New York Jets: Justin Smith
August, 29, 2012
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com
The Jets close the preseason Thursday night in Philadelphia, where they face the Eagles in the annual Backup Bowl. With the season opener 10 days away, Rex Ryan will rest most of his regulars. Ditto, Andy Reid. Still, there are some issues that need to be examined.
Five things to watch:
1. Austin's encore: Austin Howard is expected to be the opening-day starter at right tackle, but that doesn't mean he gets the night off. He's a young player -- he played in four games for the Eagles in 2010 -- and he needs as many reps as possible. He's coming off a good game against the Panthers, and he should be able to build on that, facing the Eagles' backups. If he struggles, wow, that would be a bad sign. The Eagles bring a lot of pressure, so it will be a good opportunity for him to get acclimated against that style of defense.
2. Jason's debut: Former Rams bust Jason Smith, who arrived Tuesday via trade, is taking a crash course on the Tony Sparano playbook. Ryan hopes to play Smith for about 10 plays, although he wouldn't commit to it. It all depends on how quickly Smith can get comfortable with a small package of plays. Smith is slated to play three different spots, backing up at left and right tackle and serving as an extra blocker/jumbo tight end. In St. Louis, he struggled in pass protection, actually whiffing on blocks because he was too aggressive and didn't play with proper balance.
3. A punting controversy: The Jets put the heat on incumbent T.J. Conley by claiming the immortal Spencer Lanning on waivers this week. Conley said he's not too worried -- he's coming off a solid game -- but he needs another one to erase any doubt. Conley has the leg talent, but he's sometimes inconsistent with his mechanics -- in particular, his ball drop.
4. From Terminator to terminated? FB John Conner is the only veteran starter in the game, which should raise some eyebrows. When that happens, it usually means the player's roster spot is in jeopardy. Ryan said Conner is playing because they're thin at fullback. It's hard to imagine a run-oriented team cutting their only pure fullback, but if something betters comes along during the final cutdown, hey, you never know. Conner's stock has dropped significantly since his heady days as a "Hard Knocks" star in 2010.
5. QB rotation. You won't see Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow in this game. The responsibility of generating the team's first touchdown of the preseason falls to Greg McElroy and Matt Simms. This will be McElroy's first significant action since last summer, when he played well in two games before suffering a season-ending thumb injury. McElroy's roster spot is secure (we think), but the Jets want to see improvement and a command of Sparano's offense. And, oh, yeah, a touchdown would be nice. The Jets became the first team in 35 years to not score a touchdown in its first three preseason games.