NFL Nation: Dewan Landry

You know the drill. The New York Jets' training camp opens Wednesday, which means there are questions. We've got answers.

1. When will Rex Ryan name his starting quarterback?

Smith
Technically, we've been waiting 11 months, but that is an old story and this is no time to look back. The conventional approach is to name the starter after the third preseason game (Aug. 22 against the New York Giants), but it wouldn't be a surprise if Ryan moves up the timetable. It all depends on Geno Smith, the front-runner. If he plays lights-out in the first two games and gets the nod over Michael Vick versus the Giants, it will be a fait accompli. Memo to Ryan: The health of your quarterback is more important than the Snoopy Trophy.

2. Are there any injured players that bear watching as camp opens?

Yes, three in particular: Running back Chris Johnson (knee), right guard Willie Colon (knee/biceps) and linebacker Antwan Barnes (knee). Obviously, Johnson's health is a big key to the Jets' season, so you can count on his surgically repaired knee being a topic of conversation throughout camp. The plan is to put him on a modified practice schedule, building toward the Sept. 7 opener. It will be interesting to see how they use him in the exhibitions. Johnson likes his touches; he's had anywhere from 19 to 33 carries in the preseason over the course of his career. It wouldn't be a shock if Colon and/or Barnes begin camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list as they work their way back into shape. It will be a breath of fresh air, not having to chronicle the "will-he-or-won't-he?" whims of Santonio Holmes and his damaged wheel.

3. Is there strength in numbers at wide receiver?

Decker
The Jets have seven receivers with NFL experience, including marquee newcomer Eric Decker, plus three draft picks. Not one of them, however, is a true game-changer. You can still win with solid, dependable receivers (look at the Seattle Seahawks), and the Jets have three in Decker, Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson. You will read a lot this summer about Stephen Hill, who almost certainly will make the all-Cortland team, as usual. The question, as usual, is whether he can sustain it for the regular season. If you are looking for a dark horse, keep an eye on veteran Greg Salas, who impressed the coaches in minicamp.

4. Which returning starters are in danger of losing their jobs?

Not counting Smith, who will be "pushed" by Vick (that is the oft-used company line), the players facing the most competition are Colon, tight end Jeff Cumberland and safety Dawan Landry. In each case, there is a young player in the picture battling for playing time. Chances are, the tight-end situation will be a time-share between Cumberland and second-round pick Jace Amaro, whose role will hinge on how quickly he can absorb the offense. Based on minicamp, it will take some time.

5. Is there anything to worry about on defense?

The secondary is the No. 1 concern. This probably will be the youngest defensive backfield of the Ryan era, with a second-year cornerback (Dee Milliner), a rookie safety (Calvin Pryor), a third-year safety (Antonio Allen) and a rookie cornerback (Dexter McDougle) projected to play prominent roles. Can you say "growing pains"? If veteran corner Dimitri Patterson gets hurt, which he tends to do, it will put a strain on this rebuilding unit.

6. What's the deal with all the playoff chatter? Is the optimism justified?

Sure, why not? 'Tis the season for happy talk. The Jets finished 8-8, added some talent and lost only two players that played more than 500 snaps last season -- right tackle Austin Howard and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who stunk. Expressing confidence is fine as long as it doesn't cloud their minds with unrealistic expectations.
With first-round pick Calvin Pryor now officially official, having signed his four-year, $8.56 million contract, this is a good time to analyze how the New York Jets might deploy their safeties. It's an interesting question because they have three players they consider starting-caliber safeties -- Pryor, Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen.

Pryor
Obviously, we're not talking about the Seattle Seahawks' safety group here, so it shouldn't take long for Pryor to find a place in the starting lineup.

Like Landry and Allen, Pryor is a natural "box" safety, but scouts say his coverage skills are good enough to where he can be used in zone coverage -- i.e. the deep middle -- although no one is calling him a young Ed Reed. Landry, whose coverage skills are extremely limited, offers value in a quarterback-type role -- a heady player who can make sure everyone is lined up properly. Allen is unusal because he has the athleticism to play man-to-man coverage against top tight ends (ask Rob Gronkowski), yet he's a bit shaky in zones because his instincts and reaction skills need work.

So you have three strong-safety types with different strengths and weaknesses. Don't be surprised if Rex Ryan goes back to a three-safety package on certain passing downs, which he did quite often last season. There were many times in which the Jets preferred a third safety (Jaiquawn Jarrett) over a fourth corner in dime situations. Unfortunately, we don't have a breakdown of how often they used a three-safety package, but the snap distribution over the first nine games (before Reed signed) illustrates how much they relied on three safeties as part of the weekly game plan:

Landry -- 620 snaps/99 percent

Allen -- 397/64 percent

Jarrett -- 234/37 percent

When Reed signed, Ryan dropped Allen like a bad habit, using a Reed-Landry tandem for a few games. Finally realizing Reed, 35, no longer was the impact player he remembered from Baltimore, Ryan scaled back Reed's playing time, opting for a late-season platoon system that included Allen. It occurred too late to dramatically change the snap distribution over the final seven games, which clearly shows a reliance on two safeties:

Landry -- 461/97 percent

Reed -- 368/78 percent

Allen -- 137/29 percent

Jarrett -- 43/9 percent

Looking ahead, Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman probably will do a lot of mixing and matching, letting personnel and game situations dictate the lineup. For instance, when the Jets face an athletic, pass-catching tight end, Allen probably will have a greater role in the game plan. Landry's role could shrink as Pryor gets comfortable with the defense from a cerebral standpoint. In the end, you will see a lot of Pryor and a playing-time breakdown that resembles the first nine games from 2013, with three players in contributing roles.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The pick: Calvin Pryor, safety, Louisville

My take: The New York Jets made a good call by addressing the secondary with the 18th pick instead of reaching for a wide receiver, but you have to wonder if Pryor is the right guy for the Jets' scheme. They need a cover safety and a ballhawk who can play the deep middle. Pryor is better close to the line of scrimmage than in coverage. They opted for him over Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, whom scouts believe is a better cover safety. They also passed on Darqueze Dennard, thought to be the best man-to-man corner in the draft. Now they have three strong safeties -- Pryor, Dewan Landry and Antonio Allen -- and no free safety. Landry and Allen didn't make many plays last season, so anything is an upgrade. Pryor will bring a LaRon Landry-type presence to the defense, a physical player with an attitude. As one opposing scout said, "He's a hammer guy, a box-strong safety type." Pryor recorded only seven interceptions and only 14 pass break-ups in three seasons at Louisville. He's vicious tackler, forcing seven fumbles over the past two seasons. He ran 40 in 4.58 seconds at the combine.

Jets say 'No' to Johnny Football: Quarterback Johnny Manziel was still available for the Jets with the 18th pick, but he never was a serious consideration. They're invested in Geno Smith and they signed Michael Vick as a mentor/backup/possible starter. It would've been a stinging indictment of Smith if they had pulled the trigger on Johnny Football. It also would've been a three-quarterback circus. Manziel is risky because of his style of play, but he has special qualities. If he leads the moribund Cleveland Browns to a championship and the Jets remain also-rans under Smith, the second-guessers will have a field day for decades.

What's Next: The Jets don't pick again until the second round (49). Their primary needs remain the same: cornerback, wide receiver and tight end. Don't be surprised if they try to trade up in the second round, using their extra choices (seven tradeable picks) as bargaining chips.
The New York Jets haven't doled out a lucrative, multi-year contract for a safety since Kerry Rhodes signed a five-year, $33.5 million deal in 2008 -- a contract then-coach Eric Mangini, speaking to a friend years later, called one of his biggest regrets. But that's besides the point; the message here is that since 2009, in Rex Ryan's cornerback-centric system, the organization hasn't paid premium prices at the safety position.

It should take a hard look at changing the philosophy now that Jairus Byrd appears headed for the open market.

Byrd
The Buffalo Bills declined to use the franchise tag on Byrd (the deadline was 4 p.m. Monday), meaning he will become an unrestricted free agent March 11. That's assuming he doesn't re-sign with the Bills, which appears highly unlikely.

Byrd will demand serious coin -- he reportedly rejected a deal that would have paid him $30 million for the first three years -- but he's so good that the Jets should investigate. Byrd is a younger version of Ed Reed, sans the dynamic return ability. He's a ball hawk with uncanny instincts, a presence in the deep middle. The Jets like to play a lot of single-high safety looks, and Byrd would be a terrific scheme fit. Their problems against the deep ball would disappear with him patrolling center field.

Obviously, the Jets are doing something right on defense (five straight years in the top 11), but they've done so with a glaring lack of production at safety. Since 2009, the Jets' safeties have combined for only 16 interceptions. (We're not including six by Dwight Lowery, a safety/cornerback hybrid who played mostly in sub packages.) Since 2009, when Byrd entered the league as a second-round pick, the soon-to-be-former Bills star has 22 interceptions. By the way, that includes six against the Jets.

So will the Jets pursue Byrd? My gut tells me no. It sounds like they will entrust the position again to Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen & Co., perhaps adding a player in the draft. Clearly, they have bigger needs on offense, but they have enough salary-cap room to plug those needs and make a big splurge on defense. Maybe a look at the list below will change their mind.

Safety interceptions since 2009:

Ed Reed, Eric Smith, Kerry Rhodes -- 3
LaRon Landry, Jim Leonhard -- 2
Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen, Brodney Pool -- 1

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