AFC East: Nick Mangold

In case you missed it (hopefully, you had better things to do), the Pro Bowl "draft" was conducted Wednesday night in Hawaii. As you know, in a desperate effort to maintain a game no one cares about, the NFL changed the format, eliminating AFC vs. NFC and instituting a fantasy-style draft.

Mangold
Cromartie
Yawn.

Antonio Cromartie and Nick Mangold landed on the same team for Sunday's Pro Bowl in Hawaii -- Team Rice, in case you're wondering. Offensive linemen weren't part of the actual draft, so Mangold was spared a lengthy stay in the green room, which wasn't a room at all. It was an outdoor tent on the grounds of a swanky resort.

As it turned out, Cromartie lasted until the 11th round, four rounds after former teammate Darrelle Revis was picked. At least Cromartie maintained a sense of humor, tweeting, "All I know is 4 Corners have gone n front of me right now. Feels like 06 draft all over again. Dieon (sic) n Jerry Rice r on something lol."

Elsewhere

In a far more interesting development Wednesday, former Jets offensive-line coach Dave DeGuglielmo was hired by the New England Patriots to replace Dante Scarnecchia, who is retiring after 30 years with the franchise. DeGuglielmo was fired by the Jets after one season, 2012.

"Guge," as they call him, actually did a decent job as a coach, but his abrasive personality chafed people in the organization. He also created an adversarial relationship with the media; he spoke with reporters only three times, I think.

He made headlines when he professed his belief in embattled right tackle Wayne Hunter, declaring before the season that "until they ship him out of this building or until they shoot me dead in my office, that son-of-a-gun is going to be the starting right tackle."

Hunter was traded before the season. There was no bloodshed in Guge's office.

In training camp, Guge threatened to spit tobacco juice on reporters if they didn't take a step back during a crowded interview session. During the season, he engaged in a combative session with reporters, once again creating a headline. He basically accused the front office of forcing the coaches to play Matt Slauson and Vladimir Ducasse in a platoon at left guard, making it clear he wasn't happy with the arrangement.

DeGuglielmo sat out the 2013 season and was hired a week ago by Maryland, but he bailed when Bill Belichick came calling. Guge is a Boston native, so he probably views it as a dream job.

Memo to reporters in Boston: Check on Hunter's availability and watch your shoes if Guge is chewing tobacco during an interview.

Cromartie scores a trip to Pro Bowl

January, 20, 2014
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Cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who admitted last week that he had "one of the worst seasons of my career," is headed to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. That pretty much says everything about the Pro Bowl and the process of selecting players.

Cromartie
Cromartie, a second alternate, will replaced the injured Aqib Talib of the New England Patriots, it was announced Monday.

The New York Jets will have two players in the game, Cromartie and center Nick Mangold, another injury replacement. It's farcical that defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, arguably the best player on the team, will be sitting at home.

Cromartie is a likely salary-cap casualty.

Green Day: Jets' Pro Bowl possibilities

December, 25, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Pro Bowl rosters will be announced Friday. The format has changed, meaning the teams will be chosen without regard to conference affiliation. The New York Jets' top candidates are:

Wilkerson
1. Muhammad Wilkerson, defensive end

Stats: Leads the team with a career-high 10.5 sacks.

Analysis: Wilkerson felt he deserved to make it last season, but he still lacked name recognition. That shouldn't be an issue this time, as his national profile has grown. He's the best player on the team and he deserves the Pro Bowl, but there's no guarantee because defensive end is a deep position. In reality, Wilkerson plays as much tackle as he does end, making it harder to accumulate gaudy stats, but he's listed as an end.

Folk
2. Nick Folk, kicker

Stats: Tied for second in field-goal percentage (93.9), having made 31 of 33.

Analysis: You could make an argument that Folk is the Jets' MVP even though Wilkerson won the award. He has been money from Week 1, his only misses coming from 48 yards (heavy wind) and 49 (hit the upright). The problem is that several kickers also are having career years, namely Justin Tucker of Baltimore and Matt Prater of Denver.

Pace
3. Calvin Pace, outside linebacker

Stats: A career-high 10 sacks.

Analysis: This has been a renaissance year for Pace, 33, who spent a few months on the NFL scrap heap last offseason after being dumped by the Jets. He's no longer an every-down player, but the slightly reduced role has helped his stamina. He plays the "Sam" outside-linebacker position in the defense, as opposed to the rush linebacker, so he doesn't get as many pass-rushing opportunities as Quinton Coples. But he has made the most of his chances.

Richardson
4. Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle

Stats: 3.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss.

Analysis: He won't make it as a rookie, but Richardson set a nice foundation. He's one of the leading candidates for NFL defensive rookie of the year. His sack production has tailed off, but he's still excellent against the run. And, oh yeah, he can run with the ball, too.

Mangold
5. Nick Mangold, center

Stats: Anchors the league's sixth-ranked rushing offense.

Analysis: It's not often a four-time Pro Bowl selection flies under the radar, but that has been the case with Mangold. Flanked by a rookie left guard and a rookie quarterback, Mangold has provided leadership and stability for an offense in transition. The Jets average 5.16 yards per attempt on runs up the middle, second-best in the league, according to the NFL.

Howard
6. Austin Howard, right tackle

Stats: Only two sacks allowed, tied for the league lead among right tackles, according to Pro Football Focus.

Analysis: Howard, in his second year as a starter, is one of the most improved players on the team. Good timing, too, because he will be an unrestricted free agent. When the Jets need yards on the ground, they run behind Howard. They have 82 rushes behind right tackle, the second-highest total in the league, per the NFL.

Harris
7. David Harris, inside linebacker

Stats: A team-high 86 solo tackles (according to coaches' tape).

Analysis: The Jets are ranked third in run defense, and that doesn't happen unless the "Mike" linebacker is having a good year. Harris dropped weight last offseason, improving his quickness and pass-coverage ability. He has seven tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble.

Sunday notes: Jets follow Big Blueprint

September, 29, 2013
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Week 4 notes on the New York Jets:

1. Green with envy: The Giants won their last two Super Bowls, in large part, because of a franchise quarterback and a dominant defensive line. Clearly, that defensive line is eroding before our eyes. For a change, the best D-line in town belongs to the Jets, whose front three/four is emerging as a premier unit. I'm not saying they'll be playing a home game next February, but it's hard not to be optimistic about the early returns.

[+] EnlargeMuhammad Wilkerson
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/USA TODAY SportsWith the likes of Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets have one of the better defensive lines in the NFL.
"They've got one of the best defensive lines in the NFL," said ESPN analyst Damien Woody, a former Jet. "You don't think the Giants would trade for the Jets' defensive line? The Giants would kill for the Jets' defensive line right now."

The Jets' front should be good because they picked a lineman in each of the past three first rounds -- Muhammad Wilkerson (2011), Quinton Coples (2012) and Sheldon Richardson (2013). Because of salary-cap restrictions, it's rare for a team to invest that much into one position group. Finances eventually could cause the break up of the group, so enjoy it while you can. Damon Harrison, undrafted in 2012, is the low-cost guy of the bunch.

You probably won't see another eight-sack performance anytime soon, but the front's ability to generate pressure seems to have affected Rex Ryan's play calling. This season was supposed to mark the return of Blitzing Rex, but check out the numbers: The Jets have used five or more rushers on only 34.9 percent of the pass plays, the league average, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

2. Naming rights: It's premature to bestow a nickname on the defensive line, but Twitter follower @travisppisani raises an interesting quirk: The line is led by the three "sons" -- WilkerSON, HarriSON and RichardSON. I'll take that a step further. How 'bout "My Three Sons" as a potential nickname? I guess Ryan would be Fred MacMurray, right? I haven't figured out how to get Coples in there, but give me time. That linebacker/line hybrid position is a challenge.

3. Premature celebration: Richardson said he's motivated by people who questioned his ability to play the run. He's doing well, and not shy about sharing his feelings.

"I've been playing the run most definitely exceptionally well," he said. "I made sure I'm sound in that because of my knocks coming into the NFL, which I didn't understand."

Based on overall performance, Richardson is the seventh-rated 3-4 end in the league, according to ProFootballFocus. His grade would be higher if he tackled Fred Jackson last Sunday instead of celebration before the whistle -- "a rookie mistake," he said. "Won't happen again." By the way, the man he replaced, Mike Devito (Kansas City Chiefs), is fourth in the ratings.

4. The Buc stops in 2014: Unless rookie QB Mike Glennon is some sort of savior, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3) appear headed to a top-10 draft pick -- or maybe higher. Naturally, the Jets will be second-guessed for not demanding the Bucs' 2014 first-round pick in the Darrelle Revis trade.

Before the trade, there were reports saying the Bucs were offering the '14 choice, not their '13 first rounder -- and the Jets were balking. It would be a second-guess on my part if I criticized the outcome because I wrote at the time that the smart play would be take the immediate and known quantity -- the Bucs' No.1 this year (13th overall). They did, using it to select Richardson, who looks like the real deal.

Remember, the Jets will get the Bucs' third rounder as part of the deal, meaning they will have at least three picks in the top 70 if the Bucs continue to tank.

5. Bay Watch: A divorce between the Bucs and demoted QB Josh Freeman seems inevitable. Who could've imagined that Mark Sanchez and Freeman -- the second and third-drafted quarterbacks in 2009, respectively -- would be on the outs after five years? They both showed real positive strides in 2010. Of the 11 quarterbacks drafted in '09, only one still has a starting job -- the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford, chosen No. 1 overall.

Freeman will be a free agent after the season. Sanchez is signed through 2016, but likely will be traded or released.

6. Nick the Quick: The Jets return to the scene of their 2012 lowpoint -- Nashville, where they committed five turnovers and were eliminated from playoff contention last Week 15 with a 14-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans. I asked C Nick Mangold what he remembered most about that night, and he replied without hesitation: "I short-armed that snap at the end." They had a chance to pull out a victory in the final minute, but Sanchez failed to handle a low, but catchable shotgun snap from Mangold. The Titans recovered.

Mangold has appeared in roughly 7,000 plays in his career and, by his count, he has botched only three snaps -- one in 2006 (Chad Pennington at quarterback), last December in Nashville and last week (a premature snap to Geno Smith).

"You don't forget them," he said. "I know all of them, biblically."

7. Evil twins: The Jets should be wary of Titans CB Jason McCourty. He and his twin brother, New England Patriots S Devin McCourty, have turned into Jets killers over the last two seasons.

In Week 2, Devin recovered a fumble and returned it 44 yards. In two meetings last season, Devin scored on a 104-yard kickoff return and, in the Butt Fumble Game, he forced a fumble on a kickoff return -- and the fumble was returned for a touchdown. Jason upheld the family tradition by recording two interceptions in last December's game in Nashville.

The McCourty brothers grew up in Nyack, N.Y., and both attended Rutgers. Maybe this is some sort of payback after being ignored in the '09 draft by one of their local teams.

8. Perspective, please: The Buffalo Bills are a dangerous team in one respect, and one respect only: The Jets usually play so well against the Bills that it creates a false sense of confidence about the team, internally and externally. It happened early last season, and it could be happening now, coming off last week's win. The same people who predicted a 4-12 season are now talking about playoff possibilities. It's a long season, folks. Relax.

9. Johnny on the spot: One thing I've noticed about GM John Idzik: He likes to be near the action -- or maybe I should say the "competition." It was apparent in training camp, where he was on the practice field, lurking near positional drills. In last Sunday's win, he was on the Jets' sideline in the fourth quarter, behind the bench. In fact, there was a TV shot of him, congratulating Santonio Holmes after his game-winning touchdown. I'd like to say Idzik is a Jerry Jones wannabe, but that wouldn't be accurate. Idzik isn't exactly a spotlight guy.

10. The wild, wild East: Things are moving pretty fast in the AFC East -- literally. The Bills average one play every 29.3 seconds (first in the NFL), followed by the New England Patriots (36.9, seventh), Miami Dolphins (37.2, ninth) and Jets (37.7, 11th), according to ESPN Stats. Who knew?

Finally, Rex, too, shall pass

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Welcome to the modern age of pro football, Rex Ryan. You’re late to the party, but maybe not too late.

The same coach who once preached from the ground-and-pound bible … who insulated his first rookie quarterback in a protective cocoon … who never considered a punt a bad thing …

That guy is gone, as gone as his bravado and prodigious waistline.

Ryan, in his fifth season as the New York Jets coach, has gone from an old-school, defensive-minded coach to a pragmatist who realized it was time to adapt his philosophy to the current trend -- or least that’s the message he’s sent through three games.

Instead of putting Geno Smith in bubble wrap, which is what he did with Mark Sanchez in 2009, Ryan has allowed Marty Mornhinweg to operate an aggressive, pass-oriented attack. Smith is tied with Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers for the NFL lead with nine completions on attempts of more than 20 yards in the air.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Al Pereira/New York Jets via Getty ImagesRex Ryan has changed his offensive approach and gotten behind the arm of Geno Smith.
Ground-and-pound is so Jurassic. The league now is all about the passing craze.

“I give him credit for evolving as a coach,” said ESPN analyst Damien Woody, a member of the ’09 team that rushed a staggering 607 times. “Rex realized you can’t win with 3 yards and a cloud of dust. If you want to win a championship, you have to do it through the air.”

Ryan came to the realization before the Jets drafted Smith and before he hired Mornhinweg to replace Tony Sparano, a one-year bust who had no background in passing offense. As soon as last season ended, Ryan announced his intention to play an aggressive style of offense that would mirror his approach on defense.

Ryan and Mornhinweg are Oscar and Felix in terms of football background, but Ryan -- perhaps out of self-preservation -- seems willing to take a walk on the wild side. Mornhinweg likes to pass. Ryan likes to win. Hence, the marriage.

What we’ve seen so far is a dramatically different approach than in 2009. That season, Sanchez averaged only 24 attempts per game. He exceeded 34 only once. Smith is averaging 34 passes, and we’re not talking about a lot of dinking and dunking, either.

“That’s why they brought me in here, because of my ability to throw the ball downfield and be accurate with it,” Smith said.

There are four reasons Ryan has loosened up:

1. The game has changed. As Woody noted, it’s hard to win these days with a ground-oriented attack. You can’t win consistently by scores of 17-14 and 21-17.

2. Mornhinweg operates a West Coast system, one predicated on short passing, but his DNA includes a gene not inherent in most Bill Walsh disciples: the gunslinger gene. He’s not afraid to throw deep.

3. Smith arrived with a lot more experience than Sanchez, who started only 16 games in college. Smith started 39 games at West Virginia. Clearly, there’s more trust in Smith than there was in Sanchez, whose only requirement was to manage the game.

4. The current Jets don’t have Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and Shonn Greene in the backfield, the way they did in ’09. That team, with a dominant offensive line, was built to bludgeon opponents with the ground game.

Center Nick Mangold, a holdover from ’09, believes the difference lies in the coordinators -- Mornhinweg versus Brian Schottenheimer. There might be some truth to that, but the coordinator takes his marching orders from Ryan.

Mangold likes the new way of doing things.

“You love scoring points,” he said. “It gives you an opportunity at all times to keep your foot on the gas. It’s exciting. It’s fun to be part of.”

This will help Smith in the long run because it will allow him to develop as a passer. This season is all about Smith, finding out if he’s The Guy. They could probably lower the interception total by being more cautious with him, but you can live with the mistakes (most of the time) if he averages 11 yards per attempt, as he did last week, and the defense continues to keep teams out of the end zone.

“I’d rather have Geno’s mistakes than hold him back and not see him develop,” said Woody, who believes the ultra-conservative approach with Sanchez might have stunted his growth.

Not every game will turn out as well as last week's did, but it’s the correct approach. Ryan is backing up what he vowed to do.

Welcome to the 21st century, Coach.
A morning briefing on news and goings on around the New York Jets:

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When Jets coach Rex Ryan discusses Geno Smith, it brings back memories of 2009, Mark Sanchez's rookie year.

Ryan's answers sound the same as '09 as he reponds to questions about Smith's "mental clock" in the pocket, the rookie quarterback's decision-making, etc. If Smith struggles for another week or two, you have to wonder if Ryan will break out the old color-coded system, the one he used in '09 to help Sanchez avoid interceptions.

Finally, Ryan was asked if he learned anything as a head coach in '09 that could be applied to Smith's apprenticeship.

"Yeah," Ryan said, "play great defense."

Funny.

"There are some things," he said, turning serious. "There are some specific things that I'm not going to talk about. I'd rather not get into it, but I'll tell you this: Know where the escape points are. Whether it's the escape in the rush, whether it's the escape to the check-down, some of that I think can help."

Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel hasn't made nearly as many mistakes as Smith, prompting Ryan to note that Manuel does a nice job of finding his check-down receivers. A subtle message to Smith, perhaps?

ICYMI: Ryan is preparing to face a rookie quarterback, which means he's licking his chops. ... D'Brickashaw Ferguson was fined $15,000 for the fracas in Foxborough. Willie Colon and Nick Mangold are waiting to hear about potential fines. ... Good news on the injury front: Jets wide receiver/returner Jeremy Kerley, coming back from a concussion, was medically cleared to play. His absence was felt at both positions. ... Linebacker Quinton Coples, out four weeks with a fractured ankle that required surgery, returned to practice. Will he play Sunday? The best guess is the Jets will err on the side of caution, giving him another week to heal. ... Bills defensive end Mario Williams finally earned his big paycheck with a team-record 4.5 sacks. The Jets say they will be ready for him.

Ferguson fined for fracas in Foxborough

September, 18, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- As expected, D'Brickashaw Ferguson was fined by the league for his role in last Thursday's melee with the Patriots, the left tackle confirmed Wednesday. Ferguson wouldn't reveal the amount of the fine.

Guard Willie Colon and center Nick Mangold said they hadn't heard from the NFL as of Wednesday afternoon. Colon made contact with referee Carl Cheffers and Mangold was penalized for a late hit on cornerback Aqib Talib, who was returning an interception in the final minute. Mangold's tackle triggered the skirmish. Colon and Ferguson, who threw a punch at cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, were ejected from the game.

Some thought Mangold's tackle was a cheap shot, but Talib told ESPN.com Wednesday that he believes it was a clean hit.

UPDATE: A league source said that Ferguson was fined $15,000 for the fight.

Aqib Talib: Nick Mangold hit not dirty

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib said Wednesday that he didn't have an issue with the low tackle by Jets center Nick Mangold that sparked a melee at the end of Thursday's 13-10 New England win.

Talib
Talib
"I thought he kind of dove a little early. He started to dive when I was in bounds and I kind of went out of bounds at the end of his dive. I didn't see it as dirty," Talib told ESPN. "I haven't seen it too many times, but I'm good. I ain't worried about it."

When Talib wasn't present for the Patriots' Monday practice, some wondered if perhaps he had sustained an injury on the play. But Talib told ESPN on Wednesday that he was tending to a family emergency.

"I came out of the game healthy," he said.

On the play that sparked the end-of-game melee that ultimately led to ejections for Jets linemen Willie Colon and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and a 15-yard personal foul penalty for Mangold, Talib had intercepted a pass and returned it along the sideline when Mangold lunged toward his legs.

Talib had slowed a bit, spun around, so Mangold ended up making contact with him from behind around the knees.

That sparked a reaction from Patriots coach Bill Belichick and others as the play happened in front of the team's sideline. Soon enough, there was a scrum between several members of both teams that is currently under review by the league office.

NFL to look at Patriots-Jets melee

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
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The NFL will be looking into the melee at the end of Thursday night’s 13-10 Patriots win over the Jets, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The conflict started after center Nick Mangold dove to tackle cornerback Aqib Talib, who had intercepted Geno Smith with 48 seconds left in the game. Patriots players thought it was a cheap shot, while Mangold and coach Rex Ryan said in was a legal and unintentionally low tackle. Mangold was issued a 15-yard personal foul, and took heat from Patriots coach Bill Belichick on the sideline.

[+] EnlargeNick Mangold and Aqib Talib
Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesNick Mangold's hit on Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib following an interception set off a scrum that ended with two Jets players getting ejected.
On Friday, Jets coach Rex Ryan said Belichick should have known Mangold wouldn’t take a cheap shot on another player.

"Look, I've yelled at his players, too," Ryan said on 98.7 ESPN New York. "That's part of it. A lot of that stuff happens. Yelling at my player that he did something intentional, that's not the case. Nick wasn't trying to injure the guy or hit him out of bounds or anything else. That wasn't the case. Mangold isn't that kind of player and Belichick should know better than that. I promise you he does."

The league will also look at the ensuing scrum, in which LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson and RG Willie Colon appeared in replays to throw punches at Patriots players, and Colon was cited for shoving a referee. The two, who were just a small part of the fracas, were ejected. No Patriots players were disciplined and Ryan later complained that, “apparently our team was the only one involved in it.”

Both Colon and Ferguson claimed not to remember exactly what happened in the scrum. Both could be subject to a fine or possibly a suspension from the NFL this week. The league's VP of football operations will evaluate the tape.

In the less-likely event that an offensive lineman is suspended, it could be tricky for the Jets to replace him. Chris Ivory cited solid line play as the reason the Jets had more success running the ball in Week 2, but after the starting five there is a bit of a drop-off in experience. Brian Winters, Will Campbell, Caleb Schlauderaff and rookie Oday Aboushi are the backups.

There haven’t been a lot of incidents like this one in recent Jets history, so the chances that one of them will be harshly disciplined seems more remote. Ryan likes to get his players fired up. He once sent offensive lineman Rob Turner into a training camp practice to tangle with Vernon Gholston as documented by "Hard Knocks" that year, but the waning seconds of the fourth quarter may not offer the same kind of emotional return.

There was no place to take that energy, except the Gillette Stadium visiting locker room after a loss.

W2W4: Five things we'll be focused on

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
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Things turned around fast for the Patriots after their season-opening win over the Bills on Sunday. The coaching staff graded the film on the plane ride home from Western New York in anticipation of fast-forwarding to this week’s opponent, the Jets.

Whenever the Patriots and Jets square off there’s going to be a layer of intrigue. The teams have had no shortage of dramatic moments in the recent past, both during games and in the days leading up to them.

To the surprise of many, the Jets got the job done narrowly at home over the Bucs in Week 1, sparked by a late scramble by quarterback Geno Smith and subsequent personal foul penalty that pushed them into game-winning field goal range.

With a chance to jump out in front of the rest of the division at stake, here are five items we’ll be watching for on Thursday night.

1. Who catches passes? With Danny Amendola (groin) likely to sit out Thursday’s game, the Patriots must go back to the drawing board to find their top receiver. The presumptive top target this week is Julian Edelman, a Week 1 star who has long held the trust of Tom Brady. Behind Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins will hold down the perimeter targets, with Josh Boyce as a candidate to step into a third receiver role. Fellow rookie Aaron Dobson (hamstring) could be active this week, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he doesn’t play a major offensive role even if he suits up. He’s still in the development stages. Tight end Zach Sudfeld (hamstring) might be out, catapulting Michael Hoomanawanui into a starting role.

2. Ridley the bell-cow back? After being benched in the second quarter due to a fumble, might running back Stevan Ridley be put right back into his starting role in the backfield? The team needs him with Shane Vereen now on the short-term injured reserve list, and Ridley has bounced back from fumbling woes before. Consider this: In the four games following his fumbles in 2012, Ridley averaged 17.75 carries. In the other 12 games, he averaged 18.25. Don’t be surprised if he takes on a leading role again this week. Veteran Leon Washington, if healthy, could be used to replace Vereen.

Geno Smith
(AP Photo/Bill KostrounThe pressure will be on the Patriots' defensive line to get to Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
3. Pressuring Geno. Sacks don’t always tell the story as it relates to generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but Thursday night would be a good time for the Patriots to register their first sack of the season after being shut out against Buffalo. They’ll face another rookie quarterback. One way to knock Geno Smith off of his game is to make him uncomfortable in the pocket. The Patriots' defensive ends and edge players will be under the microscope in this department.

4. Wilfork vs. Mangold. We don’t often dig into individual matchups for our items to watch for, but this one is too good to ignore. When the Patriots play the Jets, it means two of the very best at their craft go head-to-head, as nose tackle Vince Wilfork will often align over Jets center Nick Mangold. Mangold left Week 1 with an elbow issue but later returned and should be good to go on Thursday. The Jets love to run the football, but Mangold will have his hands full in trying to generate movement against Wilfork.

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5. Jets DL in focus. In reviewing the Jets' first game of the season, it was clear that the defensive line is an explosive and disruptive group that won’t make things easy on Brady. Muhammad Wilkerson is a star already, while first-round pick Sheldon Richardson had an active afternoon against both the run and pass, totaling seven tackles and a half sack. Veteran Antwan Barnes adds edge pressure and the Jets' front seven will be a big test even without 2012 first-round pick Quinton Coples. The Patriots' offensive line picked it up down the stretch against Buffalo, but it must be ready again when the Jets take the field. This defense will find ways to manufacture pressure through both schemes and individual rushers.
FLORHAM PARK,N.J. -- Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley was diagnosed with a concussion and did not practice Monday as the team prepared for Thursday's game in New England.

The Jets were also without quarterback Mark Sanchez (right shoulder), linebacker Quinton Coples (ankle) and tight end Kellen Winslow (knee). Sanchez and Coples are not practicing as they deal with injuries, while Winslow skips one day a week to manage the pain in his right knee.

Running back Chris Ivory was listed with a thumb issue, while Dee Milliner had a hip issue. Defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was also listed with a shoulder injury. Jeff Cumberland (chin) and Nick Mangold (elbow) were both on the injury report after leaving Sunday's game.

For New England, running back Shane Vereen did not practice with a wrist injury. He reportedly needs surgery and won't play Thursday.

Here's the full injury report:

Jets

Did not practice

LB Quinton Coples (ankle)
QB Mark Sanchez (right shoulder)
TE Kellen Winslow (knee)
WR Jeremy Kerley (concussion)

Limited practice

CB Antonio Cromartie (hip)
TE Jeff Cumberland (chin)
WR Clyde Gates (knee)
DL Kenrick Ellis (back)
WR Santonio Holmes (foot)
OL Nick Mangold (elbow)
DL Sheldon Richardson (shoulder)

Full practice

LB Nick Bellore (oblique)
OG Willie Colon (knee)
DT Damon Harrison (knee)
WR Stephen Hill (knee)
OL Ben Ijalana (knee)
RB Chris Ivory (thumb)
LB Garrett McIntrye (ribs)
CB Dee Milliner (hip)
RB Bilal Powell (shoulder)
QB Geno Smith (ankle)

Patriots

Did not practice

RB Shane Vereen (wrist)

Limited practice

WR Danny Amendola (groin)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
WR Aaron Dobson (hamstring)
DB Nate Ebner (ankle)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm)
DB Duron Harmon (hamstring)
TE Zach Sudfeld (hamstring)
OL Will Svitek (knee)
RB Leon Washington (thigh)

Locker Room Buzz: New York Jets

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
6:10
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Observed in the locker room after the New York Jets' 18-17 win over the Bucs at MetLife Stadium:

Ryan
1. Giddy Rex: Rex Ryan was ebullient at his postgame news conference. After all, it probably was his most enjoyable victory since the middle of last season. As he approached the interview podium, Ryan said, "Oh, man, we'll take it." His mood was a mixture of relief and pure joy. He channeled his inner Phil Rizzuto, uttering a couple of "Holy Cow" remarks. At one point, he became a headline writer, cracking, "Go ahead and write it: 'Folk Hero.'" And it came in the Nick of time.

2. Took it on the chin: Tight end Jeff Cumberland emerged from the trainer's room with a bandage on his chin. He required stitches after absorbing a vicious hit to his chin strap by Bucs safety Dashon Goldson, who was penalized 15 yards for a personal foul. Cumberland returned to the game in the third quarter. His face epitomized the day for the Jets. Several players returned to the game after getting hurt, namely center Nick Mangold (elbow) and wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (blow to the head). Without a doubt, the Jets showed their toughness.

3. Pacesetter: Linebacker Calvin Pace sat in front of his locker, his back to reporters, going on and on about how the Jets felt disrespected by the so-called experts. He mentioned the ESPN power poll, which ranked them 32nd. "I can tell you one thing," he said, "we're not the worst team in the league."

Cro to Jets' offense: 'Don't cry, play ball!'

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
2:21
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- These guys are teammates, right?

Things got interesting at New York Jets practice Wednesday afternoon when cornerback Antonio Cromartie put a strong hit on receiver Stephen Hill during a two-minute drill.

Quarterback Geno Smith completed a pass to Hill near the goal line and Cromartie immediately put a high hit on Hill, near the helmet.

The hit appeared to come from Cromartie's forearm.

After the collision, there was a mini-skirmish involving members of both the offense and defense. Some players, including center Nick Mangold, appeared to be upset with Cromartie.

At one point, after the skirmish dissipated, Cromartie could be heard yelling, "Don't cry, play ball!"

Hill returned for 7-on-7 drills later in practice.

Coach Rex Ryan addressed the hit later Wednesday, saying he was "disappointed" because the hit was over the top.

"There's 'thud' and then there's like over-the-top 'thud.' I was disappointed because we have to protect each other. Stephen was running full speed and all that. Cro actually came off of his coverage and made the hit. Again, it wasn't ... I don't think he intended to certainly hurt Stephen. But still, you've got to be smarter. You're in great position, just let it go. I think that's what we need to do."

Hill said he had no problem with Cromartie's hard hit. He was surprised by the outsized reaction to the collision.

"That's competition," Hill said. "I expected that. So, I mean, we're out here playing football, that's what it is: It's a collision sport."

Cromartie was involved in another potentially dangerous play in 7-on-7s. He met wideout Michael Campbell in the air and broke up a pass, then Campbell landed awkwardly on his back and stayed on the ground momentarily. Cromartie hung around after the play to make sure Campbell was OK.

Camp Confidential: New York Jets

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
9:00
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The New York Jets haven’t faced expectations this low since 2006, when they hired a relatively anonymous New England Patriots assistant named Eric Mangini. Somehow, they made the playoffs under the baby-faced head coach.

The odds of duplicating that this season are about the same as seeing two Butt Fumbles in one lifetime.

Even the bombastic Rex Ryan, who once guaranteed a Super Bowl, has refrained from delivering a headline-making prediction. The Jets are rated in many power polls as a bottom-five team, but that stoked Ryan’s fire to only a medium flame.

“If you’re a competitor, how does that thing not get to you?” Ryan said. “How does that not motivate you? It’s almost like, ‘Well, OK, we’re going to show you.’”

In the not-so-old days, Ryan would’ve said something like, “We’ll see who has the egg on their face when we’re in the playoffs.”

Ryan has toned it down because he recognizes the enormity of the challenge.

The Jets, coming off a dysfunctional, Tim Tebow-obsessed 6-10 season, are rebuilding. New general manager John Idzik parted ways with 11 starters (including All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis), tore apart the front office and changed the culture.

Idzik, hired even though he has little background in personnel, instilled a buttoned-down, almost paranoid environment in an organization once known for its wacky ways.

The circus is gone. The Kremlin is here.

It’s a change for the fun-loving Ryan, but he has bought in because he’s coaching for his job. He joked recently that if the Jets are in position to draft Jadeveon Clowney, the presumptive No. 1 pick in 2014, he won’t be around to see it.

Earth to Ryan: You won’t be around if you finish with as many as six wins. Idzik inherited Ryan, at the urging of owner Woody Johnson, and he will hire his own man if the team shows no improvement.

In a way, Ryan is in an almost impossible situation. His roster was gutted, leaving a team many scouts believe has only four top-tier players: cornerback Antonio Cromartie, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, center Nick Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

Throw in a potential quarterback controversy, and you’re looking at a long year in New York.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Rich Schultz"He can do more" than Mark Sanchez, one veteran player said of rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
1. Who plays quarterback? The competition is billed as Mark Sanchez versus Geno Smith. In reality, it’s Smith versus Smith. It’s his job to win. If the second-round pick proves capable of functioning in an NFL offense, he’ll be the opening-day starter.

Sanchez will start the first preseason game, but his performance is virtually meaningless. The Jets know what he can and can’t do, and it has been a “can’t-do” situation over the past two seasons. If it weren’t for an $8.25 million guarantee, he probably would have been cut loose in the offseason.

The organization wants a fresh start at quarterback. It went into camp thinking Sanchez would win by default, but Smith, shaking off a lackluster spring, has impressed with his arm strength, accuracy and athleticism. “He can do more” than Sanchez, one veteran player said. The question is whether or not Smith can handle it from a mental and maturity standpoint. When his brain catches up to his arm, it’ll be his team.

2. How will they score points? The Jets finished 28th in scoring last season, and they will be hard pressed to improve that ranking. They have a suspect cast of skill-position players, including past-their-prime pass-catchers (Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow), a lead back who’s never had more than 137 carries in a season (Chris Ivory) and an injured former Super Bowl hero who may never be the same (Santonio Holmes).

New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is an experienced playcaller, but it’s hard to call plays when you don’t have the talent. The Jets need productive seasons out of wide receiver Stephen Hill and tight end Jeff Cumberland, who have a combined total of 53 career receptions. Holmes could be a factor at some point, but he probably won’t be ready for Week 1 as he continues to rehab a surgically repaired foot. Get the picture? It looks bleak.

Because of the uncertainty at quarterback and the lack of playmakers on the perimeter, the Jets absolutely must be a strong running team. That’s not out of the question -- the line is solid -- but they will see a heavy dose of eight-man fronts and run-blitzing defenses.

3. Can Ryan hold it together? After back-to-back seasons out of the playoffs, Ryan faces a make-or-break year. He has two years left on his contract, meaning he’ll be extended or fired after the season. He has no previous background with Idzik, making it a tenuous situation.

Thinking self-preservation, Ryan has taken control of the defense, becoming the de facto coordinator. He did it this way in 2009, when he felt most comfortable as a head coach. He’ll leave the offense to Mornhinweg, whose pass-happy philosophy might not be a good fit with Ryan’s defensive-oriented approach.

[+] EnlargeIdzik/Ryan
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsRex Ryan, left, will likely need more than last season's six wins if he wants new general manager John Idzik, right, to keep him around.
Ryan’s job security will be an issue throughout the season, especially if the Jets get off to a bad start against a tough schedule. It could become a feeding frenzy for the New York media. It may not be playoffs or bust, but another losing season probably will mean the end of the Ryan era.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Once again, the Jets will rely on their defense -- and that’s not such a bad thing.

Under Ryan, they’ve finished no worse than eighth in total defense, and they have the talent to keep the streak alive. There could be some growing pains as Ryan integrates seven new starters, but the unit should get stronger as the season progresses.

Revis is gone, traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Jets will be OK outside with Cromartie and top pick Dee Milliner. They’re good enough to play man-to-man coverage, which will allow Ryan to crank up his blitzing schemes.

They don’t have a big-time pass-rusher -- the glaring deficiency -- but this is the most athletic defensive line of the Ryan era. And it should be, considering they’ve drafted linemen in the past three first rounds. If Quinton Coples and rookie Sheldon Richardson develop as quickly as Wilkerson, already one of the league’s best 3-4 ends, this group will be fun to watch.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and the Jets’ quarterback situation is as murky as any in the league. It’s a controversy waiting to happen.

Sanchez still has the loyalty of a few holdovers in the locker room, but there are many players intrigued by Smith’s skill set. If Sanchez wins the job and struggles, it could create a division in the locker room.

Nothing drains the energy out of a team more than a quarterback mess. It happened last year with Sanchez and Tebow, although this could be more volatile because Smith -- unlike Tebow -- can actually play the position.

Sanchez has lost the home fans, who booed him mercilessly last season. If the toxicity carries over to this season, it will create a bad vibe, and that can bring down an entire team. A difficult first-half schedule won’t help matters.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Jets are relying on several players with recent injury histories, including Winslow (limited in camp), Edwards (limited), Holmes, guard Willie Colon, wide receiver Clyde Gates and kick returner Joe McKnight. That’s always a dicey proposition.
  • The Jets have been spoiled for two decades at running back, but not anymore. This marks the first time since 1994 that no one on the roster has a 1,000-yard season in his career. It will be backfield by committee, with Ivory (yet to practice because of a hamstring injury), Bilal Powell and McKnight. Mike Goodson was supposed to be a key player, but he’s dealing with undisclosed personal issues and didn’t report to camp. Powell, a pleasant surprise, could end up as the lead back.
  • Remember all the talk last summer about Tebow and the Wildcat? It was all hot air, as the Jets barely used him. Tebow is gone, but the plan remains. They will use the Wildcat with Powell or wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, and they plan to use the read option with Smith. Ironic, huh?
  • Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman will keep opponents guessing by employing different looks. The Jets remain a 3-4 base defense, but don’t be surprised if they mix in 4-3 fronts. They will blitz a lot more than last season, count on it. You also could see three cornerbacks (Kyle Wilson lining up as a safety) in certain base packages.
  • Wilkerson doesn’t garner too many headlines because he doesn’t say much, but he’s a special talent. He felt he deserved to go to the Pro Bowl last season; he’s ready to break through in ’13.
  • Mornhinweg, a Bill Walsh disciple, employs a West Coast offense, but he’s not the stereotypical West Coast guru. He’s an aggressive playcaller and will take deep shots. That should bode well for Hill, a vertical threat who has matured after a disappointing rookie year.
  • The Jets could have three rookies in the opening day lineup -- Smith, Milliner and Richardson. The last time they had as many as two was 2006, Ferguson and Mangold. By the end of the year, Brian Winters could be starting at left guard. It could be a watershed draft
  • Looking for a sleeper? Keep an eye on second-year linebacker Demario Davis, who replaces Bart Scott. Davis is terrific in pass coverage, so good in space that Ryan is thinking about keeping his base defense on the field against certain three-receiver packages.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Other than the quarterback, which player could each AFC East team least afford to lose to injury? Here's a look:

Buffalo Bills: S Jairus Byrd. The Bills have talent in several areas. But the most important player is in their last line of defense: Pro Bowl safety Byrd. Buffalo proved this point by designating him its franchise player. As a result, he is currently in a contract dispute with the Bills and wants long-term security. This is a situation that could spill over into training camp. Despite big names like defensive end Mario Williams, tailback C.J. Spiller and receiver Steve Johnson, Byrd is probably the most difficult player on the roster to replace.

Miami Dolphins: DE Cameron Wake. The play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill kept Miami competitive. But their best player last year was Wake, a Pro Bowl defensive end.. Miami’s best pass-rusher led the Dolphins with a career-high 15 sacks. What’s more impressive is Wake was the Dolphins' only real threat to get to the quarterback and faced plenty of double teams. This offseason, Miami has done a lot to help Wake. The Dolphins drafted rookie defensive end Dion Jordan No. 3 overall. Miami also got faster at linebacker with Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. But Wake’s ability to get to the quarterback is a large part of Miami’s foundation on defense.

New England Patriots: TE Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots have already lost tight end Aaron Hernandez. Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker signed with the Denver Broncos in free agency, and New England released starting receiver Brandon Lloyd for financial reasons. The only productive pass-catcher returning from New England’s top-rated offense in 2012 is Gronkowski, who is now more important than ever. The past few years, New England was able to absorb Gronkowski’s absence because Hernandez was there to pick up the slack. But that cushion is now gone with Hernandez’s release, after he was charged with murder this week. Gronkowski is coming off multiple arm and back surgeries and must stay healthy this year for New England to thrive.

New York Jets: C Nick Mangold. This was a tough choice. The Jets lack the overall talent to be a playoff team this season. However, they do have a handful of key players. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie is a Pro Bowler. But the Jets have talented young backups like Kyle Wilson and Dee Milliner, who are both former first-round draft picks. Defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and linebacker David Harris are talented. But Jets head coach Rex Ryan has always had a good scheme to get production out of his defense. So former Pro Bowl center Mangold is the choice. The Jets' offense desperately needs Mangold's leadership and consistency in the middle. Mangold is one of the toughest players in the NFL and has played through injuries in the past. He has been their one reliable player on offense the past couple years.

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