjusted to an underthrown pass that caught in the wind, beating cornerback Dee Milliner. Ryan, fiercely protective of Milliner, said the rookie was in "great position" to make a play, but committed a technical faux pas -- a zone turn instead of a man turn. As a result, he lost sight of the receiver.

In the third quarter, Milliner was beat for 40 yards by Graham in a man-to-man situation. Milliner missed his jam at the line, giving Graham a free release. Dawan Landry, not Reed, was the deep safety, but he was nowhere close to the play. On Marquise Goodwin's 43-yard touchdown, cornerback Antonio Cromartie played it properly, according to Ryan. It was "bail" coverage. Cromartie bailed at the line, creating the cushion, but he couldn't keep up with Goodwin, who has world-class speed. The Jets rushed five, but EJ Manuel delivered the ball in less than three seconds. Reed, in the deep middle, arrived late from the opposite hash.

Odds and ends: The pass rush was nowhere to be found. The Jets had only one sack; in their Week 3 meeting they sacked Manuel eight times. ... Smith actually completed three of his first four passes, meaning he went 5-for-19 after that. ... Curious play calling by Mornhinweg in the third quarter. After closing to within 20-7, they went three-and-out with three straight passes. ... Funny moment in the third quarter. The Jets tried a pick play with Holmes and Nelson, and they both ended up falling down. ... Even thought it was garbage time, the Bills didn't go soft against quarterback Matt Simms. They continued to send five-man rushes. Why not? The Jets' receiving corps doesn't scare anybody.

Winters preps to block Geno from Geno

October, 24, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Facing Geno Atkins on Sunday has Jets guard Brian Winters extending his studying sessions in preparation this week.

"I'm going to approach it the same way I have these other players, but he's definitely a standout guy," Winters said. "Got to study him a little bit more than normal."

The Jets' rookie guard has a monumental task ahead of him on Sunday, when he will try to stonewall Cincinnati's Pro Bowl defensive tackle. While it's not a true homecoming for the rookie, he will be playing in his home state of Ohio, where he also played college ball at Kent State.

[+] EnlargeBrian Winters
Al Pereira/Getty ImagesRookie guard Brian Winters faces his biggest test to date on Sunday.
"It's about as big a challenge as it gets," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "[Atkins] is an outstanding player."

The Bengals line Atkins up over both left and right guard, meaning Winters and Willie Colon are going to be in for a battle. Colon, who played previously with the Steelers, is the only one of the two who has familiarity with Atkins.

Atkins is a phenomenal interior pass-rusher, totaling 24 sacks in his last 39 games, including four this season. He's aided by a deep and talented Cincinnati defensive line that ranks among the best in football, and makes it difficult for offenses to choose whom to double team. Cincinnati's defense is ninth in yards allowed.

To prepare for Atkins, Winters said he's asked to practice against fellow rookie, Sheldon Richardson, because he believes Atkins and Richardson have similar playing styles.

"[Atkins] has got a great motor. He's got low leverage, he's an athlete. That's what he brings to the table," Winters said. "He doesn't stop. He's one of those players. He's a go-getter."

Winters, a native of Hudson, Ohio, said he grew up approximately four hours from Cincinnati. The third-round pick said this game would be more of a homecoming for him if the Jets were playing in Cleveland, which is closer to his hometown. He's expecting about six or seven family members and friends to be in attendance at Paul Brown Stadium as the Jets look to improve to 5-3.

"It's not too far (away) but we should have a good crowd there," Winters said.

Winters will make his fourth straight start at left guard Sunday, as he supplanted Vladimir Ducasse on Oct. 7 and has held the position since. He's had ups and downs, like any rookie would, and is coming off a poor game as he allowed two sacks in the Jets' 30-27 overtime win over the Patriots on Sunday.

The rookie, who played left tackle for Kent State last season, has learned on the fly as he's transitioned to an interior line spot. He credited offensive line coach Mike Devlin, Colon and center Nick Mangold for helping him along the way, saying it's hard to not look good when playing next to Mangold.

"Each week is an increase," Winters said. "At first it was a little slow but as weeks go (by) I'm getting more comfortable with the plays being run. Doing well."

Jets could be historically young

September, 2, 2013
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The rebuilding New York Jets could start four, maybe five rookies on opening day -- a rarity in Jets history.

Quarterback Geno Smith, fullback Tommy Bohanon, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and cornerback Dee Milliner (if healthy) are expected to have starting roles. If Brian Winters gets the call at left guard, the Jets could have their version of the Fab Five.

The last time the Jets started five rookies on opening day? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it occurred in 1976. The rookies were linebacker Steve Poole, linebacker Greg Buttle, linebacker Bob Martin, running back Louie Giammona and defensive back Shafer Suggs. The team finished 3-11.

The last time they started four rookies was in 1979: linebacker Stan Blinka, guard Eric Cunningham, defensive back Donald Dykes and defensive tackle Marty Lyons. That team went 8-8.

Wonder if Walt Michaels preached "competition" way back then.

W2W4: Jets vs. Eagles

August, 28, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Jets close the preseason Thursday against the Eagles at MetLife Stadium -- the annual backup bowl. Kickoff is 7 p.m. Stories to follow:

1. Quarterback drama on hold: Mark Sanchez (shoulder) is out and, although the team hasn't made it official, rookie Geno Smith also will sit. This is a smart move by coach Rex Ryan. Really, it's the only move. Sure, Smith could use the work, as he showed in throwing three interceptions and taking a safety Saturday against the Giants, but it makes no sense to expose him to potential injury. After all, Smith could be the opening-day starter, depending on Sanchez's recovery. Ryan messed up last week with Sanchez, and he knows another blunder of that magnitude would put him in Woody Johnson's doghouse. (Probably the most luxurious doghouse in the neighborhood, though.)

2. The Simms spotlight: Matt Simms, who entered camp fourth on the depth chart, will start under center against the Eagles. He'll probably play most of the game, considering Greg McElroy (knee) is out. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for Simms, son of Giants icon Phil Simms. He's having a terrific preseason, sporting a 137.5 passer rating, and could conceivably dislodge McElroy from the No. 3 job. Simms is rough around the edges, but he has the best arm on the team and the coaches love his moxie. Newly signed Graham Harrell, who arrived Wednesday, will be available for relief duty. The Eagles will start No. 2 QB Nick Foles, a former pupil of new Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. If the Jets were concerned about Sanchez's health to the point where they felt they needed a veteran, it would fuel heavy Foles speculation.

3. Position battles (other than quarterback): Placekicker and free safety remain open. PK Dan Carpenter was signed this week to compete with incumbent Nick Folk, who imperiled his spot last week with a missed field goal in OT. Jaiquawn Jarrett, a former second-round pick of the Eagles, is expected to start at free safety, but Antonio Allen is leading the competition.

4. Cinderella lives in Jersey: WR Ryan Spadola, an undrafted rookie from Howell, N.J., via Lehigh, is the feel-good story of the summer. He's inching his way up the depth chart and has an outstanding chance to make the 53-man roster. Spadola leads the team with 169 receiving yards on seven catches, including a 70-yard play Saturday that set up the game-winning field goal in overtime. He's battling veterans Ben Obomanu and Mohamed Massaquoi for the fifth receiver spot; there's also a chance the Jets could keep six. It would be a stunner if Spadola is cut.

5. On the line: This will be an important game for the three draft picks on the offensive line -- LG Brian Winters (third round), OT Oday Aboushi (fifth) and G Will Campbell (sixth). Aboushi and Campbell are on the bubble and need to play well to make the team. Aboushi's chances were hurt with last week's return of veteran backup Jason Smith. Campbell, making the transition to offense after playing defensive line in college, looks bound for the practice squad. Winters, uneven last week in his debut, could push presumptive starter Vladimir Ducasse as the season progresses.

Four AFC East draft sleepers

April, 29, 2013
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It’s easy to focus on the first- and second-round picks. But great teams are made when the front office hits on sleepers in the middle and later rounds. Here are four sleepers to watch this season.

1. Mike Gillislee, running back

Team/Round: Miami Dolphins, fifth round

2012 stats: 1,152 yards, 10 touchdowns

Analysis: Gillislee has a lot of the skills the Dolphins seek in their quick-hitting West Coast offense. Gillislee runs hard, has good vision and played well against tough competition in the SEC. However, he’s only had one year as a starter and had to wait his turn until his senior year. Last year Reggie Bush drove the coaching staff crazy at times by going left to right instead of plodding forward. Gillislee rarely loses yards and could compliment starter Lamar Miller well. Former second-round pick Daniel Thomas has been a disappointment and is injury prone. There could be potential for Gillislee to find a role behind Miller during his rookie year.

2. Josh Boyce, receiver

Team/Round: New England Patriots, fourth round

2012 stats: 66 receptions, 891 yards, seven touchdowns

Analysis: You always cringle a little when Patriots head coach Bill Belichick drafts wide receivers. For whatever reason, that is the one position Belichick hasn't figured out. But New England may be onto something with its two receiver picks of Boyce and Aaron Dobson. Boyce is the lower pick, so he's the sleeper of the group. He is fast, physical and will definitely get a chance to battle for a roster spot considering New England’s thin receiver position. But the rookie must take advantage this summer of his limited opportunities to make the team.

3. Dustin Hopkins, kicker

Team/Round: Buffalo Bills, sixth round

2012 stats: 25-of-30 field goals

Analysis: Hopkins left Florida State as the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history. He has a very strong leg that could be needed in Buffalo, especially late in the year during inclement weather. Hopkins has a tough task of beating longtime Bills kicker Rian Lindell in training camp. Lindell, 36, still has the accuracy but no longer has the distance. Hopkins will be the underdog, but he has the leg to make the team as a late-round pick.

4. Brian Winters, guard

Team/Round: New York Jets, third

2012 stats: 14 starts

Analysis: Winters has been a starter all four years at Kent State, and he has a good chance to keep that streak going in New York. The Jets, led by new general manager John Idzik, must really not think highly of incumbent guard Vladimir Ducasse. Idzik drafted three consecutive guards in the third-, fifth- and sixth-rounds to add competition. Willie Colon is penciled in as one starting guard, but Winters will be the favorite for the other guard opening.

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