NFL Nation: David Harris

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He has been everywhere for the New York Jets since he was drafted in the second round in 2007.

[+] EnlargeDavid Harris and Matt Forte
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJets inside linebacker David Harris, left, has had at least 100 tackles in every season he's been in the NFL except for 2008.
Too often if the Jets needed a play, they'd look to their inside linebacker, David Harris, to be the one to make it.

Harris has had at least 100 tackles every year he has been in the league except for 2008, when he had 76 after playing just 11 games. Other than that, he's played in every game of his career and has 775 career tackles in the regular season with 25.5 sacks, six interceptions and eight forced fumbles.

It is the way New York uses him -- and the rest of the Jets front seven -- that makes him even more dangerous.

"That's one of the geniuses of what they do," Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. "It's hard to get any kind of tendency on this defense."

With no tendencies to really go on, it leaves more on the players to understand others, and that is something Harris does well. As the Lions explain below, Harris' instincts are what stand out most.

Center Dominic Raiola: "He's a complete player. In baseball, they have five-tool players. Well, he's one of those five-tool players in football. He's got everything. Smart, physical, fast, quick, instinctive. He's a guy you have got to account for."

Safety James Ihedigbo (former teammate of Harris'): "He'd led the team in tackles all eight years he's been there. He's a smart, great football player who is underrated at his position. He's a guy that makes a lot of plays and our offense is going to account for him."

Lombardi: "You can tell he's a super smart player. Everything they do defensively and the things he is able to do, it's always those smart guys that give you a lot of problems. He's just an all-around linebacker. Can rush the passer well. Plays the run well and covers well."

Left guard Rob Sims: "A professional, man. He does everything right. Very instinctive. Those guys are the guys that are hard to play. He just reads the plays. He's smart, beats you to the spot sometimes because he knows what you're doing. There's a couple guys in the league who are like that. He's one them. [Stephen] Tulloch is like that, A.J. Hawk has shown signs of that, that smart, silent, instinctive player that can make the plays."

Quarterback Matthew Stafford: "He just seems to be a very intelligent player. He obviously has all the physical tools. He's big. He's fast. He can run and hit and all that, but he seems to be very smart and instinctive. Helps everybody on that defense get lined up and seems to be in the right place at the right time."
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets wrapped up minicamp -- and the offseason -- with a 90-minute practice Thursday in a light rain. A few takeaways:

Smith
1. Quarterback hiccups: One day after his coaches lavished praise upon him for a terrific offseason, Geno Smith ended on a down note, throwing two interceptions in team drills. One was an ill-advised throw, a pass into double coverage. He was looking for Eric Decker, who was covered by CB Dee Milliner, and it was picked off by rookie S Calvin Pryor. Later, Smith (2-for-6 in team drills) was intercepted by Milliner on a deep ball that went off the hands of Decker. It's important to keep this in perspective. Two turnovers on the final day of minicamp doesn't change anything. As Marty Mornhinweg indicated Wednesday, it's Smith's job to lose. Michael Vick was 2-for-7, with a couple of overthrows.

2. Young ball hawks: Turnovers are always a good news-bad news story in practice. The good news is that the secondary, which produced very few big plays last season, came up big. In addition to Pryor and Milliner, rookie CB Dexter McDougle made a big play, intercepting Vick in a 7-on-7 drill. (Vick seemed upset; there might have been a miscommunication with WR Jeremy Kerley). Afterward, Rex Ryan praised McDougle as one of the standouts in minicamp. This will be the youngest secondary of the Ryan era. The upside is the improved team speed on the back end; the downside is the lack of experience, which will inevitably lead to mental errors.

3. Another Hill to climb: WR Stephen Hill, who could be fighting for his roster spot, finished with a terrific practice. This was a positive offseason for Hill, who needed a jolt after a second straight disappointing season. He worked with the starting base offense, with David Nelson replacing him in some three-receiver packages. Nelson, too, looked sharp, hauling in two completions from Smith. Unlike past years, the Jets actually have some depth at receiver. It'll be interesting to see which players separate from the pack in training camp.

4. Dawan is da man: Veteran S Dawan Landry became the forgotten man in recent weeks, especially with Pryor and Antonio Allen working exclusively with the first team. After practice, Ryan tossed a bouquet to Landry, mentioning him as one of the standouts in minicamp. Ryan also revealed that Landry won an "Iron Jet" award for his exploits in the conditioning program, noting that he reported to the offseason program in superior condition. Funny how that works; they draft a safety in the first round and the aging incumbent shows up looking better than ever.

5. Attendance report: LB David Harris (hamstring tightness) and TE Jeff Cumberland (undisclosed) sat out. As expected, RB Chris Ivory (ankle) didn't participate. With Chris Johnson (knee) also out, Bilal Powell and Alex Green had busy days.

6. Have a nice summer: The offseason program is over. The team won't be together again until training camp. Reporting day is July 23 in Cortland, New York.

NFLN survey/respected player: Jets

January, 16, 2014
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Our NFL Nation network of team reporters polled 320 players across the league -- 10 from each team -- to produce a confidential survey that covered eight probing questions/hot topics. Next up ...

Question: Which player do you respect the most?

Winner: Peyton Manning, quarterback, Denver Broncos.

Our take: Manning was a landslide winner with 86 votes (26.8 percent), accumulating more than three times the number of votes as the second-place finishers, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (24 each). The Manning-Brady dynamic is interesting. Brady has three Super Bowl rings to Manning's one, yet it's clear which quarterback is more popular among his peers. It makes for interesting discussion fodder, especially with a Manning-Brady showdown in the AFC Championship Game.

I can tell you this: Manning received the most votes (three) among the 10 Jets players who participated in the survey. Two players voted for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Five other players, including Peterson, received one vote apiece.

Only two Jets received votes from their peers around the league: safety Ed Reed (five) and linebacker David Harris (one). Obviously, Reed drew attention for his stellar years with the Baltimore Ravens, not his seven-game, hired-gun gig with the Jets. Players weren't allowed to vote for teammates. A total of 78 players received votes in this category.

W2W4: Oakland Raiders vs. New York Jets

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
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Contrary to what Kellen (The Greek) Winslow believes, the games still matter for the New York Jets.

Despite a three-game losing streak, the Jets (5-7) still are mathematically alive. The bigger issue, though, is the future of Rex Ryan, who has four games to convince his bosses he's the right man for the head coaching job.

Ryan can't afford a loss to the Oakland Raiders (4-8). If the slumping Jets can't defend their home field against the league's worst road team, it'll put a significant dent in Ryan's bid for a 2014 return. Under Dennis Allen, the Raiders are 2-12 on the road. They've lost 12 straight in the Eastern time zone by a combined score of 379-198. They're playing a backup quarterback, rookie Matt McGloin. They have injury concerns at running back. Their roster screams "rebuilding," as they dressed 16 undrafted players in their previous game.

And yet this game could be problematic for the Jets, who never have lost four straight under Ryan. After all, it's hard to win when you can't score.

Kickoff is 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium. What to watch for:

1. Mettle detector: The Jets invested so much emotionally last week, in what they called a must-win game, that you have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Ryan's teams have always played hard for him, but this will be a gut check. Ryan spent the week trying to boost morale, commending the team's practice performance and lavishing praise upon his draft picks. There was a players-only meeting, with David Harris and D'Brickashaw Ferguson addressing the team. It might have been too little, too late, but we'll see. It would be a mistake to underestimate the Raiders. For all their issues, the Raiders usually come prepared. They have a plus-45 point differential in the first quarter, second in the league.

2. The Gang's all here: For the first time since Week 4, the Jets will have their regular offense intact. The return of WR Jeremy Kerley provides another option in the passing attack, especially in the short and intermediate zones. WR Santonio Holmes is healthier than last week (so they say), so he might actually play more than two snaps. We know the Jets aren't the Greatest Show on Turf, but they're rolling out the best they've got. They have no excuses. "Let's see how we close this thing out when we're healthy," Ryan said.

If they can't break the slump against the Raiders, it could last another two weeks because points will be at a premium next week at the Carolina Panthers. The Jets have gone eight quarters without a touchdown -- 114 plays, an elapsed time of 129 minutes, 36 seconds. They treat the end zone as if it's radioactive. There will be plenty of one-on-one opportunities on the outside, as the Raiders like to blitz and play man-to-man coverage. They've rushed five or more on 44 percent of the opponents' dropbacks, the third-highest rate in the league. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg streamlined the offensive game plan, focusing on the plays they do best -- slim pickings. The Raiders have struggled against slant passes, so look for that.

3. Clock ticking for Geno: The decision to stick with QB Geno Smith, despite his historic struggles, indicates the organization is determined to get a complete evaluation of the rookie. General manager John Idzik doesn't think anything positive can be gained by sitting him. So on we go. Mornhinweg took a different approach this week, imploring Smith to play loose and let his natural instincts take over. Don't be surprised if Mornhinweg calls more designed runs for Smith, who can create a spark with his mobility. He will get blitzed -- a lot. The Raiders will test Smith's recognition skills and the Jets' pass protection.

4. The In-and-Out Corner: Rookie CB Dee Milliner needs a big play in the worst way. He will remain in the starting lineup despite being pulled last week in the third quarter, his third in-game benching. If the coaches continue to yank him, he'll show up on the injury report with a case of whiplash. Milliner, drafted ninth overall, is a key part of the Jets' future. He needs to finish the season on the upswing, providing some evidence to the organization that it didn't swing and miss. You can bet the Raiders will go after him, but their receiving corps is thin. Their top playmaker in the last game was Andre Holmes, who surpassed his career totals in one afternoon. McGloin is fairly effective when throwing deep. Hear that, Ed Reed?

5. Replacing Josh Cribbs: Cibbs, placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle, wore a lot of hats and it will take more than one player to replace him. Newly-signed Darius Reynaud will return kickoffs and punts, with Bilal Powell and Kerley expected to handle the Wildcat role on offense. Reynaud has dealt with ball-security issues in the past, especially on punt returns.

Bad defensive day turns into slapstick

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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NASHVILLE -- Can we please postpone the coronation of the New York Jets' defense?

Full of confidence after last week's eight-sack beat down of the Buffalo Bills, the Jets were sliced and diced by Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who combined for four touchdown passes in the Tennessee Titans' 38-13 victory at LP Field.

The final indignity occurred with 7:06 remaining in the fourth quarter, when cornerback Antonio Cromartie, Nate Washington and back judge Billy Smith collided on a 77-yard touchdown pass -- another Jets blooper.

Cromartie said he asked the official, "What the hell are you doing back here?" He said Smith apologized.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Nate Washington
P Photo/Wade PayneJets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, back judge Billy Smith and Titans receiver Nate Washington collide. The result was a 77-yard score for Washington.
That pretty much captured the disastrous day for the Jets.

Truth is, Cromartie was beaten cleanly by Washington, who had to slow down because Fitzpatrick's throw hung in the air like a punt. Once Washington made the catch, the collision occurred with Cromartie and Smith.

"No, he didn't interfere with the play," Cromartie said. "That's on me fully. Me being the number one corner on this team, I need to make sure that I go up and intercept that ball or bat it down."

It was a tough day for the Jets' corners. Earlier, Cromartie slipped on the wet grass and allowed a 4-yard scoring pass to Washington. Darrin Walls, who started in the Dee Milliner-Kyle Wilson slot, allowed a 16-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Justin Hunter. It was a terrific catch by Hunter, but Walls could've played it better. The Titans use Hunter almost exclusively in the red zone, so it shouldn't have been a surprise that he got the ball -- especially in the final seconds of the first half.

"That's a killer," Rex Ryan said. "There's only one play they can run and that's the shot in the end zone. You know it's coming and everybody in the ballpark knows it's coming. The only time they put that kid in the game is to throw the jump ball, and there's a reason he came down with it."

The cornerback spot opposite Cromartie has turned into musical chairs. Walls started for Kyle Wilson, who last week started for Milliner, the struggling rookie who pulled a hamstring in practice. Ryan is running out of competent corners and, frankly, Cromartie was off his game as well.

Give credit to the Titans; they had a masterful game plan. Recognizing the Jets were focusing on running back Chris Johnson, the Titans put the ball in Locker's hands, letting him throw from the pocket. That's what the Jets wanted, but they got more than they expected from Locker, who completed 18 of 24 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns. The Jets underestimated Locker, not known for his passing exploits.

"Maybe that's why it surprised us," rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said.

The Jets were held to two sacks and produced no takeaways for the third straight game. That's simply not acceptable. By the way, the Titans have yet to commit a turnover. In fairness to the defense, it had to play on a short field throughout the game because of Geno Smith's turnovers. The Titans' first three touchdown drives were 18, 26 and 46 yards.

No matter. Linebacker David Harris was visibly irked by the performance.

"Just say we lost," he said. "We got our butts kicked by a better team today. Simple as that."

Asked if the Titans might simply be a better team, Harris snapped, "We lost. Did you see the score?"

W2W4: Jets vs. Buccaneers

September, 6, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets open the fifth season of the Rex Ryan era Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at MetLife Stadium (1 p.m. ET). A look at the top storylines:

1. There they go again: For the second time in five years, the Jets will start a season with a rookie quarterback -- this time Geno Smith. (If you can't name the other, you'd best move on.) The last time a team trotted out two rookie quarterbacks in a five-year span was 1977-78, when the Bucs started Randy Hedberg and Doug Williams in back-to-back years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

This is a tough spot for Smith, who hasn't played in two weeks and took only 69 preseason snaps. He will face a rebuilt pass defense (ranked No. 32 last year) that includes cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson. The weak links in the secondary are cornerbacks Johnthan Banks, a rookie, and Leonard Johnson, who covers the slot in nickel situations. There will be hiccups for Smith, no doubt. How he handles them will determine success or failure. He can expect to see some exotic looks from the Bucs, so he'll have to think on his feet. Smith doesn't have to be great. The Jets can win if he's average, but they have no chance if he duplicates his performance of the preseason loss to the Giants.

[+] EnlargeMarty Mornhinweg
AP Photo/Bill KostrounMarty Mornhinweg
2. Trick it up: The Jets have to protect Smith with a strong running game. Unfortunately for them, they'll be facing the top-ranked run defense from last season. The Bucs are led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who could be a nightmare for left guard Vladimir Ducasse. Look for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to use deception in an attempt to run the ball. Unlike predecessor Tony Sparano, Mornhinweg won't be shy about breaking out the Wildcat, using Bilal Powell and Jeremy Kerley.

You also could see the Pistol formation, a version of the shotgun in which a running back lines up directly behind the quarterback. That creates more play-action opportunities. The screen pass will be huge because it will allow the Jets to slow down the Bucs' aggressive front seven, which will be salivating at the prospect of devouring Smith.

3. Club Dread, an island adventure: Head coach Rex Ryan says the Jets won't make a concerted effort to attack Revis even though he's playing for the first time after major knee surgery. Do we believe him? Revis might not be Revis -- not yet, anyway -- but you get the impression the Jets still are deathly afraid of their former star. The receivers were told to place an extra emphasis on not tipping routes. If there's a tell, Revis will jump the route, and then you're looking at a potential interception.

What the Jets should do is test Revis against the run. Unlike many cornerbacks, he's always been aggressive in run support. Will he be tentative because of his surgically repaired knee? Don't be surprised if they call a power sweep on the first series.

4. Here comes the blitz: You might have heard, but Ryan is running the defense again and he's promising to bring back that 2009 mentality, meaning an array of pressure schemes. He felt the Jets got too vanilla and too passive last season, and he wants to restore the attacking style. Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman is an inviting first target. He's interception-prone (39 over the last two seasons), and he starts hearing footsteps if you get to him early. To play that way, New York needs solid cornerback play from Dee Milliner, one of four rookies in the starting lineup. He missed time with an Achilles' injury and could be in for a rough debut.

5. Their least-favorite Martin: The top priority is containing running Doug Martin, who has the ability to wreck the game. The Jets see him as another Ray Rice, a double threat (1,926 yards from scrimmage last season) that can exploit them on the perimeter as a runner and receiver. Covering backs is an issue. In the preseason, linebackers David Harris and DeMario Davis allowed nine receptions for 92 yards, according to ProFootballFocus. This could be a big problem. Look for the Bucs to attack the edges, especially when outside linebacker Garrett McIntyre is in the base.

Rapid Reaction: Jets 37, Jaguars 13

August, 17, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rookie QB Geno Smith didn't play because of a sprained ankle, leaving Saturday night to Mark Sanchez & Co. Much like he was in the preseason opener, Sanchez was sharp except for one horrendous interception. Despite a terrible night by the first-team defense, the New York Jets won 37-13 over the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: The burning question is, will Rex Ryan put an end to the quarterback competition? Sanchez could've made it an easy call by playing a clean game, but he was intercepted in the end zone on a third-and-goal from the 3. Ryan hates red zone interceptions. He might start Smith next week against the Giants, which would prolong the Jets' QB competition.

Oh, no, not again: For some reason, Sanchez can't avoid disaster. He came out on fire, hitting six of his first eight passes, including a 23-yard TD to Jeff Cumberland. He was actually cheered by the home crowd, but he reverted to 2012 Sanchez with the red zone pick. The crowd turned on him quickly. A week ago, he gave six points to the Lions with an interception for a touchdown. This time, he took away at least three points from the Jets. Actually, make that six. On the final play of the first half, Sanchez held the ball too long on a third-down incompletion, eliminating a field goal chance -- an inexcusable brain lock.

Surprisingly, Sanchez (13-for-23, 169 yards) played three quarters, the last of which behind the second-team line -- always a risky proposition. With Smith out and with Greg McElroy (ankle) limited to emergency duty, Ryan didn't want to use Matt Simms until the fourth quarter.

Dead zone: Sanchez's interception wasn't the only blunder in the red zone. The starting offense went 0-for-3 inside the 20. It ran five plays inside the 10 and came away with no points on those two drives.

"Brutal" defense: The first-team defense looked as bad as it ever has under Ryan, who probably would use the word "brutal" (or worse) to describe it. The Jets were ill-prepared and confused, diced up by Blaine Gabbert, who killed them with quick throws out of the hurry-up offense. The book is out on the Jets defense: pick up the tempo, get the ball to the receivers and backs and let them make plays. The Jaguars went 80 yards on seven plays for a touchdown on their first drive. On their second possession, it was 18 plays, 75 yards and a field goal.

LB David Harris, who dropped weight to improve his coverage ability, was exposed. So was rookie CB Dee Milliner, who allowed two completions and got an earful from Antonio Cromartie on the sideline. Cromartie wasn't great, either, missing an open-field tackle. Later, he made a nice tackle behind the line. Gabbert (13-for-16, 165 yards, one TD) left the game with a sprained right thumb; that saved the Jets defense more than any adjustments it made.

Coples hurt: OLB Quinton Coples suffered a right leg injury in the second quarter and limped to the locker room for a likely X-ray. He was hurt while batting down a pass in the face of QB Chad Henne. There was no immediate word on the severity of the injury. The Jets can't afford to lose Coples, whom the defensive coaches believe is the key to the defense. He was replaced by Antwan Barnes.

Here's Ivory: RB Chris Ivory, finally recovered from a hamstring injury, made his Jets debut. He didn't start, but he came in early and finished with 13 yards on six carries. No, it wasn't a great night, but he showed his potential on an 8-yard run by plowing through a couple of defenders. Ivory lacked burst on outside runs, probably because he's still working his way back into football shape. All told, the running game was much improved. The Jets rushed for 176 yards, including a 37-yard run by Bilal Powell. Backup Kahlil Bell provided a late spark, scoring two TDs.

Audition for Braylon: WR Braylon Edwards, hardly a lock to make the team, played only one snap in the first half. That usually doesn't bode well for a veteran. Edwards saw significant action in the second half and showed he's still capable of being a useful possession receiver, finishing with three catches for 49 yards.

What's ahead: The Jets play the Giants in their annual summer bash.

AFC East has most overpaid players?

September, 27, 2012
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Forbes released its list of the most overpaid players in the NFL. Unfortunately for the AFC East, a number of those players are in the division.

Four of Forbes' 10 most-overrated players reside in the AFC East. The list includes two linebackers, one cornerback and a wide receiver.
The fact that three of these four players are with the Jets is not good. Harris, Holmes and Cromartie are solid players, but are they franchise players to build a team around? I don’t think so.

The Jets have a lot of big contracts tied to several players. The team is built to win now. But with stud corner Darrelle Revis out for the season, it will be up to these three high-priced players to step up for New York.

2011 All-AFC East Team

January, 5, 2012
1/05/12
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Darrelle Revis/Rob Gronkowski/Brandon MarshallGetty ImagesDarrelle Revis, left, Rob Gronkowski, middle, and Brandon Marshall shined in 2011.
The 2011 season was an interesting one filled with ups and mostly downs for the AFC East. Only one team finished with a winning record.

But that doesn't mean the AFC East lacked great individual performances. For example, the division produced an MVP candidate at quarterback who threw for more than 5,000 yards and another stellar season from the best cornerback in football.

Here is our All-AFC East Team for 2011:

Quarterback: Tom Brady, New England Patriots

Analysis: There is no question about this one. Brady set a new career-high with 5,235 passing yards, which surpassed Dan Marino's old record. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (5,476) finished with more yards and has the new record. Brady is the single biggest reason the Patriots are 13-3 and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. His performance carried New England through injuries and inconsistencies in other areas. Brady will be chasing his fourth Super Bowl title in the playoffs.

Running back: Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills

Analysis: This might be a controversial pick, because two other running backs -- Reggie Bush and Shonn Greene -- had 1,000-yard seasons. But Jackson was the best running back I watched this season. He simply had some bad luck, suffering a season-ending leg injury. He was on his way to making his first Pro Bowl. Jackson rushed for 934 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games. He had an additional 442 yards receiving. His numbers would be off the charts if he'd played the final six games.

Fullback: Charles Clay, Dolphins

Analysis: Clay was one of the surprise rookies from Miami's draft class. He was a good blocker for Bush, has great hands and knows what to do with the football. Clay caught 16 passes for 233 yards. He averaged 14.6 yards per reception, which is astounding for a fullback. John Conner of the Jets is the best blocking fullback. But Conner is not a receiving threat.

Receivers: Wes Welker, Patriots; Brandon Marshall, Dolphins

Analysis: The best receivers in the AFC East this season are a pair of Pro Bowlers. Welker had an unbelievable year. He set a new career high with 1,569 yards. He also caught 122 passes and was one of the league's most sure-handed receivers. Marshall, in contrast, wasn't sure-handed. He had plenty of big drops, but still had a good season. Marshall caught 81 passes for 1,214 yards and six touchdowns. What's even more impressive is that Marshall put up big numbers despite Miami's in-season quarterback switch from Chad Henne to Matt Moore.

Tight end: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots

Analysis: Gronkowski showed flashes as a rookie. But no one knew he would explode the way he did in his second season. "Gronk" set an NFL record for tight ends with 17 touchdowns. He averaged more than one per game, despite many teams' focus on stopping him late in the season. Gronkowski finished with 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and made his first Pro Bowl. Considering he's only 22, it will most likely be the first of many Pro Bowls.

Center: Nick Mangold, Jets

Analysis: Jets head coach Rex Ryan says a lot of things. But we believe him when he says Mangold is the best center in the NFL. Mangold fought through an ankle injury but had another solid season. He was named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl. The Jets' offensive line was up and down but completely fell apart when Mangold missed two games. New York's entire running game and blocking scheme is built around its center -- and for good reason.

Guards: Logan Mankins, Patriots; Andy Levitre, Bills

Analysis: Mankins, who made his fourth Pro Bowl, stayed healthy right up until the end and played 15 of 16 games. He should be ready for the playoffs. Levitre was one of my favorite players to watch because of his versatility. He's a very good guard, a solid offensive tackle and struggled at center. Levitre was forced to play all three positions in Buffalo this season because of injuries.

Offensive tackles: Jake Long, Dolphins; Matt Light, Patriots

Analysis: Long played through injuries all season. His back bothered him, and he ended up on injured reserve after tearing his biceps. But Long at 80 percent is still better than most left tackles, and he was good enough to make his fourth Pro Bowl in four years. Light gets our last tackle spot over New York's D’Brickashaw Ferguson. The Pro Bowl nod went to Ferguson. But Ferguson struggled at times this season and didn't play up to his usual standards. I think Ferguson got in on reputation and name recognition.

Defensive ends: Andre Carter, Patriots; Mark Anderson, Patriots

Analysis: No one flinched when the Patriots quietly signed a pair of veteran defensive ends in free agency to bolster their pass rush. Most of the focus was on big-name acquisitions such as receiver Chad Ochocinco and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. But two of New England's best signings were Carter and Anderson. Each finished with 10 sacks, and Carter made the Pro Bowl despite a late, season-ending quad injury. For all of New England's issues on defense, arguably its biggest strength was rushing the passer. The Patriots registered 40 sacks, and Carter and Anderson combined for half of that total.

Defensive tackles: Vince Wilfork, Patriots; Sione Pouha, Jets

Analysis: Wilfork, 30, continues to improve with age. He combines strength and smarts to play defensive tackle/nose tackle. Wilfork finished with 52 tackles and 3.5 sacks. But it was his two interceptions this season that were most memorable. Wilfork rumbled for 28 and 19 yards, respectively, on his two picks. The second defensive tackle was one of the most difficult selections. But we went with Pouha over Miami's Paul Soliai. Pouha's numbers were more impressive for a nose tackle. He recorded 58 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. Soliai played well for Miami but registered only 27 tackles.

Outside linebackers: Cameron Wake, Dolphins; Calvin Pace, Jets

Analysis: It was a down year for outside linebackers in the AFC East. Wake and Pace were the best of a thin crop. Wake's sack numbers dipped from 14 to 8.5 this season. Teams put more focus on Wake, and he faced more double teams. Pace stayed healthy this season but recorded his lowest sack total (4.5) since 2006. Pace's backup, Aaron Maybin, led the Jets with six sacks.

Inside linebackers: David Harris, Jets; Karlos Dansby, Dolphins

Analysis: Harris continues to be one of the most underrated players in the NFL. Harris was the Jets' most consistent defensive player outside of Darrelle Revis. He was always around the football and recorded 86 tackles, five sacks and four interceptions. The second inside linebacker was another tough call. But we think Dansby had a slightly better season than New England's Jerod Mayo. A tailback getting 100 yards against the Dolphins' defense was rare, in large part due to Dansby. He established a physical presence in the middle for Miami and recorded 103 tackles and two sacks.

Cornerbacks: Darrelle Revis, Jets; Kyle Arrington, Patriots

Analysis: What more can you say about Revis? He had another great season for the Jets. He led New York with 21 passes defended, and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. One pick was returned 100 yards for a touchdown. Teams opted to attack Revis more this season, which allowed more chances for him to make big plays. Arrington was this year's version of Devin McCourty. New England gave up a lot of passing yards, but Arrington made the most of his interception opportunities. He led the Patriots with seven picks and had 88 tackles.

Safeties: Yeremiah Bell, Dolphins; George Wilson, Bills

Analysis: The safeties struggled in the AFC East this season. But Bell was probably the most consistent in the division. He led Miami with 107 tackles. He also had two sacks and one interception. Wilson played lights out at times, particularly early in the season. He set a career high with 106 tackles and tied a career mark with four interceptions. Wilson did all of this despite missing three games with injuries.

Punter: Brandon Fields, Dolphins

Analysis: Fields was spectacular this season. He averaged 48.8 yards per punt and had 32 punts inside the 20. Fields was the only Dolphins player exciting to watch during Miami's ugly 0-7 start. Fields had a Pro Bowl season. But Oakland Raiders punter and Pro Bowler Shane Lechler is probably the best punter in the NFL.

Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots

Analysis: Fantasy football players fell in love with Gostkowski this season. New England's high-scoring offense constantly put Gostkowski in position to rack up points, and he usually came through. Gostkowski led New England in scoring with 143 points. He made 28 of 33 field goals and all 59 extra points. The pressure of the playoffs always is different for kickers. But Gostkowski has shown no signs that he will be bothered by it.

Return specialist: Joe McKnight, Jets

Analysis: McKnight was a must-see because something exciting could happen every time he touched the ball. McKnight was fun to watch in the open field. He averaged 31.6 yards per kick return and is a Pro Bowl alternate on special teams. His longest of the season was a 107-yard touchdown return. The next step for McKnight is to develop as a running back. With LaDainian Tomlinson a free agent, McKnight could get a chance to backup Greene next season.

Jets' defense has its swagger back

November, 6, 2011
11/06/11
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Ryan FitzpatrickKevin Hoffman/US PresswireAn aggressive Jets defense limited Ryan Fitzpatrick to just 191 yards passing on Sunday.
ORCHARD, PARK, N.Y. -- In a rare occurrence this season, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan stepped to the podium Sunday with very little to complain about with his defense.

"We gave up an 80-yard drive at the end of the game there when we were up a bunch of scores," Ryan scoffed. "So that was disappointing."

Ryan pointed out the only blemish in an otherwise stellar day for New York's talented but, at times, underachieving defense. The Jets' strongest unit turned back the clock -- circa 2009 and 2010 -- to cruise to a 27-11 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

More than 70,000 Bills fans came to Ralph Wilson Stadium expecting a "whiteout." They nearly witnessed a shutout, as New York battered and confused Buffalo's offense for four quarters. The Bills turned over the football three times and gained only 287 total yards.

New York's defense officially has its swagger back. That could only mean trouble for the rest of the NFL.

Jets defensive tackle Sione Pouha even has a nickname for the defense regaining its identity.

"It's totally attitude -- it's 'Jetstitude' the way we look at it," Pouha said. "It's playing like a Jet, aggressiveness, going out there in attack mode. I think today kind of displayed just what Jet football is all about."

Although they don't always put it together, the Jets have the NFL's most talented collection of defensive players.

The cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie is tops in the league. The linebackers, led by David Harris, Bart Scott and Calvin Pace, are physical playmakers. The safeties and defensive line play good, complementary roles when the Jets are at their best. All of those things came together in a big game.

"When everybody is rolling, this team is very hard to beat," Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said.

It marked the first time Buffalo was held to fewer than 20 points this season. Afterward, the Bills sounded perplexed about how the game went downhill so quickly.

"If it was one thing, we could have solved that," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "You can always solve one thing in a game. They would bring pressure, they would play coverage. ... They would give us something we hadn’t seen or they would bring an extra guy. It was a combination. They kept us off balance and that’s what we can’t allow to happen."

The Jets' defense took apart Buffalo's offense systematically. It started with punishing Bills tailback Fred Jackson.

Jackson has bullied defenders all season. But New York matched and exceeded Jackson's physicality. The Jets even knocked Jackson (82 rushing yards) out of the game temporarily in the second half with big hit that caused a fumble and shoulder stinger. Buffalo's offense never recovered from that blow.

With Jackson not his usually dominant self, the Bills couldn't get anything going offensively.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had his worst game of the season. He threw for 191 yards, two interceptions and a late touchdown in garbage time. Most of the game the receivers were blanketed, and Fitzpatrick dangerously threw into tight coverage.

"For us, we were on our heels trying to figure out what they were doing and trying to figure out what was going on," Bills receiver David Nelson said. "It wasn't because of play calling or anything like that. We only had the ball twice in the first quarter and going three-and-out. We couldn’t get in rhythm."

It didn’t take long for several Jets players to turn toward the New England Patriots. The reigning AFC East champions are up next for the Jets with first place in the division on the line. The Patriots -- currently in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East with the Jets and Buffalo -- beat New York 30-21 in the first meeting at Gillette Stadium.

Pardon me, but the Jets "can't wait" for next week's rematch at home.

“If you can’t get fired up and ready to play for this game, you shouldn't be playing," Jets tailback LaDainian Tomlinson said. "That's plain and simple."

Last month, New York was a team close to imploding during its three-game losing streak. This month, the Jets have their sights set on first place in the AFC East after a three-game winning streak.

It's a stunning turnaround for the Jets, who have found the winning formula with an aggressive defense and a ground-and-pound style on offense.

New York showed on Sunday it has as good a shot as anyone in the second half of the season.

"We know what we're capable of doing. We know we're not a team that's going to fold in the tank," Wilkerson said of the midseason turnaround. "We lost three in a row, but it's a long season. We kept preparing like we’ve always been doing, knowing that we'd get things turned around."

AFC East Stock Watch

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyMark Sanchez had a horrendous game against the Ravens -- coughing up the ball four times and throwing for 119 yards.
1. Mark Sanchez, Jets quarterback: It's an easy choice when you set a record for the lowest Total Quarterback Rating. Sanchez had a forgettable game against the Baltimore Ravens. He was 11-for-35 passing for 119 yards, three lost fumbles and one interception. What's worse is that three of Sanchez’s turnovers resulted in Baltimore touchdowns. The offensive line deserves a lot of blame as well. Still, Sanchez needs to do a better job of taking care of the football. The Jets will play the New England Patriots in a big AFC East game this Sunday.

2. Miami Dolphins on the road: Remember when Miami was a good road team? That was something Miami was counting on after its 0-2 start at home. But that plan backfired after the Dolphins dropped back-to-back road games against the Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers. Now, Miami enters its bye week 0-4 and out of contention. The Dolphins have lost seven straight dating to last season. They're also 1-11 in their past 12 home games. With that combo, it's going to be hard for Miami to turn things around.

3. Buffalo Bills: If Buffalo wants to be a serious contender, it needs to beat teams like the Bengals, especially when the Bills own a 14-point lead in the second half. Buffalo's offense shut down after intermission, and the defense couldn't make a big stop late. The good news is it's just one game. Buffalo remains in first place in the AFC East and tied for the best record in the AFC. But the Bills have to prove it in these next two games against the Philadelphia Eagles (1-3) and New York Giants (3-1).

RISING

1. Wes Welker, Patriots receiver: As good as quarterback Tom Brady has been for New England, Welker has been just as good at receiver. The pair is putting up monster numbers. Welker is leading the NFL in receptions and receiving yards through four games. I'm surprised by how often Welker gets open every week. Yes, it's hard to double-team receivers from the slot. But you figure teams know by now where the ball often goes.

2. David Harris, Jets linebacker: Harris was one of the few bright spots in New York's 34-17 loss to the Ravens. He recorded seven tackles and a pick six. Harris is a very good player who is somewhat underrated. He doesn't get mentioned as much as teammates Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Bart Scott, Calvin Pace and others. But Harris is having a consistent season.

3. Stevan Ridley, Patriots running back: Ridley, a rookie third-round pick, is proving to be a good find for New England. He's given the Patriots a nice, three-headed attack in the running game if Danny Woodhead (ankle) stays healthy. Ridley rushed for a career-high 97 yards on 10 carries against Oakland, which has a solid front seven. This is just the kind of production the Patriots need to take some pressure off Brady and keep the defense off the field.

Jets extend DL Ropati Pitoitua

September, 18, 2011
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The New York Jets have agreed to a one-year extension with backup defensive end Ropati Pitoitua, according to various reports.

Pitoitua is in the defensive-line rotation in New York's 3-4 scheme. He recorded one tackle last week in the win over the Dallas Cowboys.

In other Jets news, No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes (knee) and linebacker David Harris (toe) are active and will play Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Both players were listed as questionable.

Rapid Reaction: Jets 17, Giants 3

August, 29, 2011
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WHAT IT MEANS: So the New York Jets captured the Snoopy trophy as the winner of the first annual MetLife Bowl against the New York Giants. Yawn. Based on the way his team played, Rex Ryan should punt the trophy. Forget about the final score, 17-3; the Jets’ starters were badly outplayed in the first half, out gained 209 to 61. The offense was a disaster and the Jets made dumb penalties. Basically, they played like they didn’t give a hoot about the preseason.

WOE IS O: Mark Sanchez & Co. was brutal. Can you say “regression”? In seven possessions, the Jets’ starting offense punted five times, lost a fumble (Sanchez) and, somehow, saved face with a touchdown -- a 17-yard pass to Santonio Holmes. They probably wouldn’t have scored the touchdown if it weren’t for Antonio Cromartie, who set up the offense at the Giants’ 35 with a 70-yard kickoff return.

Sanchez (8-for-16, 64 yards) was off his game from the outset, appearing indecisive as he made his reads. But this mess wasn’t all his fault. The pass protection was shoddy and his receivers, namely Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason, couldn’t gain separation against the Giants’ cornerbacks. That could be something to watch, as Burress and Mason -- 34 and 37, respectively -- aren’t the fastest guys around.

The starters won’t play in Thursday night’s finale against the Eagles, which means the No. 1 offense scored only three touchdowns in 5 1/2 quarters for the preseason. Blech!

DUMB & DUMBER: The Jets were undisciplined, committing five major penalties. The biggest blunder came from rookie defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who was ejected in the third quarter after taking a swing at running back Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs swung back, so he, too, was tossed. Wilkerson, whom the Jets are counting on to be a starter, deserves an earful from Ryan. That is unacceptable behavior.

But Wilkerson wasn’t the only guilty Jet. Right taclke Wayne Hunter (unsportsmanlike conduct), safety Brodney Pool (chop block on a punt), safety Emanuel Cook (facemask) and cornerback Donald Strickland (unnecessary roughness) all committed 15-yard penalties. Shame on them.

All told, the Jets had seven penalties for 79 yards, including a holding call on wide receiver Courtney Smith that nullified a touchdown run by backup quarterback Greg McElroy.

THE PLAX EFFECT: Burress doesn’t need to touch the ball to have an impact on the game. You saw that on Holmes’ touchdown reception. Burress lined up in the right slot, with Holmes on the outside, against the Giants’ three-by-two coverage. Safety Kenny Phillips rolled toward Burress, leaving Holmes in man-to-man against cornerback Corey Webster. Phillips tried to get back, but it was too late. Holmes ran a post route and got open in the back of the end zone.

Aside from that contribution, Burress’ anticipated matchup against his old team turned out to be a big zero -- as in zero catches. Burress, coming off his sensational debut against the Bengals, was targeted four times. In fact, Sanchez completed only four passes to his wideouts.

OPPORTUNISTIC D: For a team with a very good defense, the Jets made an alarmingly low number of interceptions last season (12). So far, they seem to be reversing the trend. Safety Jim Leonhard and linebacker David Harris intercepted two of Manning's passes, giving the Jets six picks in three games (two by Leonhard). Leonhard’s interception was set up by Harris, who came on an inside blitz and slammed Manning.

BEND BUT DON’T BREAK: Aside from the interceptions, the Jets’ No. 1 defense did some nice things in one half of play, holding the Giants to 2-for-8 on third down and 0-for-1 in the red zone. But -- and this is a big "but" -- they were pushed around between the 20s. The Jets allowed 209 total yards in the first half, uncharacteristic for a Rex Ryan-coached defense. Their conventional pass rush was nowhere to be found and there were a couple of missed tackles in the open field, including a big one by linebacker Bart Scott.

THE NEW BRAD: The Jets finally unveiled their 2011 version of the Wildcat, with rookie wide receiver Jeremy Kerley -- no surprise -- taking the direct snap and playing the role of Brad Smith. The Jets ran it four times, resulting in 39 yards. Kerley ran twice for 13 yards, handed off to Joe McKnight for eight and threw a pass -- yes, a pass! -- to Matt Mulligan for 18. That will give the Cowboys a little extra to think about as they prepare for the season opener.

Primer on franchise players

June, 16, 2011
6/16/11
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With optimism rising on the labor front, the fine folks at ESPN Stats & Information have sent out a free-agency primer to help us prepare for whenever the league year starts.

I’ll be sharing bits and pieces of that with you over the coming days to help us all get ready for what should be a very busy free-agent season. We’ll start with the franchise tag and, keep in mind, we don’t know with absolute certainty that the tags will be valid in the new agreement.

But the tag traditionally has been used to protect marquee players and that entails the offer of a one-year contract equal to the average of the top five salaries at that player’s position or 120 percent of that player’s previous year's salary, whichever is greater. Teams can designate a player as an “exclusive” or “non-exclusive” franchise player.

Here’s the definition on those two categories.

Exclusive franchise players: players who have been offered a one-year contract equal to the average of the top five salaries at their position for the current year or the average of the top five salaries at their position at the end of last season or 120 percent of their previous year's salary, whichever is greatest. Exclusive franchise players cannot sign with another club.

Non-exclusive franchise players: players who have been offered a one-year contract equal to the average of the top five salaries at their position at the end of last season or 120 percent of their previous year's salary, whichever is greater. Can negotiate with other clubs but current team has the opportunity to match any offer. If they do not, they will receive two first-round draft picks from player’s new team as compensation.

Prior to the lockout, 14 teams designated franchise players, including the Carolina Panthers with center Ryan Kalil. That ties the record, set in 2009, for the most use of the franchise tag since free agency began in 1993. Only Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and Philadelphia’s Michael Vick were given exclusive franchise tags.

Here’s a list of players who were given the franchise tag and whether or not they signed the tender.

Inside view on getting Jets over hump

June, 15, 2011
6/15/11
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Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes, Brodney PoolGetty ImagesAccording to one Jets insider, the team should bring back Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes and Brodney Pool.
While yakking with a key starter from last year's New York Jets squad this week, I asked a question I posed on the AFC East blog last month and have addressed regularly in my weekly chat.

What team is the class of the division? The New England Patriots, coming off 14 victories and another title? Or the Jets, who knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs and reached their second straight AFC Championship Game?

"Until we dethrone them," he said, "the Patriots are the class of the AFC East. That's the bottom line. There's no other way to slice it. You've got to knock them off the pedestal. That's goal No. 1, winning the division. That's the easiest way to get to the ultimate goal of the Super Bowl."

That comment alone wasn't enough for the player to request anonymity, but the next part of our conversation made him feel it was necessary for the sake of diplomacy and because he wants to keep his job next season.

I wanted to know more. To extract his veteran insight on the state of the Jets, I asked what his game plan would be if I could appoint him general manager for the next couple months.

How would he get the Jets over the hump from runners-up to AFC East champs and into the Super Bowl? He must have pondered that very question over the past few months because, without much thought, he rattled off six key steps to propelling the Jets upward.

Here they are, in order of what he felt was most important, along with his reasoning:

1. Re-sign receiver Santonio Holmes.

"You have to do that," our embedded analyst said. The Jets have three prominent free-agent receivers, but Holmes must be the priority over Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. Holmes missed four games while serving a suspension but made 52 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns. He was a clutch performer and added a couple more touchdowns in the playoffs.

"If I had to choose between Santonio, Braylon or Brad Smith -- I don't think you can re-sign them all -- I'll take Santonio because of his body of work," the Jets insider said. "He's more established."

Smith averaged 28.6 yards on kickoff returns and scored two touchdowns, and was the club's third-leading rusher with 299 yards and a TD as a gadget quarterback. The Jets led the NFL in average start position after a kickoff (at the 31.5-yard line). But the insider said revamped kickoff rules would neutralize Smith's impact in 2011.

The possibility of signing Plaxico Burress is intriguing and could help the Jets cope with any inability to re-sign Edwards or Smith. As for whether Burress would be a problem for head coach Rex Ryan, the insider laughed.

"With everything we have in our organization, he'd be just one of the guys," he said. "He wouldn't stand out like a sore thumb.

"Guys just love playing for Rex. With Rex's personality and the way he runs the show, Plaxico would just fit right in. Rex doesn't have problems with guys who have so-called character issues or big personalities. Rex is a big personality himself. A guy like Plaxico would do well with the Jets."

[+] EnlargeDavid Harris
Alan Maglaque/US PresswireDavid Harris is slated to become a free agent after the 2011 season.
2. Get inside linebacker David Harris signed to a long-term contract.

Harris led the Jets with 119 tackles. He recorded three sacks, 14 quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a recovery.

He signed his franchise tender and is under contract for next season, but he'll be a free agent again next offseason unless the Jets broker another deal before then.

"I've got to lock up David Harris," the insider said. "He's one of the more underrated defenders in the league. I've got to get him signed long-term."

3. Re-sign cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

Another significant free agent, Cromartie helped limit opposing quarterbacks to a 50.7 completion percentage -- lowest in the league by far -- and a 77.1 passer rating. He notched 42 tackles, three interceptions and a team-high 18 passes defensed.

Besides, the Jets invested too much in him to let him stroll for nothing this summer.

"If I gave up a second-round pick for the guy, I don't want to see him walk out the door," the insider said. "That would be a high draft pick I'd wasted.

"Plus, with no offseason to monitor the young players, I don't know what I have with Kyle Wilson. The team hasn't had a chance to coach him up. He didn't do the things the team expected last year. So I need to get Antonio Cromartie back to make sure I shore up the secondary."

4. Find a pass-rusher or two.

One of the Jets' biggest perceived weaknesses heading into the offseason was their inability to generate a more formidable pass rush last season.

"This team has a defensive scheme that can be dangerous with a pass rush," the insider said. "We had a great group, but that'll make my defense even stronger."

Outside linebacker Jason Taylor's status is in question. The Jets cut him, but it's not unfathomable he could return. Last year's regular starters, Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas, are under contract. Thomas recorded a team-high six sacks last season, while Pace had 5.5 sacks. Taylor added five more. Those aren't fearsome numbers.

Football Outsiders charted the Jets for 117.5 hurries (seventh in the NFL), but just 38 quarterback hits (tied for 23rd).

[+] EnlargeDamien Woody
Richard A. Brightly/Icon SMIDurability concerns could steer the Jets away from bringing back Damien Woody.
5. Sign a free-agent right tackle.

The Jets released Damien Woody after the season, but published reports before the lockout indicated the club was interested in bringing him back.

Woody can't provide many guarantees in what would be his 13th NFL season. Although he has been to the Pro Bowl, is one of few players on last year's roster who owns a Super Bowl ring and started 13 games last season, there are injury concerns. He battled knee problems before an Achilles' injury landed him on injured reserve in the playoffs.

There don't appear to be any solutions on the roster. Last year's second-round draft choice, Vladimir Ducasse, was a tackle at Boston College but was unable to win a job at guard. Woody's reliable backup, Wayne Hunter, is a free agent.

6. Identify a safety to solidify the secondary, looking first at Brodney Pool.

The Jets' best safety, Jim Leonhard, is coming off a broken shin that had him limited to a scooter during rehab. Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo all are free agents.

Pool started 12 games. He ranked fourth in tackles with 63. He registered a sack, an interception, nine passes defenses, a forced fumble and a recovery. Smith started six games and was fifth with 57 tackles. He also made an impact on special teams (19 tackles), as did Ihedigbo (27 tackles).

"I would try to get Brodney Pool or Eric Smith back," the Jets insider said. "Both played well down the stretch, but I think Brodney Pool was a guy who, as it got later in the season, really picked up the scheme and became a playmaker at the safety position."

I found the insider's opinions to be insightful. Nowhere among the list of issues to address were quarterback Mark Sanchez, left guard or kicker Nick Folk. The obviously aren't major concerns with this veteran player.

Once the lockout concludes, we'll see how much the anonymous player's wish list jibes with Mike Tannenbaum's.

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