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Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Updated: August 1, 9:14 AM ET
Call these receivers Gang Greenhorn

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- First, Keyshawn Johnson showed up, working for ESPN. Now Laveranues Coles is in training camp, serving as an intern in the New York Jets' scouting department. They were two of the best receivers in team history, a reminder of how it used to be.

And now? The current receiving corps includes a loose cannon and a bunch of unproven kids. It absolutely needs a veteran.

Former Jet Braylon Edwards would've been ideal, but he signed Tuesday with the Seattle Seahawks. The Jets had some interest in Edwards as a down-the-road option, according to league sources, but obviously not enough to pounce on him.

Laveranues Coles
The Jets sure could use some of the veteran know-how that Laveranues Coles used to provide.

They're playing a dangerous game -- unless they're planning to install the single wing and run the ball on every down.

The free-agent pool is weak, but the Jets will take a hard look at the receiver market if their young players fail to progress in the preseason. Their group of receivers and tight ends includes only two players who have caught more than 29 passes in a season -- Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller. That probably won't scare too many opponents.

"I hope everybody doesn't think much of our passing offense," Keller said, "because they'll be in for a rude awakening come game day."

Publicly, the coaches share Keller's confidence, but you know how that goes. Not long ago, they also professed their faith in right tackle Wayne Hunter, but they went out and traded for Jeff Otah, who was stamped "Return to Sender" after flunking his physical.

The current receivers are showing blemishes. Slot man Jeremy Kerley, out for about a week with a pulled hamstring, is in Rex Ryan's doghouse. Former Oakland Raider Chaz Schilens, bothered by a mild groin issue, has a history of injuries.

Holmes is the only sure thing, but he can't control his mouth. They're not even a week into camp, and he's already behaving like the Holmes from last season. If he catches passes the way he catches flak, Holmes will have a Calvin Johnson-like season.

The Jets are so thin that cornerback Antonio Cromartie could be used at receiver. In fact, he was in for one snap on Monday. Mark Sanchez was surprised to see him in the huddle and tried to throw him out, thinking Cromartie was fooling around. Then somebody told him Cromartie is moonlighting as a receiver.

Cromartie is ecstatic about it, even saying Tuesday on ESPN's "First Take" that he would be the second-best receiver on the team, based on ability -- hardly a ringing endorsement of the current depth chart.

Clearly, the early standout has been second-round pick Stephen Hill, the leading candidate to start opposite Holmes.

The 6-foot-4 Hill, who blazed a sub-4.4 time in the 40 at the scouting combine, has impressed with his rare combination of size and speed. But he's extremely raw because he has no experience in a pro-style offense. At Georgia Tech, he played in a triple option and caught only 49 passes in his career.

Despite the lack of experience, Ryan likes what he sees.

"You'd much rather have guys who have more game experience, but you know the size and speed that these guys bring is intriguing," he said. "It's not like it used to be in the past. Jerry Rice never started his rookie year in San Francisco." (Actually, Rice had four starts as a rookie in 1985.)

"Now, more and more, guys are catching a zillion footballs and are ready," Ryan added. "What's amazing about Stephen Hill is the fact that he caught 28 balls [last season] and he's way ahead of it, as you guys can see."

A year ago, Holmes was joined at receiver by two antiques, Plaxico Burress, 34, and Derrick Mason, 38, who was traded after four games. Mason has since retired and Burress still hasn't found a new team. They were slower than ketchup out of the bottle.

Without question, the Jets are faster than last season, but they're flirting with a dangerous combination -- inexperienced receivers trying to learn a new offense.

They had a solid trio in 2010, but the dynamic changed when Edwards wasn't re-signed and Jerricho Cotchery was released. Edwards developed a good rapport with Sanchez, finishing with 904 yards and seven touchdowns that year.

It has been an ever-changing supporting cast for Sanchez.

"You want to develop your own guys," Ryan said. "We weren't in that situation [in 2009]; we brought in Braylon Edwards. He was terrific. [We] brought in Santonio; it was terrific. [We] brought in Plaxico. He had his moments and was terrific in the red zone.

"But, ideally, you want to develop your own players, draft a young guy and hope he comes along and they grow together."

If that doesn't happen, the Jets need a contingency plan.

Too bad Johnson and Coles weren't a few years younger.