The New York Jets have gotten plenty of attention this preseason, but none of it has been particularly positive. Everybody has heard about the team's struggles to reach the endzone in their first three fake games, which came off the heels of an ESPN love fest at training camp in Cortland that could have either distracted the team or bloated their heads.
Fortunately, it looks like the latter is not true. The New York Jets, minus Antonio Cromartie of course, seem to be taking a less brash approach to the 2012 season. It's possible that the attention in Cortland surrounding the team and specifically Tim Tebow provided a distraction and created a fake quarterback controversy, but three games into the season we certainly see why Tebow is not in the running to start.
Despite his heroics in Denver last season, Tebow's shoddy preseason is a good thing for the Jets. It has solidified Mark Sanchez's role as starter, which was my major concern when the Jets brought Tebow into the fold. A quarterback controversy was the last thing this team needed and while Sanchez hasn't gotten the ball into the endzone, he looked sharp Sunday night against Carolina once his receivers were finally healthy enough to play and his interception came on a terrible drop by raw but talented rookie Stephen Hill.
The Jets also have not unveiled any of their packages that will utilize Tebow's unique abilities as a football player, which should add an element of surprise to the Jets offense in the first game or two and could mask their offensive deficiencies if their struggles from the preseason persist. Smoke and mirrors can only last so long, however, so the Jets will need to get their offense up to speed and with most of their key offensive players now healthy, the hope is that it happens sooner rather than later.
Staying on the offensive side of the football, the play of new starting right tackle Austin Howard was a definite positive to pull from the Panthers game. Howard did a great job keeping highly paid defensive end Charles Johnson in front of him on passing downs and while he often had help, he acquitted himself quite nicely into the starting role. The Jets also traded Wayne Hunter to St. Louis for former top pick Jason Smith, who brings more talent to the backup role than Hunter despite being one of the biggest draft busts of the past five years.
Defensively the Jets have to be excited with the play of LaRon Landry, who was consistently around the ball on Sunday night. Landry's reps may be limited to start the season as the Jets want to make sure he's able to make as much of an impact as possible but if Sunday was any indication, a healthy Landry could be the boon to the safety position the Jets sorely need.
Speaking of players who were always around the ball, Kenrick Ellis pulled the start against the Panthers in lieu of Sione Pouha's injury and was found in the Carolina backfield on numerous plays early in the game. The 345-pound nose tackle showed the ability to bull his way into the backfield that everybody expected, but also made a few nice moves to shed blockers and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. He should be a nice rotational lineman for the Jets this season on rushing downs and provides solid insurance if Pouha continues to deal with injuries.
The Jets defense as a whole has been good this preseason and the addition of speed to the front seven with Quinton Coples and Demario Davis can only help a defense that has slowed down over the past two seasons. If Coples can help provide the Jets with a stronger pass rush to take the pressure off their talented secondary and Davis can find enough reps behind Bart Scott on early downs, not just in nickel packages, opposing offenses will notice a difference in the Jets' team speed.
Most people would find it difficult to take a lot of positives from the Jets' performance so far this preseason, especially offensively, but the team looks to have done a decent job in the offseason filling some of their biggest holes from the last season and the early returns look good. They still have a ways to go offensively, however, but they are getting healthy at the right time and should have some Tebow wrinkles that keep opposing defenses off guard while Sanchez and company try to get in sync.
While the Jets have received nothing but criticism for their performance this preseason, hope springs eternal this time of year. I like what I saw from many key members of the team on Sunday night and as long as they continue to build on that momentum, the team will visit the endzone soon enough. How often becomes the next question, as we know their defense will keep them in games this season.
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