New York Jets: Sheldon Richardson

Rex Ryan showed his new boss last season that, even when speaking softly, he still carried a big enough stick to squeeze eight wins out of a team with modest talent. The New York Jets' coach received a well-deserved contract extension.

Now, with the Jets reporting to training camp Wednesday in Cortland, New York, for Year 2 of the Ryan-John Idzik era, we start to learn a lot more about the other half of the leadership tandem, the quiet man who prefers to stay out of the spotlight.

This is Idzik's time.

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Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDee Milliner is one of John Idzik's draft picks that needs to produce for the Jets.
It's impossible to evaluate a general manager after one season, especially in a rebuilding situation, but the landscape changes after two drafts and two rounds of free agency. In the NFL, that’s enough time to get a team from the 6-10 mess that Idzik inherited into the playoffs.

Idzik's predecessors, Terry Bradway in 2001 and Mike Tannenbaum in 2006, reached the postseason in their first seasons as GMs. Go back further, and you will remember that Bill Parcells made it to the AFC Championship Game in his second year as the GM/coach.

Even though Idzik is operating on a long-term plan, evidenced by his emphasis on the draft and his deliberate approach in free agency, an 0-for-2 start wouldn't look good on his résumé. He shouldn't be on the New York Mets' Sandy Alderson timeline, meaning he has to move faster than a glacier. It's just the way of the NFL.

Idzik has been around long enough to put his stamp on the team. He signed, re-signed and drafted most of the projected starters. In fact, only seven starters can be considered true holdovers from the previous administration: D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Muhammad Wilkerson, David Harris, Damon Harrison, Quinton Coples and Demario Davis.

It's easy to notice they're the best guys on the team, Tannenbaum guys. Idzik needs to get some of his guys on that list. He already has Sheldon Richardson. By the end of the season, the list of top homegrowns should also include Geno Smith, Dee Milliner and Calvin Pryor. If Smith and Milliner are missing, the Jets will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season, which won’t bode well for Ryan's job security.

Idzik has the Jets pointed in the right direction, and the strides they made last season can't be dismissed. But let's be honest: They overachieved. They were one of the softest 8-8 teams in history, and you can look it up. Their point differential was minus-97, the largest since the 1970 merger for any team with at least eight wins.

The talent base should be improved this season, especially with the additions of Eric Decker and Chris Johnson. Decker was Idzik's one big splurge in free agency, his one Tannenbaum-like move. Johnson and Michael Vick will be one-and-done players, worthwhile Band-Aids who won't ruin the master plan if they fizzle. The offseason proved, once again, that Idzik won't deviate from his script no matter how much salary-cap room he has at his disposal. For the record, there's about $22 million as of today.

Idzik is doing it the right way, avoiding the temptation of the quick fix. That will pay off in the long run, but there will be problems along the way. For instance: Failing to sign a top cornerback in free agency was a mistake that could be exposed early in the season, when they face several elite quarterbacks. The cornerback issue will be exacerbated if Milliner fails to develop as hoped.

The Jets believe Milliner, drafted ninth overall, will be a special player, basing much of their opinion on his strong finish. The same theory can be applied to the quarterback situation with Smith. They're placing a lot of weight on those last four games, and that can be dangerous when you consider the competition. They beat three also-rans, three teams with mediocre (at best) quarterbacks: the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins.

Now, after seven months of positive mojo, the Jets can prove it wasn't a mirage. If Idzik's investments mirror the stock market, they'll be a playoff team. If it goes the other way, he'll hear the criticism, good and loud. The honeymoon is over. This is Idzik's time.

Training camp preview: Defensive line

July, 19, 2014
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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.

Jets players select funniest moments

July, 10, 2014
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Taking a break from X's and O's and related topics, we decided to lighten the mood by asking several players on the New York Jets to desribe the funniest moment of their career -- high school, college or pro. Here's what we found:

Alex Green: "I was in high school and I got tackled, but the guy tackled me from behind, and pulled my pants down. But it was wet and I was soaked, so when I got up [they] were still down. I couldn’t get them up. I was trying to pull them up for like two minutes, had to call a timeout and run to the sideline. It was one of the most embarrassing moments, and it was on camera, too. My mom recorded it and everything."

Bilal Powell: "In 2010 [at Louisville], I was actually running out for a route and tripped over my own shoestrings and the other sideline, the whole sideline was laughing at me. I was digging, and I just ate the dirt, everything."

Sheldon Richardson: "Come on, man, it's when I missed that tackle against Buffalo -- the only big run they had probably all season. [He stopped and celebrated, thinking the runner was stopped behind the line.] Hilarious. I mean, we won the game and they didn't score on that drive. When we watched it on film, we were laughing."

Jeremy Kerley (formerly of TCU): "We were playing against UNLV in college and we were up pretty good, and this guy on defense, he wasn’t even worried abut the game. He was just like, ‘Where can I get a mix tape from in Texas? I heard your music is pretty good,’ the whole rest of the game. It was funny. He was really worried about a mix tape."

Breno Giacomini (formerly of Louisville): "In college, when I was a tight end, I fell going in motion ... twice. At the time it wasn't funny, but when you go back and watch it, it's pretty funny, especially me being so big and goofy. It just looked really funny on film. I think that's when my offensive line career began. I was a blocking tight end, so I didn't have to move a lot."

D'Brickashaw Ferguson: "Recently, it was when I got my shoe caught in someone's helmet and the ref was tugging. He had the helmet and I had the shoe, and we were tugging. It was a play against the Patriots. It was some DB. I was going out on a screen. I don't know how it happened, but I had my heel in his helmet. I had to take my shoe off. It was kind of funny."

-- Jane McManus contributed

Jets players select most memorable game

June, 30, 2014
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Taking a break from serious football topics, we decided to lighten the mood by asking several players on the New York Jets to name the most memorable game of their career -- high school, college or pro. Here's what we found:

Breno Giacomini (formerly of the Seattle Seahawks): "It has to be the Super Bowl. There was a huge hype about the game, with Peyton Manning being so good and the respect we had for Denver itself. We had two weeks to prepare for them, and the battle we had to go through to get to them, San Francisco, was tough. Plus, it was the first (championship) for the city of Seattle. There's a lot to it, but overall, Peyton Manning being so good, facing our defense. It was awesome."

Sheldon Richardson: "When we beat the Patriots last year. I didn't do anything major, it was just the fact that we won and beat the Patriots at home. It was a close game, a tough fight for everybody on both sides of the ball. It was just a fun game. Right now, that's my most memorable."

D'Brickashaw Ferguson: "It's a tie between college (Virginia) and the NFL -- my first game in each. It was Colorado State and the Tennessee Titans. I don't remember the outcome -- I think we won -- but it was my first NFL start. In college, it was my first time playing Division I football. Those are proud milestones, having an opportunity to compete at those levels. In fact, I think we lost the Colorado State game."

Dimitri Patterson: "It's when I started my first game on 'Monday Night Football,' when I was on Philadelphia (in 2010). That stands out the most out of all the games because Washington was the first team I was with coming out of college. They cut me. I was able to start against them and had two interceptions, one for a touchdown. I played well. That was really the year when I showed people I could actually play in this league at corner, so that games stands out the most to me, just because of the history I had with Washington and being able to start my first 'Monday Night Football' game and play well on a national stage."

Jeremy Kerley, a former high-school quarterback: "State championship my senior year in high school (Hutto, Texas). We played Tatum High School. It was the first time my school went to State -- ever -- so it was a pretty big deal. We traveled pretty good, we had everybody there. ... We were winning most of the game, but with 17-something seconds left -- I think we were down, 38-34 -- I had the ball on the 20-something yard line. We had the ball. Sack, lost the game."

-- Jane McManus contributed

Sunday notes: Geno the scrambler

June, 29, 2014
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Cleaning out the notebook on the New York Jets:

1. The Geno plan: Geno Smith caught teams by surprise at the end of last season, running with more frequency than before. He carried 31 times for 186 yards and three touchdowns over the final four games, accounting for roughly half his total production. Clearly, the change in strategy helped him become a better quarterback, an upswing that made the Jets buy in for at least another year. But now, as one opposing player noted, defenses will be better prepared to stop Geno the scrambler.

"I think he'll be better this year, but the other thing is, every team will have had the opportunity to watch 16 games and break him down," Tennessee Titans CB Jason McCourty told me last week at a charity golf tournament on Long Island.

McCourty, who faced Smith last season (a brutal day for the Jets' QB) and will see him again in December, makes a good point. After studying him in the offseason, teams will scheme up ways to keep him in the pocket. They were unprepared for it late last year because he had shown no inclination to run, which frustrated the Jets' coaches at times. Facts are facts: When Smith runs, the offense runs better. The Jets were 6-1 when Smith had five or more carries and 6-0 when he scored a touchdown.

Opponents will go to school on the final four games, count on it.

2. Buying QB insurance: Belated thoughts on Marty Mornhinweg's comment that Smith will get 70 to 75 percent of the first-team reps in training camp: It shows that, as Michael Vick noted on more than one occasion, it's not an open competition. At the same time, the percentage indicates the Jets aren't all-in with Smith. They're hedging their bet, giving Vick one out of every four reps to get him ready -- just in case. Normally, a veteran starter gets about 90 percent of the reps.

3. Anything you can do ... : DT Sheldon Richardson, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year for 2013, said in a recent interview that rookie S Calvin Pryor has the goods to match his accomplishment. When I asked Pryor his reaction to Richardson's raising-the-bar remarks, he didn't back down one bit.

"When it comes down to it, that's one of the goals I have in the back of my head," the Jets' first-round pick said. "I'll definitely try to fill his shoes."

In case you're wondering, no team has produced back-to-back winners in the 47-year history of the award. In 1980, two members of the Atlanta Falcons' defense split the award, Buddy Curry and Al Richardson.

4. Home bodies: There was some talk about the Jets having dual practices with the Cincinnati Bengals during the run-up to their Aug. 16 preseason game, but the Jets have decided to remain in Cortland, N.Y., for that week. From what I hear, there wasn't too much disappointment in the locker room about skipping the Cincy trip.

5. The joy of Rex: I've heard a lot of players over the years talk about why they enjoy playing for Rex Ryan, but I was particularly interested in listening to Dimitri Patterson, who came from a place -- the Miami Dolphins -- where there was an obvious disconnect between players and coaches.

"Rex gives off this positive energy that spreads around," Patterson told me. "That's why the guys played so hard for him toward the end of the year. What stands out to me is he knows how to put his players in a positive space, mentally."

Maybe Phil Jackson isn't the only Zen master in New York.

6. Michael Vick, cont.: In a sitdown last week, I asked Vick to name his greatest career accomplishment. He thought for a moment.

"I think my greatest accomplishment in my career was being such a young quarterback and having the guile to go into Green Bay in 2002, being a second-year player and making history, basically," he said, referring to the Falcons' playoff upset -- the first road team to win a postseason game at Lambeau Field. "Going in with confidence and winning that football game was I think my greatest accomplishment."

It was a great win, to be sure, but I don't think anything short of a championship can satisfy a "greatest accomplishment" question for 12 years.

7. Farewell to an original: One of the original New York Titans, guard Bob Mischak, died Thursday at the age of 81. He began his career with the New York Giants, but he'll be remembered in Jets/Titans history as the first player to receive all-star recognition. He was the only member of the Titans named to the AFL all-star team in 1960, the franchise's first year. He won three Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach with the Oakland Raiders, and he also coached in Italy and London. That's what you call a full life.

8. Cro the Cardinal: In a post on Instagram, former Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie mocks his critics, saying he ran two sub-4.4 times in the 40. If we write about it, he'll find a way to rip us for misquoting him.

9. He's not Mike Westhoff: Sensed a little edge in Thomas McGaughey's voice when he was asked about the scheme differences between him and his predecessor, Ben Kotwica, and his predecessor's predecessor, Mike Westhoff.

"I’m not Mike Westhoff. I’m not going to try to be Mike Westhoff," said McGaughey, who was hired in February to coach the special teams. "My name is Thomas McGaughey, Jr. and I can be the best me that I can possibly be, and that’s where it stops. Mike Westhoff was a hell of a coach, is a hell of a coach, and he had a great career. Ben was a great coach in his own right. But I’m me. I’m not going to try to be anybody else. I’m not going to try to act like anybody else. I’m going to be Thomas Ray McGaughey, Jr."

All right, then ...

10. Vacation time: I'll be shutting it down for the next three weeks, but make sure you stay locked to our Jets team page. The blog will be populated with interesting features, starting this coming week with another edition of the AFC East "Four Downs" segment -- four team reporters tackling hot issues as camp approaches. The following week, we'll roll out our "Most Memorable Play" series across the league, which is sure to generate debate. After that, we'll start our daily position previews for training camp, which starts July 23. Until then, I'm chilling.
One of the refreshing things about Sheldon Richardson is that he's not afraid to speak his mind. He'll give an opinion on just about anything, whether he's talking about Michael Sam (a former college teammate) or his belief that he should've been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Love the candor.

Last week, the New York Jets defensive tackle apparently ventured into a no-fly zone, commenting on teammate Muhammad Wilkerson's contract situation. He lobbied for his linemate, telling the New York Post, "Hopefully, they do the right thing and pay the man." Well, that didn't sit well at One Jets Drive.

"Someone asked me a question, and I gave them an opinion," Richardson said Monday on the NFL Network's "NFL AM" show. "He’s been turning questions down. [John Idzik has] been turning them down, too. So I’m about to start doing the same thing. I didn’t know at the time, but it’s going to get handled."

It's not clear if the directive came from Idzik, Wilkerson or someone else, but Richardson evidently intends to stay mum on contract talks that don't involve him. He touched on a few other topics during the interview, such as:

Geno Smith's development in Year 2: "He just picked it up. He’s a lot more intense. He’s got a little more control over the offense now. The playbook’s opened up a lot for him. He’s been putting them on the money. He’s made a few bad throws here and there, but there’s competition so it’s going to happen."

Michael Vick's presence in the locker room: "[He's] a tremendous help to the team, especially to Geno because he’s real comfortable with the playbook. He’s real laid back [and] a good guy. I love him. I love him being here. I wanted to take a picture when he first got here. It’s Mike Vick. That’s how I looked at it at first. Growing up, that was somebody you watched and somebody you wanted to be like. I’m glad he’s here."

Rookie safety Calvin Pryor and whether he has a chance to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: "He does. He’s learning the playbook real well, probably faster than when I learned it. [He's] making his adjustments and reads real quick, not making too many mistakes. He’s being a real pro right now."

Jets notes: Rex's endless pursuit of B&B

June, 15, 2014
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A few thoughts on the New York Jets as we head into the final week of the offseason:

1. Song remains the same: Rex Ryan's remarks the other day about the New England Patriots (in response to Calvin Pryor's "hate" quote) triggered a memory. Ryan's comments -- "[Pryor] knows who the enemy is" -- came almost five years to the day in which he uttered his famous line: "I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings." The takeaway: Five years later, not much has changed.

No one knows how the rest of the Ryan era will play out, but it's quite possible he could be remembered one day as a good coach who failed to rise above also-ran status because he was in the same division as the winningest coach-quarterback combination in history. Ryan hasn't been able to conquer Belichick and Tom Brady. No one has, as the Patriots have won the AFC East every year since Ryan took over the Jets in 2009 -- and a whole bunch of years before that. The same thing happened to the New York Knicks in the 1990s; they had some terrific teams, but couldn't get past Michael Jordan.

The Jets have been respectable under Ryan (42-38), the eighth-best record in the AFC over that span, but the Patriots are a league-best 61-19. The Jets finished four games behind the Patriots last season, and there's no reason to think they will overtake their longtime nemesis this season. With Brady expected to play a few more years, Ryan could be playing catch-up for the rest of the Brady-Belichick era -- if he lasts that long. Lousy timing for Ryan? Yeah, you could say that, but he also knew what he was signing up for in '09.

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AP Photo/Julie JacobsonRex Ryan took some heat this past week after skipping the Jets' final OTA session in favor of taking his team on a bowling excursion.
2. Misplaced criticism: Ryan's decision to cancel the final OTA practice in favor of a trip to a bowling alley fueled some mild backlash on social media. Actually, it's not unusual for a coach to skip the last day. Belichick, of all people, canceled his final OTA practices in 2012 and 2013. He also took the Patriots to the movies late last season. The criticism of Ryan is off base. It's June, for crying out loud! It's not like he took the team to Dave & Buster's on the eve of a big game. Oh, wait ...

3. A delivery of Flowers?: Despite all the happy talk from the Jets about their cornerback situation, I think they should explore the possibility of signing Brandon Flowers, who was released Friday by the Kansas City Chiefs. The question is, will they? As of Saturday morning, they hadn't reached out to Flowers, according to a league source. Then again, John Idzik isn't a hurry-up kind of general manager, so you never know. In the end, I'd be surprised if the Jets show serious interest despite a need (in my opinion) at the position.

Despite a Pro Bowl appearance, Flowers is coming off a disappointing season in which he was demoted to nickelback. He was rated 87th out of 110 cornerbacks last season, according to ProFootballFocus. That he struggled under former Jets defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, whose system is similar to that of Ryan's, is worth noting. We also know Idzik is reluctant to spend significant money for another team's trash. But we're also talking about a 28-year-old player with a substantial body of work, someone who could benefit by a change of scenery. If they paid $3 million for the injury-prone Dimitri Patterson, why not make a run at Flowers, who would be an upgrade? They have about $21 million in cap room.

4. Goodson's future: Flowers may have sealed his fate by not attending OTA practices, which are voluntary (wink, wink). The Jets' Mike Goodson did the same, prompting some fans to wonder why the Jets haven't cut ties with the troubled running back. Goodson's situation is complicated by his legal problems and perhaps personal issues. Remember, he was slapped with a four-game suspension last year for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. I find it hard to believe he'd deliberately stay from the team, jeopardizing his roster spot, unless there's an extenuating circumstance. His agent hasn't returned calls or emails seeking comment, and the Jets have been tight-lipped, except Ryan saying he hasn't heard from Goodson. Ryan said he expects Goodson to attend next week's mandatory minicamp.

5. New kid on the block: Right tackle Breno Giacomini has spent his entire career on zone-blocking teams -- the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, his most recent team. The Jets run a mix of zone and gap blocking schemes, which will require a transition for Giacomini. Before signing him as a free agent, the Jets studied tape of how he fared against common opponents, and they came away convinced he could adapt to the specific style they use against certain teams.

6. Big Mike: To improve his oft-questioned durability, quarterback Michael Vick added four pounds of "solid muscle," he told The Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia, his hometown. He told the newspaper he felt great throughout OTAs, proudly noting he scored a rushing touchdown last week.

"Still can move," Vick said. "Doesn't seem like any of my skills have diminished. … I still feel like I can play at a high level. That may be tested at some point this season, and I look forward to it."

Vick described himself as a "trendsetter," saying the mobile quarterbacks of today are continuing the style he brought to the league more than a decade ago. He added: "I was kind of the originator. That's something I can take to the grave."

7. Sheldon wants 'Mo money for Wilkerson: Muhammad Wilkerson is taking a low-key approach to his looming contract negotiations, refusing to make public demands. Teammate Sheldon Richardson is doing the talking for him, telling the New York Post, "Hopefully, they do the right thing and pay the man." Oh, they will. The question is when. After exercising a fifth-year option, the Jets have Wilkerson under contract through 2015, so there's no sense of urgency.

Richardson has a personal stake in the matter because in two years, he'll be in the same boat as Wilkerson. If the Jets renegotiate with Wilkerson before his fourth season, it'll set a precedent for Richardson and other former first-round picks.

8. Picture of the week: Here's soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo receiving a throwing lesson from wide receiver David Nelson. No Tebow jokes allowed.

9. The anti-Rex: Can there be two coaches more dissimilar than Ryan and Jurgen Klinsmann? Klinsmann says it's not possible for his team -- the United States -- to win the World Cup. Ryan goes into every game telling his team they will win -- and I honestly think he believes it. Call me traditional, but I like Ryan's approach. Klinsmann might be right, but no one wants to hear that jive. It's a good thing we didn't have a guy like him coaching the 1980 U.S. hockey team.

10. Farewell to a champion: The NFL lost a legend Friday night with the passing of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll, who won four Super Bowls. Two Noll disciples became important figures in Jets history -- the late Bud Carson and retired personnel director Dick Haley. Carson, the Jets' defensive coordinator from 1985-88, ran the defense for Noll during the iconic Steel Curtain era. Haley, who worked for the Jets from 1991-2002, was one of the architects of the great Steeler drafts in the 1970s.
You haven't heard too much about Antwan Barnes since he wrecked his knee last October in Atlanta, but his name came up Wednesday in Rex Ryan's news conference -- and not in a positive way.

Ryan provided an ominous prognosis, saying the recovery from major surgery has been "slow" and that Barnes has encountered "some different issues." Ryan said Barnes will miss the remainder of the offseason (OTA practices and the minicamp), adding that he's hopeful, but not certain the veteran outside linebacker will be ready for the start of training camp on July 23.

When a coach acknowledges that much publicly, it usually means the player's situation is worse than he's letting on. If that's the case here, it's unfortunate for Barnes and the Jets, because he was an underrated player last season, the closest thing they had to a true speed rusher on the edge.

In five games, Barnes -- used primarily as a third-down rusher -- played a total of 145 defensive snaps. Despite the small body of work, he produced 16 quarterback hits (according to the team stats) and two sacks. His speed provided a nice change-of-pace to power rushers such as Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.

Third down is an area that must improve. The Jets recorded sacks on 4.6 percent of third-down dropbacks, the only team in the league under 6.5 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And that was with a career year by Calvin Pace. What are the chances of notching another 10-sack season at the age of 34?

If Barnes isn't 100 percent by the regular season, the Jets' depth at outside linebacker will be suspect. Remember, they didn't address the position in the draft until the later rounds, when they picked IK Enemkpali (a converted defensive end) and Trevor Reilly in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively. The returning backups are Garrett McIntyre and Jermaine Cunningham, a former Patriot who has worked with the starting nickel unit in OTAs.

Clearly, the Jets need more production out of Quinton Coples and another good year out of Pace. But, again, we're talking about players that rely on more power than speed. They'll lose something if Barnes isn't Barnes. If his struggles continue, his roster spot could be in jeopardy. He's due to make $1.2 million (cap charge: $1.5 million), and they could save $900,000 by releasing him.

Jets notes: QB job should be 'open'

June, 1, 2014
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Thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:

1. Another QB question to ponder: With everyone engaged in a semantic debate on whether the Jets' quarterback competition is open or closed (let's call it semi-closed), let me pose this question: Why not make it a truly open competition and bill it as such?

Yes, Geno Smith showed promise at the end of last season, but he doesn't have enough pelts on the wall to be granted front-runner status. True, Michael Vick arrived in town with baggage (age, durability and turnover concerns), but his body of work warrants a 50-50 shot at the starting job. Not only would an open competition eliminate confusion, but it would create a "best-man-wins" scenario.

The Jets are traveling down a slippery slope by tilting it in Smith's favor, because there's a good possibility Vick will outplay him in the preseason. Then what? Everybody knows the expression, "You can't have your cake and eat it, too." It applies to the Jets' quarterback situation. In their case, you can't have your competition and have a predetermined favorite, especially when the other guy might be better. You're just asking for trouble.

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
AP Photo/Julio CortezMichael Vick has proven to have the respect of his Jets teammates during offseason workouts.
2. Low-budget signings: The Jets didn't exactly break the bank with their undrafted free agents. Teams were allocated to spend up to $80,362 in signing bonuses, but the Jets doled out only $4,000, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Defensive end Anthony Grady ($2,500) and fullback Chad Young ($1,500) were the only UDFAs to receive a signing bonus; the other five got zilch. The size of the bonus often indicates the quality of the player. When multiple teams are bidding, top UDFAs have been known to land more than $10,000. Two years ago, nose tackle Damon Harrison received a $7,000 bonus from the Jets. Because of their unusually large draft class (12), the Jets placed less emphasis on the UDFA market. Basically, it was an afterthought.

3. Rex tweaks Tim: Ryan took a veiled shot at Tim Tebow the other day. Trying to defend Eric Decker against the perception that he's a Peyton Manning creation, Ryan reminded us that Decker caught touchdown passes from Tebow in 2011. "I think that's pretty impressive," Ryan said, thinking it was eight scoring catches (it was actually four). The inference was clear: If Decker scored with the scatter-armed Tebow, he can score with anyone. Ryan neglected to mention that Decker had no receptions and two drops in five targets when he and Tebow faced the Jets in that same season.

4. Where's the depth?: Right guard Willie Colon (arthroscopic knee surgery) is expected to return before training camp, so there's no reason for the Jets to panic, but the injury casts a harsh light on their offensive line depth. Their nine backups have played a combined total of 14 regular-season snaps -- all by center/guard Caleb Schlauderaff. That's a bit troubling, no? Considering Colon's durability issues (four surgeries in the last four years), the front office should sign some veteran insurance. Never thought I'd say this, but ... where's Vladimir Ducasse when you need him?

4a. New kind of surgery: Loved this tweet from one of my followers, @MisterRoberts, who refers to Colon's surgery as a "Colon-oscopy." Brilliant.

5. From enemies to comrades: Four months ago, Decker and Breno Giacomini played on opposite sides of one of the most lopsided Super Bowls in history. Giacomini's Seattle Seahawks embarrassed Decker's Broncos, 43-8. Now they're teammates. I asked Giacomini if they've talked about the game. A little trash talking, perhaps? He said there was a brief lunch-room conversation. Giacomini said he asked Decker about the first play of the game, the errant shotgun snap that resulted in a safety. Decker chalked it up to the noise generated by the pro-Seattle crowd at MetLife Stadium. And that was the end of the conversation. Touchy subject, obviously.

"I didn't want to say anything else to him," Giacomini said. "That's behind us, we're teammates now. Hopefully, we can reach it again -- together -- and win another one."

6. The Fridge, Part II?: You have to love Sheldon Richardson's candor and sense of humor. Asked if he hopes to continue in his role as a goal-line running back, Richardson said, "It was a fun experience. Hopefully, they call my number again." He quickly added, "Hopefully not, because it means the offense is doing what they're supposed to do."

There's some truth in his humor; this was a problem area last season. Richardson (two) and Geno Smith (six) combined for eight of the 12 rushing touchdowns. For all his power, Chris Ivory scored only one touchdown on six attempts on goal-to-go runs from the 5-yard line or closer, per ESPN Stats. That's not Chris Johnson's forte, either. He received only one such carry last season (a 3-yard touchdown). Be ready, Sheldon.

7. Respect for elders: Ryan has been around football for his entire life, which means he has seen and heard just about everything. One day recently, though, he heard something from the offensive huddle that struck him as unusual. Vick told one of the young fullbacks to run a certain pass route and the player (Ryan wouldn't identify him) responded with, "Yes, sir." They have only two fullbacks, so it was either Tommy Bohanon or Chad Young. Said Ryan: "I don’t know if I’ve heard that in a long time with a teammate talking to another teammate. [Vick] certainly has that kind of respect in the locker room."

8. Pinocchio Island: Did anyone check to see if Darrelle Revis' nose was growing when he spoke glowingly the other day about Bill Belichick and the Patriot Way? Once upon a time, Revis called Belichick a "jerk." Yes, free agency makes for strange bedfellows.

9. Broadway Joe to Hollywood Joe: A movie on the life of Joe Namath is in the early stages of development. James Mangold, who directed the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line," already is on board as the director, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Here's hoping they get Ann-Margret to play herself.

10. The Mo, the better: Kudos to Muhammad Wilkerson, who will present five student-athletes from New Jersey and Long Island with $1,000 college scholarships. Wilkerson, giving back to his local roots, grew up in Linden, N.J. He's making the donations through his T.E.A.M 96 Foundation.

11. Futbol and football: Portugal's national soccer team, led by global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, will train at the Jets' facility from Tuesday through June 9 in preparation for the World Cup. The team's stay in the area will be capped by a June 10 exhibition against Ireland at MetLife Stadium. Paulo Bento, the Portugal coach, already has visited the Jets' facility in Florham, N.J., declaring "the pitches are very good." With the World Cup approaching, I wonder if Bento still has open competition for each starting job.

Wilkerson wants new deal, but in no rush

May, 13, 2014
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NEW YORK -- The New York Jets recently exercised the fifth-year option for Muhammad Wilkerson's contract (2015) -- a no-brainer. The real question is whether the Jets will sign their best defensive player to a long-term extension before the start of the regular season.

Wilkerson
Wilkerson said Tuesday night he'd like a new contract, but he wouldn't attach a timetable to his wish.

"I would like a deal, but when it happens, it happens," he said at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, where he and New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz were honored by the United Way at its annual Gridiron Gala. "I'm not saying I want it to be before the regular season. When it happens, it happens. I'm going to come in and work hard and take every day like I always do."

Wilkerson is due to make only $1.2 million for the coming season. The fifth-year option would pay him $6.97 million in 2015. That sounds like a lot, but it's not close to what he could make on the open market. The two sides have held preliminary talks, but the Jets hold the leverage and feel no sense of urgency. Wilkerson said he hasn't talked to his agent recently about his contract.

"I'm glad to be a Jet," he said. "I'm glad they picked up the option. I'm ready to go to work."

Wilkerson, peppered with contract-related questions for a few months, hasn't made any threatening comments. He has said on multiple occasions that he has no intention of holding out.

He also shrugged off recent comments by former Jets great Joe Klecko, who questioned Wilkerson's motor in a radio interview. Klecko, a guest on WFAN, said "there are a few too many plays he gives up on a little bit."

"That's motivation for me," Wilkerson said. "Other than that, I couldn't care less. ... He's entitled to his own opinion. I feel I bust my tail every day. I work hard."

Klecko saved his harshest criticism for Wilkerson's teammate, Quinton Coples, whom he said "looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane" at times. Wilkerson said the remarks will "add fuel to [Coples'] fire," but Coples wouldn't go that far.

"I won't use it as ammunition, but at the end of the day, I know this is a big year for me, stepping up and being a leader on this team and being more productive than I have been the last two years," Coples said.

Wilkerson was supported at the Gridiron Gala my most of his defensive line mates. In addition to Coples, Sheldon Richardson and Leger Douzable also were in attendance.

Jets draft preview: Defensive line

May, 5, 2014
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This is the seventh installment in a position-by-position analysis of the New York Jets as they prepare for the draft:

Position: Defensive line

Current personnel: Muhammad Wilkerson (signed through 2015), Sheldon Richardson (2016), Damon Harrison (2014), Kenrick Ellis (2014), Leger Douzable (2014), Tevita Finau (2016), T.J. Barnes (2016).

Projected starters: Wilkerson, Richardson, Harrison.

Newcomers: None.

Departures: None.

Top salary-cap charge: Richardson, $2.3 million.

Scouting report: The gang is together again, which is a good thing. No doubt, the defensive line is the strength of the team, which is what happens when you pick a first-round lineman in each of the last three drafts -- Wilkerson, Quinton Coples (now a linebacker) and Richardson. This group has a chance to be special for many years, as long as injuries, money and ego don't get in the way. It's already a top run-stopping line, as the Jets allowed a league-best 3.35 yards per attempt. Because it's a base 3-4, the Jets don't rely on the linemen to spearhead the pass rush, but there's still room for improvement, especially from Richardson (3.5 sacks), who has the skill set and tenacity to be a double-digit sacker. Wilkerson's production faded toward the end of the season, probably because he was gassed. He played 94 percent of the defensive snaps (988 of 1,048). The coaches must do a better job of rotating and using the depth.

Last DL drafted: Richardson was chosen 13th overall last season, with a pick acquired in the Darrelle Revis trade.

Potential targets: Rex Ryan joked that he and John Idzik will get run out of town if they pick another defensive lineman in the first round. Rest assured, that won't happen, but they could be looking that way late in the draft. Backups Ellis and Douzable will be unrestricted free agents, Harrison a restricted free agent, meaning long-term depth is an issue. They haven't brought any big-name linemen into town for visits, which is telling. They have expressed interest in undersized defensive end Michael Sam (Missouri), who projects as an outside linebacker or situational pass-rusher in the Jets' scheme. Sam, who could be the first openly gay player on an NFL team, will be a huge story wherever he lands -- especially in New York. A late-round possibility is Beau Allen (Wisconsin), in whom the Jets have showed interest.

Need rating (scale of 1 to 10): 2.

Richardson: The best is yet to come

April, 21, 2014
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Sophomore jinx? Not in Sheldon Richardson's world.

On the first day of the New York Jets' offseason program, the outspoken second-year defensive tackle declared, "I feel like you haven't seen the best Sheldon Richardson can play."

Richardson
Mind you, Richardson was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, although he didn't make a lot of impact plays -- only 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble. On offense, he scored two rushing touchdowns. Nevertheless, he understands that he needs to produce more game-changing plays on defense.

“Causing more turnovers on defense,” he said, explaining his second-year goal. “I had a lot of plays around the ball last year, but I felt like I could’ve made a lot more turnovers than what I did. We all felt that way, though.”

Asked if he sees himself as more than a 3.5-sack defensive tackle, Richardson responded with his favorite expression.

"Most deeeefinitely," he said, holding the 'e' longer for emphasis. "Most definitely. That’s not even close to what I have, as far as standards for myself.”

Stand and deliver: Reiterating what he said last month at the NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla., Rex Ryan dropped the "D" word.

"Like I said, it’s time to deliver. We need to deliver," he said. "I'm not going to get into the specifics about what we're delivering, but I know what our fans expect and they're going to get everything we have." He said the Jets have a "great nucleus," adding that he expects to build on the foundation that was set last year.

Dee's time: This is a huge offseason for cornerback Dee Milliner. First of all, as a second-year player, it's his first full offseason in the NFL. It also will be a healthy offseason, something that wasn't the case last year. A pre-draft shoulder surgery caused him to miss the two minicamps and spring practice sessions, putting him way behind. It showed, as Milliner struggled through most of the season. This year, he's being counted on to be the No. 1 corner.

“I think that’s important, that he has a good offseason," Ryan said. "Obviously, he really couldn’t train his body the way you would want to, almost for the entire season. I think it’ll be big for him, just to get confidence, to make sure that he’s physically well. I think that’ll really help. It would help any player, but I think in his case, being here for the [OTAs], for all that kind of stuff will be great.”

Draft spotlight: DE Kony Ealy

March, 2, 2014
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Former Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, projected as a first-round pick, is a close friend of New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. They grew up together in St. Louis and were teammates at Missouri. A sampling of Ealy's media session at the NFL scouting combine:

On Richardson offering advice as he prepares for the draft: "Sheldon has been great. He's been kind of a big brother, [a] mentor to me, just trying to help me through this process, not knowing what to expect, giving me valid points and telling me to do what I do, what I've been doing since I was young. And that's being athletic, being a freak."

On whether he's inspired by Richardson's performance as a rookie: "Of course, you know, I have the confidence. I know I can go into the NFL and play right away. It's just a matter of getting the plays and learning the playbook, and when I do that, I'm going to be explosive."

On what Richardson has shared about life in the NFL: "He says it's lavish, which means lovely."

Describe Michael Sam as a person: "A loving brother, he's caring to the team. He's always singing, which gets on my nerves sometimes, but other than that, he's just fun to be around, fun to play with. I know at the end of the day he's gonna do his job. No other guy I'd rather go to war with."

A current NFL player you pattern youself after: "I compare myself to Aldon [Smith, another ex-Tiger]. He's a freak athlete. He gets off the ball. He probably had a little more sacks than me in college in my career. And J.J. Watt when it comes to pass deflections."

GM John Idzik able to joke about Revis now

February, 20, 2014
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Revis
INDIANAPOLIS -- One year ago, John Idzik showed up for his first scouting combine as the New York Jets' general manager and he was pelted with questions about Darrelle Revis trade rumors.

He was asked every which way about the possibility of a Revis trade, and Idzik did more dancing than a Rockette.

On Thursday, Idzik was reminded of last year's Revis frenzy. He smiled.

"Who?" he asked, playfully.

Idzik could afford to joke. Yes, he traded one of the best cornerbacks in football, incurring criticism, but he turned the draft-pick compensation into Sheldon Richardson. He was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

"Who" did well in his new home, making the Pro Bowl and making $16 million from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sunday notes: Would Jets embrace Sam?

February, 16, 2014
Feb 16
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Catching up with the New York Jets:

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Debby Wong/USA TODAY SportsThe Jets didn't handle the Tim Tebow circus particularly well, so how would they handle prospect Michael Sam?
1. Welcome mat? Curiously, the Jets' players were relatively quiet on Twitter when Michael Sam made his announcement last Sunday. How would they feel about an openly gay player on their team? Sheldon Richardson spoke highly of Sam, his former college teammate, in a TV interview. Another player, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told me, "Besides the amount of media, you're dealing with some guys who might not be comfortable with it. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC, so, obviously, the guy can play some ball. At the end of the day, it's all about playing football. If we could use him, I don't see why not. I think we'd welcome him. We know he's a heckuva player."

As the player noted, the media factor would be significant. Anybody who doesn't think it wouldn't be a distraction is fooling themselves. Some teams handle distractions well; some don't. The Jets didn't exactly stage a clinic during the Tim Tebow circus in 2012. The team has yet to comment on Sam, but general manager John Idzik and Rex Ryan will address the media Thursday at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

1a. Not a Jets fan: Six days ago, I examined the possibility of whether the Jets might be interested in Michael Sam. Maybe the question should be, why should Sam be interested in the Jets? A Sam acquaintance -- Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of OutSports.com -- doesn't think the Jets would be a good landing spot for Sam. Zeigler, who was involved with Sam's agents and publicists in the strategic planning of his announcement, trashed the Jets and other teams in an interview with a CBS radio affiliate in Washington, D.C.

“He can work on any team with decent leadership,” Zeigler said. “I pray to God he doesn’t end up on the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Jets or the Washington Redskins. I think those three teams -- they have poor leadership, but most of the other teams in the NFL have guys -- the coaching staff, the front office and locker room -- who are equipped to deal with this.”

2. Under the microscope: Aside from the social and cultural aspect to the story, Sam's football skills will be under intense scrutiny, starting this week at the combine. He'll generate more attention than any middle-round projection in history. Many scouts will be looking to see if he has the athleticism to make the conversion from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. One NFC scout, who watched Sam closely at the Senior Bowl, doesn't think he can do it.

"He's not a linebacker," the scout said. "He doesn't have the instincts or the movement skills. ... He's a tenacious, tough kid, but he's not a space guy."

The scout also was surprised to see Sam play defensive end in the Senior Bowl game after practicing primarily at linebacker during the week. He took that as a sign that Sam doesn't feel comfortable at linebacker. If the Jets agree with the assessment that he can't play linebacker, it's hard to imagine them drafting a defensive end whose size (6-1 5/8, 255 pounds) isn't a fit in their scheme. Besides, they don't have a pressing need for an edge player.

The scout also said "there's no question in my mind" that Sam's sexual orientation will have an impact on his draft position. "I know it's the 21st century, but you still have people who were brought up a certain way," he said. "Forget about the coaches and administrators, what about the players? You have to think twice about putting the player in your locker room."

3. Double-E: The pre-draft speculation has focused on the Jets' need at wide receiver, but let's not forget, their tight-end depth chart is almost barren. Word is they're very intrigued by North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. Projected as a mid-first-round pick, Ebron will be linked to the Jets in plenty of mock drafts over the next 2 1/2 months. He's the kind of pass-catching threat they need, but there are some questions. "I don't think he's tough enough to run down the seam and catch the ball in the middle," an AFC personnel executive said. "Is he a great athlete? Yes. Does he have good hands? Yes. Can he catch the ball in traffic? I don't think so." Ebron is the kind of athlete that will wow evaluators at the combine and workouts, but teams will have to rely on game tape to determine if the toughness questions are accurate.

4. The Idzik way: Under general manager John Idzik, the Jets have tweaked some of their player-scouting methods. Terry Bradway, the team's senior director of college scouting, told the team web site, "We're putting a huge emphasis on the person and the character issues, both football and personal. We've done that in the past, but there's an added emphasis." Holding true to that philosophy, they didn't take any significant gambles in last year's draft -- at least not in terms character questions.

5. Say hello to T-Mac: There hasn't been much written about new Jets special teams coach Thomas McGaughey (the team hasn't made him available to the media), but I talked to someone who worked with him on an NFL team and the feedback was positive. He was described to me as, "A really sharp guy ... a straight shooter ... takes a lot of pride in his work." McGaughey (pronounced: Mc-GAY-hee) spent the last three seasons as LSU's special-teams coach. His insight into SEC players will be valuable during the pre-draft evaluation process. Remember this name: Odell Beckham, Jr. He was a top receiver/kick returner for LSU, and McGaughey is said to be very high on him. A postscript on McGaughey: He interviewed with the Jets in 2008, when Mike Westhoff took a medical leave of absence.

6. Down on Geno: Former longtime Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who interviewed for the Jets' job last season, offers an insightful quarterback analysis on sidelineview.com. Grading players on a nine-point scale, the way teams grade college players on their draft board, Angelo rates Geno Smith as the 29th quarterback. He puts Smith in the 6.0-6.4 grouping, which he describes as: "Can start and compete with him with a good supporting cast and quality coaching, but lacks something, i.e., arm talent (strength or accuracy), poise, instincts. Not good enough. To win with him 2 of the 3 of the phases have to be dominate or surround him with high caliber players."

Commenting specifically on Smith, Angelo says, "Got a lot of playing time, which may have helped him or hurt him. Too many interceptions and negative plays. His numbers were terrible. His progress will depend on his learning from this year’s struggles. Otherwise, defensive coordinators will have a field day with him. Quarterbacks make a living from the neck on up, not the neck on down." I agree. We know Smith has the physical talent; now we'll see how well he can process what he learned last season.

7. Brown and green: The Cleveland Browns' dysfunction (clown car, anyone?) reminds me of the turn-of-the-century Jets. In a span of 364 days, from Jan. 3, 2000 to Dec. 31, 2000, they saw three head coaches quit -- Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Al Groh. Ah, memories. The Browns are on their third coach and third GM in three years. Former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is a promising, young coach, but you wonder if he'll get swallowed up by the Browns' ineptitude.

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