Geno SmithGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesGeno Smith expects "big things" from himself in 2014, and the Jets will need that to be successful.
Geno Smith heard Michael Vick's name more than a few times last season in the New York Jets' offensive meeting room. Occasionally, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg used Vick as an example when explaining to his quarterbacks how he wanted a particular play to be run.

The name-dropping was understandable. After all, there was history between Mornhinweg and Vick. Smith soaked it up, taking copious notes as he navigated a winding rookie season.

This season, the real Vick, not the ghost, will be sitting alongside Smith in the meeting room. That can be a good thing -- Smith can learn straight from the source -- or a bad thing if he becomes unnerved by Vick's presence. If Smith is bothered by the situation, he's not letting on. He sounds like a proven veteran, not a second-year quarterback who endured one of the worst statistical seasons in recent times.

"I don't want to make any statements or put anything out there, but once the season comes, I mean, I expect big things," Smith told ESPN.com in a recent interview. "I believe fully in myself. I have the utmost confidence in myself. I know I have the ability to play in this league."

There are doubters, to be sure, but Smith's conviction was steeled by his encouraging finish last season. His teammates and coaches saw it in the offseason, with the decisiveness he showed in the huddle in spring practices and the self-confidence he demonstrated in the locker room. That was one of the biggest takeaways from the offseason: the New Geno.

It has to be a new Geno if the Jets hope to snap their three-year playoff drought. Right now, the Jets have eight-win talent, but that modest number jumps to double digits if Smith improves as much as they believe he can.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith, Michael Vick
Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY SportsWill Michael Vick's presence be a good thing or a bad thing for Geno Smith?
"We're not playing yet -- we're not in the stadium yet, people aren't in the stands -- but Geno is a strongly improved player at this point," quarterbacks coach David Lee said.

Thousands of words will be written and spoken this summer about Eric Decker and Chris Johnson, the Jets' marquee additions, but 2014 is all about Smith, whom the Jets expect to be their season-opening starter.

They say he's stronger and faster. As part of his offseason regimen, Smith trained with a speed parachute, proudly texting photos of himself to Lee.

They say his footwork now comes naturally. A year ago, he was so unfamiliar with the Jets' offense that he counted steps in his head.

They say his command of Mornhinweg's system has improved to the point where he's self-sufficient. As a rookie, Smith leaned heavily on center Nick Mangold, who did more hand-holding than a lovestruck teenager.

"It's gotten away from me telling him exactly what to do," Mangold said. "Now it's more of a two-way discussion."

They say Smith is more of a leader than last year. Let's be clear: he's not a fiery, in-your-face kind of quarterback, but there are indications that he wants to make it his team.

In March, when he learned of the Decker signing on ESPN's Bottom Line, Smith immediately texted general manager John Idzik, asking for Decker's number. He reached out to his newest receiver, welcoming him to the team, discussing places to live in New Jersey and asking Decker about his favorite pass routes.

Smith tried to do that with every newcomer, even draft picks, taking ownership in the team. A year ago, he kept to himself, trying to fit in.

"I didn't want to come in as that guy who thinks he knows it all," Smith said. "I feel like I had to earn my stripes, and I feel like I've done that to a certain extent.

"But I'm still learning, still growing. I still listen to the vets, but it's a different level of leadership from me. Last year, I was a vocal guy when I needed to be, but it wasn't as much as I'm going to show this year."

Smith threw 21 interceptions, and that was a source of frustration for coaches and players alike, but they maintained their support because they respected his work ethic and mental toughness. No matter how bad it got, he refused to fold.

"He went through everything a rookie quarterback could go through," guard Willie Colon said. "Now he's like, ‘All right, it's time for me to step up.' He's embracing the challenge. We all know Geno is feisty. He's strong-minded. He has the ability to fight. We believe in him."

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsAs a rookie, Geno Smith passed for 3,046 yards with 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
Former Jets quarterback Brady Quinn, a member of the team for the first half of the season, marveled at Smith's resilience. He pointed to the early-season win over the Atlanta Falcons, when Smith rallied the Jets in the final 2 minutes on a Monday night stage -- one week after an absolute stinker against the Tennessee Titans.

"Every time Geno felt challenged, whether it was in the press or by anyone else, he usually responded and played a great game," Quinn said. "I think he had five come-from-behind wins. Those are powerful statements."

Quinn came away impressed with Smith, who he believes has "a ton of arm talent." Unfortunately, there wasn't much talent around that arm, resulting in one of the worst offenses in the league. That should change with Johnson in the backfield and Decker on the perimeter.

It's all there for Smith in Year 2, but there still are plenty of critics. In a recent ESPN.com poll of 25 personnel executives and coaches, he was rated the worst starting quarterback in the league.

Do the Jets know something that no one else does? Maybe they do. Mornhinweg and Lee are widely respected offensive minds, so their opinions carry weight. Their jobs, along with that of Rex Ryan, could be riding on Smith. If he backslides or fails to show improvement, it'll be a costly setback for the organization.

Smith's biggest challenge is reading defenses, according to people who have studied him on tape. He was a one-read quarterback at West Virginia, so it was a difficult transition to Mornhinweg's version of the West Coast offense, which is predicated on multiple reads and exact timing.

There were long stretches last season in which Smith showed questionable instincts for the position, making poor decision after poor decision. The Jets expect that to get better with experience.

The new variable for Smith is the Vick factor. This is a different ballgame for Smith, who didn't have to worry last season about losing his job. Even though Vick claims he will embrace the mentor role, he's a direct threat to Smith. One or two bad games, and the masses will be screaming for a change.

You could certainly argue that Vick, 34, is better than Smith and deserves a fair shot at the starting job, but the powers-that-be have decided to stack the competition in Smith's favor, making it his job to lose. They won't hand it to him. He'll have to earn it, staving off a player he grew up admiring. It's a fascinating dynamic, especially with the Mornhinweg factor. Smith is battling his role model for a role.

"I don't feel any pressure at all," Smith said. "Maybe, in the outside world, people might think that way. If I do hit a rough patch, I fully expect Mike to pick me up. If it was the other way around, I'd do the same for him because that's the way we are. We're friends and we're teammates."

They're close. Soon, we'll find out if it's too close for comfort.

While we were on vacation ...

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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The three-week respite is over, and it's time to get back to football. Before we look ahead to Wednesday, when the New York Jets report to training camp in Cortland, New York, let's take a look back at what I missed over the last three weeks.

No news is good news: It was uneventful for the Jets, which, of course, is every coach's dream for the slow time before camp. There were no arrests and no off-the-field injuries (none that have come to light, anyway.) Nowadays, you can't take this stuff for granted. The Buffalo Bills (season-ending knee injury to LB Kiko Alonso) and the Baltimore Ravens (multiple arrests), for example, were in the headlines for the wrong reasons, creating problems and distractions. For Rex Ryan, it was blissfully quiet.

Smith
Happy talk: The optimism is flowing like Gatorade, which is what you'd expect in July. In recent interviews, Geno Smith said the Jets are capable of a Super Bowl run and Ryan all but predicted a postseason berth. Love the confidence (shades of the old Rex), but I think we need to tap the brakes just a bit, especially with the Super Bowl talk. The Jets are headed in the right direction, and they should be thinking playoffs after an 8-8 season (it's the next step, right?), but let's keep it real. They're still looking up at the New England Patriots and at least a handful of other teams in the AFC.

Andre the Jet?: I find it interesting that, whenever a star player becomes available (or might become available), there's a mad rush to see if the Jets are interested. The recent rumor involved Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, who is unhappy and may want out. First of all, I'd be surprised if the Texans trade him. If they decide to put him on the block, the Jets won't be interested -- at least that's the current feeling in the organization. Remember, John Idzik is the general manager, not Mike Tannenbaum, who was a big-name hunter. The Jets don't do business that way anymore. Idzik signed two free-agent receivers and drafted three others, so he's in no rush to junk his handiwork by trading for a 33-year-old receiver making $10 million a year.

Ah, memories: In case you missed it, ESPN.com conducted a fan survery during the break, determining the most memorable play for every team. By an overwhelming margin, the fans (not media) voted the Butt Fumble the Jets' most memorable play. In an NCAA-style bracket, the Butt Fumble lost in the first round to the Patriots' top play, the "Tuck Rule" game. Once again, the fans voted. But that's ancient history now. A new season is upon us, a time to create new memories and erase painful ones from the past.

Training camp preview: Secondary

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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Breaking down the New York Jets' roster, unit by unit, in preparation for training camp, July 23:

Position: Secondary

Patterson
Projected starters: Dee Milliner (CB), Dimitri Patterson (CB), Kyle Wilson (slot), Dawan Landry (S), Calvin Pryor (S).

Projected reserves: Antonio Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Dexter McDougle, Darrin Walls, Ellis Lankster.

Notables on the bubble: Josh Bush, Ras-I Dowling, Rontez Miles, Brandon Dixon (sixth-round pick).

Player to watch: Pryor. He was drafted 18th overall for a reason, and the reason is because the Jets believe he can be a great safety. Rex Ryan calls him an enforcer, comparing him to the late Jack Tatum. Ryan meant well, but he may have put a target on Pryor's back by putting him in the same sentence as one of the most notorious hitters in NFL history. He'll bring a physical, tough-guy element to the secondary, but what the secondary really needs is big plays -- interceptions, forced fumbles, anything. The secondary frightened no one last season.

Milliner
Top storyline: Did general manager John Idzik leave Ryan short at cornerback? It was one of the greatest cornerback classes in free-agent history and the Jets ended up with ... Patterson, a journeyman. Patterson, 31, with his sixth team, has natural ball skills, but he's never on the field long enough to use them. He has missed 33 of his last 48 games due to injuries. Ryan needs corners for his defense the way humans need water to survive. Milliner holds the key. If he becomes a legitimate No. 1 corner -- dare we say shutdown corner? -- it changes the face of the secondary. For the first time since 2006, the Jets don't have someone named Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie at corner. They need Milliner to ascend to that status.

Training camp will be a success if ... : Pryor is in the Week 1 lineup. The coaches say he's a smart cookie, but we'll see how he adapts when the pads go on and the playbook installation intensifies. It would be a major disappointment if he's not an immediate starter, considering his draft position and the relatively tame competition at safety.

Wild card: Landry's role. He played 98 percent of the defensive snaps last season, but he could lose his starting job if the Pryor-Allen tandem flourishes. Landry, known as "The Mentor," has value because of his smarts. But at what point does intelligence get trumped by youth and speed? It'll be a delicate balancing act in camp. The coaches have to get Landry ready while giving the Pryor-Allen duo a chance to develop chemistry.

By the numbers: The Jets' pass defense wasn't bad last season against three- and four-receiver groupings -- a 77.1 passer rating, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They struggled when it was only two receivers -- 103.9 rating.

Training camp preview: Linebacker

July, 20, 2014
Jul 20
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Breaking down the New York Jets' roster, unit by unit, in preparation for training camp, July 23:

Position: Linebacker

Projected starters: David Harris (MLB), Demario Davis (WLB), Calvin Pace (SLB), Quinton Coples (RUSH).

Projected reserves: Nick Bellore, Jermaine Cunningham, Antwan Barnes, Jeremiah George.

Notables on the bubble: Garrett McIntyre, IK Enemkpali (sixth-round pick), Trevor Reilly (seventh round).

Coples
Harris
Player to watch: Coples. The elements are in place for a breakout season. Position familiarity? Check. This is his second year at the rush-linebacker spot. Conditioning? Check. Coples said during minicamp that he dropped 15 pounds, putting him in the 270-275 range. The question is whether he can commit himself to being a dominant player. Some of his teammates will tell you that Coples is frustrating because he doesn't maximize his talent. Former Jets great Joe Klecko articulated the sentiment with his "Tarzan/Jane" comment. Said Coples: "I know this is a big year for me, stepping up and being a leader on this team and being more productive than I was the first two years."

Top storyline: Can the elder statesmen of the group, Harris (30) and Pace (33), maintain their production? It shouldn't be a problem for Harris, who enters a contract year and should be highly motivated. The big question is whether Pace can re-create what he did last season, surprising everyone with a career-high 10 sacks. He played with a chip on his shoulder after being cut and re-signed, performing well enough to land a two-year, $5 million contract. The Jets can't afford a drop off by Pace because, let's be honest, there's no heir apparent at his spot.

Training camp will be a success if ... : They can identify a third edge rusher to go along with Coples and Pace. Based on his track record, Barnes is the leading candidate, but he's coming off major knee surgery and could be limited in camp. Cunningham, a former second-round pick of the New England Patriots, is hoping to reboot his career with the Jets. He displayed some flash in minicamp, but he hasn't played in a game since 2012. The rookies, Enemkpali and Reilly, have a long way to go.

Wild card: Davis. He didn't produce enough big plays last season for someone who rarely came off the field -- one sack, one interception and no forced fumbles. Davis has the speed to be an effective three-down player, but some opposing scouts question his instincts. This will be his second year as a starter, so there should be a spike in production.

By the numbers: You can't blame the pass rush for the woes against the pass last season. It forced opponents to release the ball in 2.52 seconds, the sixth-fastest rate in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Training camp preview: Defensive line

July, 19, 2014
Jul 19
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Breaking down the New York Jets' roster, unit by unit, in preparation for training camp, July 23:

Position: Defensive line

Projected starters: Muhammad Wilkerson (DE), Damon Harrison (NT), Sheldon Richardson (DT)

Projected reserves: Leger Douzable, Kenrick Ellis

[+] EnlargeSheldon Richardson
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesSheldon Richardson, the 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, still sees plenty of room for improvement.
Player to watch: Richardson. What can he do for an encore? After winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Richardson doesn't have to prove last year was an aberration -- it wasn't -- but he must become a more complete player in 2014. That means producing more as a pass rusher. He managed only 3.5 sacks in 509 pass-rushing opportunities last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Ordinarily, defensive tackle isn't a high-sack position, but Richardson isn't your ordinary defensive tackle. He's explosive and versatile, lining up in multiple spots. He should be able to do more damage now that a shoulder injury, which hampered him most of last season, is healed. Rex Ryan: "This guy wants to be great. He was probably disappointed in the fact that he was only rookie of the year."

Top storyline: Wilkerson's contract situation. He won't become a Darrelle Revis-type distraction -- Wilkerson vowed not to stage a holdout -- but the topic is bound to come up in his dealings with the media. He has two years remaining on his deal, making a ridiculously low $1.2 million in 2014. The Jets have time (and leverage) on their side, so they won't do a deal unless it makes sense for them. With more than $20 million in cap room, why not do it now? It would send a positive message, showing the organization is committed to keeping its own. That hasn't always been the case. See: Revis.

Training camp will be a success if: The top five avoid injuries. Obviously, this could apply to any position, but it's particularly important for the defensive line, which doesn't have much depth beyond the returning five. (It's six, if you count "rush" linebacker Quinton Coples.) The Jets were extraordinarily lucky last season with injuries, with the same five linemen playing in every game. What are the odds of it happening two years in a row? Keep an eye on rookie Kerry Hyder, an undrafted free agent. The coaches like his upside.

Wild card: Ellis. He was "Wally Pipped" last summer by Harrison, and now it's time for Ellis to step to the forefront. It's his last chance, as he will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. The big fella has the size and the raw talent, but he has been slow to develop. If he does, the defensive line will strengthen its hold as the best position group on the team.

By the numbers: Wilkerson had 10 sacks after 11 games, but only a half-sack in the final five. The coaches need to do a better job of preserving him early in the season, perhaps scaling back some of his reps.

Erik Ainge cleared of all charges

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Former New York Jets quarterback Erik Ainge has all charges against him from a DUI arrest from last summer dropped.

The 28-year-old Ainge was arrested by Knoxville police on Interstate 40 in July 2013 and was charged with driving under the influence, violating the implied consent law and a roadway lane violation. All charges were dismissed Friday during Ainge's scheduled appearance at Knox County General Sessions Court.

The police officer who made the arrest had moved out of state and was unavailable to testify.

Ainge started 37 games between 2004 and 2007 in his college career at Tennessee. He was a fifth-round draft selection by the Jets in 2008. He retired after three seasons because of injuries to his throwing shoulder. He has spoken openly of his struggles with alcohol and drugs.


(Read full post)


video

Jarrett Bell discusses comments made by Jets coach Rex Ryan indicating that he would consider another 8-8 season to be a disappointment.

New York Jets projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
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Examining the New York Jets' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
Tough call between Boyd, a sixth-round pick, and Matt Simms, last season's No. 2 quarterback. Simms has improved a lot, but he could be fighting city hall. The Jets drafted Boyd based on Rex Ryan's recommendation, and we know how general manager John Idzik hates to cut draft picks. The ideal scenario would be to stash Boyd on the practice squad for a year, but he'd have to clear waivers.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
Daryl Richardson, formerly of the St. Louis Rams, and Alex Green will bid to create a fifth spot. That could hinge on Johnson's surgically repaired knee. If he's not 100 percent, it might pay to carry an extra back as insurance. Bohanon is the only fullback.

WIDE RECEIVERS (7)

Yes, it's unusual to carry seven receivers. It might be unconventional in terms of roster management, but the Jets feel this is one of their deepest areas -- a dramatic change from last year. Ford sticks because of his kickoff-returning ability. Saunders could emerge as the punt returner. He and Evans are fourth-round picks, so they'd have to be terrible to get cut.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Cumberland and Amaro complement each other. Cumberland is an in-line tight end, Amaro is a "flex" tight end. They don't have a true blocker who can move people around in the running game, a deficiency that can be addressed via the waiver wire.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

Winters, Colon and Aboushi are in a three-way competition for the two guard spots, with Winters and Colon likely to emerge. The Jets are counting on Winters to make a big leap after a rough rookie year. Colon, coming off two offseason surgeries, said he will be ready for camp, but his injury history is a concern. None of the backups have regular-season experience, so that's troubling.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5)

Same five players as last year. Why mess with a good thing? Five seems low, but Quinton Coples -- the rush linebacker -- plays a lot in a three-point stance, when the Jets shift to their 4-3 front. Wilkerson, Richardson and Harrison form one of the better front threes in the NFL.

LINEBACKERS (9)

The big question surrounds Barnes, who underwent knee surgery last October and has been slow to recover. If Barnes can't get it done as a pass-rushing specialist, it'll create more opportunities for Cunningham. This is a huge year for Coples, a former first-round pick who hasn't fulfilled expectations.

CORNERBACKS (6)

Ryan likes to carry a lot of corners, so it wouldn't be a surprise if they keep seven, perhaps including Ras-I Dowling. It would mean cutting back at another position, probably wide receiver. Patterson is expected to start outside, but he could slide inside on passing downs, replacing Wilson, if another option emerges outside. McDougle could be that guy.

SAFETIES (4)

Pryor, their first-round pick, is expected in the opening-day lineup. The question is who will be his tag-team partner? Landry is the wise head of the secondary, but his role could be reduced if Allen continues to develop. The Jets want more speed on the field, and that doesn't bode well for Landry.

SPECIALISTS (3)

All set here.

Training camp preview: Special teams

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
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Breaking down the New York Jets' roster, unit by unit, in preparation for training camp, July 23:

Position: Special teams

[+] EnlargeJacoby Ford
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJacoby Ford has the speed to make the Jets more dangerous on special-teams returns.
Projected starters: Nick Folk (PK), Ryan Quigley (P), Tanner Purdum (LS), Jalen Saunders (PR), Jacoby Ford (KR).

Projected reserves: Jeremy Kerley (PR), Kyle Wilson (PR), Shaq Evans (KR).

Notables on the bubble: Clyde Gates (KR).

Player to watch: Ford. Once upon a time, he was one of the most feared kickoff returners in the league. In 2010, he flashed his 4.22 speed (his 40 time at the combine) by scoring on three returns as a rookie for the Oakland Raiders. If Ford can stay healthy, a problem in recent years, his explosiveness will be a major boost to a unit that disappeared last season. Rules changes have altered the game, but it never hurts to have a 4.2 guy at the ready.

Top storyline: There's a new sheriff in town -- Thomas McGaughey, most recently the special-teams coordinator at LSU. He knows the NFL (he won a Super Bowl ring as the New York Giants' assistant special-teams coach in 2007), so it shouldn't be a difficult transition. For the Jets, this marks a clean break from the Mike Westhoff era. The legendary coach ran the special teams from 2001 to 2012, and one of his disciples, Ben Kotwica, was in charge last season. McGaughey will provide a much-needed new perspective for a once-formidable unit that has slipped in recent years.

Training camp will be a success if ... : No one is longing for the days of Westhoff.

Wild card: Saunders. If he can bring his college production to the Jets, it'll change the face of the punt-returning unit. It was awful last season, as the Jets failed to generate a return longer than 24 yards. Saunders is tiny (5-foot-9, 165 pounds), but he can take off faster than a Johnny Manziel tweet from Vegas. At Oklahoma, he averaged 15.4 yards per return and scored two touchdowns last season.

By the numbers: Folk was fantastic last season, earning a four-year, $12 million contract -- his first multiyear deal since joining the Jets in 2010. One area he needs to improve, however, is his distance on kickoffs. Since 2010, the Jets rank 25th in kickoff distance, 62.4 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Camp preview: New York Jets

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South


NFL Nation reporter Rich Cimini examines the three biggest issues the New York Jets will face heading into training camp.

1. The pseudo quarterback competition: Michael Vick is right, it's not an open competition between him and Geno Smith. The Jets have stacked it in Smith's favor, as they plan to give him 70 to 75 percent of the first-team practice reps in training camp. There's nothing wrong with that -- as long as Smith performs well, building on his encouraging finish last season. The situation could turn volatile if Smith regresses and Vick, maximizing his limited opportunities, outplays the second-year quarterback. What, then?

Vick, 34, was mediocre in the spring, but it's not a stretch to think he could light it up in the preseason. After all, he has a background in Marty Mornhinweg's offense, so it should be a seamless transition. Publicly, Vick says he's cool with his role as the mentor/backup, but perhaps that will change if it becomes obvious he's the best man for the job. The Jets have been known to botch quarterback competitions (see Smith vs. Mark Sanchez). From the team's perspective, the best that could happen is Smith steps up and makes it an absolute no-brainer.

2. Integrating new faces on offense: After a brutal year on offense, the Jets expect to make a major improvement after acquiring wide receiver Eric Decker and running back Chris Johnson and drafting tight end Jace Amaro. The challenge is to get them up to speed in Mornhinweg's offense and to define their roles.

Decker is easy -- he's the No. 1 receiver -- but Johnson's situation is partly cloudy. Recovering from knee surgery, he didn't participate in the spring and could be on a modified practice schedule in camp. If healthy, he could make a huge difference with his home run ability as a runner. They'd also like to involve him in the passing game because he's so dangerous in space. They have two capable backs in Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, so the objective is to formulate a plan for the regular season. If healthy, Johnson should be the lead back.

Amaro has a steep learning curve, coming from a no-huddle, spread offense in college -- so don't expect overnight success. They have to find a legitimate No. 2 option in the passing game or else Decker, not accustomed to being a No. 1, will see extra coverage. You're not in Denver anymore, Eric.

3. The greening of the secondary: For the first time since 2006, the Jets don't have anyone named Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie on the back end -- and that's scary. This is a unit in transition, easily the youngest secondary of the Rex Ryan era.

They will have a second-year corner (Dee Milliner) and, in all likelihood, a rookie safety (Calvin Pryor) in the opening day lineup. The other starters could be corner Dimitri Patterson and safety Dawan Landry, both in their 30s, but they're keeping the seats warm for rookie Dexter McDougle and third-year safety Antonio Allen, respectively. In this case, change is good because the secondary was the weakest unit on the team in 2013, surrendering an inordinate amount of big plays and making only 11 interceptions.

They passed on some big-name corners in free agency, including Revis, opting to go with youth and speed. The downside is the inevitable growing pains. Ryan's defense relies heavily on communication and adjustments, and there are bound to be hiccups with so many inexperienced players.

Training camp preview: Offensive line

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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Breaking down the New York Jets' roster, unit by unit, in preparation for training camp, July 23:

Projected starters: D'Brickashaw Ferguson (LT), Brian Winters (LG), Nick Mangold (C), Willie Colon (RG), Breno Giacomini (RT).

Projected reserves: Oday Aboushi, Ben Ijalana, Dalton Freeman, Dakota Dozier.

Notables on the bubble: Caleb Schlauderaff, William Campbell.

Player to watch: Giacomini. The Jets took a calculated risk in free agency, letting a young, ascending right tackle (Austin Howard) walk out the door and replacing him with the unheralded Giacomini. It wasn't a small contract, either, as Giacomini signed a four-year deal for $18 million, including $7 million in guarantees. He and Howard are comparable players, although the Jets expect Giacomini to contribute more in the running game than Howard did. He comes from a run-oriented offense, the Seattle Seahawks, but Giacomini must make the transition from a zone-based blocking scheme to a gap scheme.

Top storyline: The guards. Colon underwent two surgeries in the offseason (biceps, knee), opening the door for Aboushi to get first-team work in organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp. Drafted as a tackle, Aboushi settled in at left guard, pushing Winters to right guard, where he's never played before. Colon is expected for training camp, so what we have here, folks, is an old-fashioned competition, with three players vying for two spots. Can't you just see John Idzik smiling? This could shake out a few different ways, but the prediction is they'll start the way they ended in 2013 -- Winters left, Colon right. But that won't be etched in granite.

Wild card: Aboushi. The former fifth-round pick, coming off a red-shirt rookie year (inactive 16 games), has a chance to crack the lineup. After struggling in pass protection at tackle (he was one of the players who missed a block on the Mark Sanchez injury), Aboushi was moved to guard in the spring. It's not an easy transition, as Winters proved last season. If Aboushi can succeed, it'll give the Jets more youth and athleticism at the position.

By the numbers: This may surprise some people, but the Jets finished third in pass protection, based on the percentage of plays in which the offense controlled the line of scrimmage on pass plays -- 52.7 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This isn't commensurate with their high sack total (47), an indication that other factors outweighed the pass blocking -- mainly inexperience at quarterback and the inability of the receivers to get open on a consistent basis.

Jets counting on sophomores to produce

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
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video 
ESPN.com New York Jets reporter Rich Cimini says cornerback Dee Milliner is among the second-year players who will be scrutinized when training camp kicks off next week.

Training camp preview: Wide receiver

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
8:00
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Breaking down the New York Jets' roster, unit by unit, in preparation for training camp, July 23:

Position: Wide receiver

Hill
Projected starters: Eric Decker, Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley (slot).

Projected reserves: David Nelson, Jalen Saunders, Jacoby Ford, Shaq Evans.

Notables on the bubble: Clyde Gates, Greg Salas, Quincy Enunwa (sixth-round pick).

Player to watch: Hill. It seems like he's in this category every year, doesn't it? In this context, it's not a positive. This is Year 3 for the talented, but inconsistent Hill, which means it's time to earn his scholarship. He showed positive signs in the spring, and he'll probably have a solid training camp. The problem is maintaining it into the season. The former second-round pick tends to fade when the pads go on, resulting in a Mr. August reputation. It's all there for him. He could win a starting job with a strong camp or he could play his way out of a roster spot if he regresses.

Top storyline: The receiving corps is better than last season, but how much better? Decker replaces Santonio Holmes as the No. 1 receiver, giving the Jets a dependable, low-maintenance player from a winning program. He isn't the flashiest guy around, but he'll be there for Geno Smith and he won't drive the coaches crazy with moodiness. The question with Decker is whether he's a legitimate No. 1 receiver, but we won't know that until the regular season. For now, the challenge is to find a running mate for him. The Jets are hoping one of the others -- Hill, Kerley, Nelson or maybe a rookie -- can separate from the pack and nail down the No. 2 job.

Training camp will be a success if ... : The Jets aren't entering the season with all their eggs in the Hill basket, as they've done the previous two years. If they're not, it means at least one of the other receivers had a terrific camp, minimizing their reliance on the inconsistent Hill.

Wild card: Ford. As a rookie with the Oakland Raiders in 2010, he looked like a budding star, averaging nearly 19 yards per catch and scoring on three kickoff returns. But he faded away, in part, because of injuries. If healthy, Ford is an absolute burner, the kind of player that can change field position in the blink of an eye. Question is, will the Jets get the 2010 Ford or the '13 version?

By the numbers: The Jets need receivers that can make plays with the ball in their hands. The team finished 30th last season in yards after the catch (1,356), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Training camp preview: Tight end

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
8:00
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Breaking down the New York Jets' roster, unit by unit, in preparation for training camp, July 23:

Position: Tight end

Cumberland
Projected starter: Jeff Cumberland.

Projected backups: Jace Amaro, Zach Sudfeld.

Player to watch: Amaro. At 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, the Jets' second-round pick has the measurements of a sturdy, in-line blocker, but that's not his game. He's at his best when he's detached from the line, either flexed or in the slot or split wide. He'll bring a different dimension to the offense, creating potential mismatches with his size. The big question is the learning curve. Amaro came from a no-huddle, spread offense at Texas Tech, so the transition may take a while. He looked lost at minicamp, so don't expect him to be an overnight sensation. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will feed him the playbook at a gradual rate, trying not to overwhelm him.

Top storyline: The Jets retained Cumberland with a three-year, $5.7 million contract, in part, because they feel he has untapped potential as a receiver. They went out and drafted Amaro, so it'll be interesting to see how they use them. Cumberland may not get as many opportunities in the passing game as he hopes.

Training camp will be a success if ...: Mornhinweg is formulating a Week 1 game plan that includes a significant role for Amaro, who has the kind of skill set that can really help the offense. Chances are, he'll be in their "11" personnel package, used in passing situations -- one back, one tight end and three wide receivers. The question is whether he'll be ready.

Wild card: None of the tight ends are sturdy blockers, which makes you wonder if they will address the need at some point during training camp. Ben Hartsock, who played with the Jets in 2009 and 2010, is a free agent. He's not a receiver by any stretch of the imagination, but he can block at the point of attack. They used lineman Vladimir Ducasse as an extra tight end last season in the "jumbo" package, but he left as a free agent. The job is open.

By the numbers: If the Jets used a lot of two-tight end packages, it will be a big change. A year ago, they attempted only 82 passes with two tight ends on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only five teams had fewer attempts. Geno Smith struggled, completing a league-low 43.9 percent -- 10 points lower than the next team.

Training camp preview: Running back

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
8:00
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Breaking down the New York Jets' roster, unit by unit, in preparation for training camp, July 23:

Position: Running back

Projected starters: Chris Johnson, Tommy Bohanon (FB).

Projected reserves: Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell.

Notables on the bubble: Alex Green, Daryl Richardson.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesChris Johnson, shown running against the Jets in 2012, has rushed for more than 1,000 years in each of his six NFL seasons.
Player to watch: Johnson. Five years removed from his 2,000-yard season with the Tennessee Titans, the once-great running back starts over with the Jets, attempting to prove he's still CJ2K. His surgically repaired knee, which sidelined him for the spring, will be a hot topic throughout camp. The last thing the Jets will want to do is tax Johnson, so look for a modified practice schedule -- a "pitch count," as Rex Ryan likes to call it. It doesn't matter how many rushing yards he accumulates in the preseason; the objective is to make sure he's in peak condition for the Sept. 7 opener.

Top storyline: Chances are the Jets will take a backfield-by-committee approach, which underscores the importance of defining roles. Who starts? Who's the third-down back, Powell or Johnson? Is Ivory the short-yardage back? Who gets the rock in the four-minute offense? It will be a balancing act for the coaches as they attempt to navigate four weeks of camp and three preseason games. (We're not counting the last game, which is useless.) There aren't as many practice reps as the not-so-old days, when teams had two practices per day. Every rep counts.

Training camp will be a success if ...: Every back is healthy and fresh for the start of the season. Injuries can change the landscape, as we saw last summer. Because of a spate of injuries, Powell was overworked in training camp, which is probably the reason he ran out of gas during the season. It will be easy to fall into that trap again, considering Johnson's limited schedule and Ivory's penchant for nagging injuries. Remember, he finished minicamp with a sore ankle; let's see if there are any residual effects.

Wild card: Richardson. He was acquired on waivers in May, but missed the rest of the offseason as he recovered from a turf-toe injury that ruined his 2013 season with the St. Louis Rams. He's a change-of-pace back who showed promise as a rookie in 2012, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. The Jets are eager to get him on the field to see if he has the same explosiveness he showed in '12. He'll need to show his old form to make the roster.

By the numbers: Weird stat on Johnson -- his per-carry average last season for the Titans was slightly better with eight defenders in the box (3.83) than seven in the box (3.79), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore ran against more eight-man fronts than Johnson, who rushed 48 times for 184 yards and one touchdown. It shows that opponents still respected him despite a down year.

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