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Top Five Jets Issues Heading Into Camp

By Tom Shane

1. When does Sanchez Start?

This is going to be the most compelling story of this season’s team, and the one that will draw the most national interest. With the success of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco last year, the pressure to start Sanchez will be intense, and immediate. But will starting Sanchez right away make the most sense for him, and the team?

As talented as Sanchez may be, he would have to be an absolute prodigy to be able to make a successful early transition to the pro game after starting only 16 games at USC. This is where Kellen Clemens can earn some of the money he’s made after being a second round pick three years ago–by getting the team off on the right foot and showing some of that “moxie” he was supposed to have coming out of Oregon.

The Jets begin the season in Houston, come home for New England and Tennessee, and then go back on the road for New Orleans. This is a tough stretch for a veteran QB, much less an inexperienced rookie who hasn’t had to face much adversity in his playing career. If Sanchez starts to open the season and the Jets open up 0-4, will Sanchez’s legendary confidence recover, or could he unravel a la David Carr? Risky proposition, imo.

What the Jets should do: Let Clemens start, hope you go 2-2, then let Sanchez take over on Monday Night, at Miami. It’s a win-win: Woody Johnson gets his marquee Golden Boy on national TV, and Sanchez gets a month to learn the pro game.

2. Can Rex Walk It Like He Talks It?

As Jets fans learned with Eric Mangini, you just don’t know what you’re going to get when you hire the “hot assistant” as your Head Coach. What we know about Rex Ryan is that he has already used his fair share of hyperbolic, over-the-top statements (“Brad Smith is one of the scariest athletes in the league,” “Swaggerlicious”). But is there substance behind the, um, swaggerliciousness? There are a few red-flags that should scare Jets fans:

~~Ryan gets plenty of credit for coaching a Ravens’ defense that was already good for the better part of a decade when he took it over. How much impact did he have? Was he just a caretaker?

~~Ryan succeeded Mike Nolan, who succeeded Marvin Lewis, who both succeeded at nothing as Head Coaches.

~~How will Ryan’s maverick-outlaw image transition from being the “Cool Badass Uncle” anti-establishment defensive coordinator to being the Head Man?

Personally, I think Ryan’s success will come down to how well he delegates to his assistants, and how ready those assistants are to stepping up and performing. There was alot of talk last year that Mangini was throttling Brian Schottenheimer’s offense and not allowing him the freedom to call the plays he wanted. Will Rex give Schott the freedom to roam? And, if he does, is Schott’s offense the efficient, creative machine that blew out the Cardinals and the Titans? Or is it the dopey, gimmick offense that included not giving the ball to Leon Washington and instead running the option with Brad Smith?

On defense, will Ryan also give Mike Pettine the room to run the show, or will he be the de-facto DC while the rest of the team is running itself? Ryan is ultimately going to have to be the Head Coach and exert his influence on the entire team. He can’t just lock himself in the defensive meeting room (a la Mangini) and hope everything is running OK on the offensive side of the ball. He can ask Mike Nolan and Marvin Lewis how well that works.

3. The Gholston Factor:

All things considered, Gholston might be the key to any success the Jets have this season. In order for the Jets to be competitive, their defense is going to have to compensate for what figures to be a less-than-stellar offense, and if their defense is going to be good, then Vernon Gholston is going to have to sack the opposing quarterback many times. Other than Bart Scott and, hopefully, Gholston, the Jets do not have the personnel to get to the quarterback without running loads of blitzes. Shaun Ellis used to rush the passer, and Bryan Thomas only plays hard when he’s in a contract year. The question is, can Rex Ryan motivate Gholston, along with coaching him up enough, to make him an effective OLB? Ryan gets the credit for developing Terrell Suggs, and rightly so. But, can he get through to a player who looked, at best, lost last season and, at worst, disinterested? Time will tell, but if Gholston can manage to get 12-15 sacks this year, it could be the difference between the Jets going 10-6 or 6-10.

4. Who’s Catching It?

Outside of Jerricho Cotchery, the Jets don’t have an established receiver on their team and are instead going to hope and pray that a star emerges out of a pack that includes Brad Smith, David Clowney, Marcus Henry and Chansi Stuckey. What sucks is that if you meshed those four guys together, you’d have one great receiver (Stuckey’s ability to get open + Clowney’s speed + Henry’s physicality + Brad Smith’s play-making). But, as is, those guys independently scare no one. Brad Smith has shown no ability to get himself open, Stuckey can’t stay healthy, Henry is slow, and Clowney, for whatever reason, has never been given a full-time chance to play either here or in Green Bay. Clowney probably shows the most promise, but has a long way to go to be considered a legit, consistent threat.

The X-factor here is Dustin Keller, who could be a huge factor as the second receiving option after Cotchery. Of course, in order to use Keller in the passing game, the Jets are going to have to come up with another base tight end to free Keller from the responsibilities of blocking in the run game. Is that guy on the roster? If not, and Keller has to stay in and block as a traditional TE, the Jets passing offense might be the weakest in the league, regardless of who is behind center.

5. How Deep Is The Depth?

The Jets are perilously thin at almost every position on the team, and they have some high-mileage guys on the roster that are prime candidates for wearing down or making their way to the I.R. They have one TE, no experienced back-ups along the offensive line, nothing at DE and NT, and are extremely limited at LB, WR, and both safety spots. In sum, if the Jets have an injury at any of these positions, they’re going to find themselves playing guys who are, at best, fringe NFL players. If Kris Jenkins wears down again, who plays? Sione Pouha? Howard Green? If Alan Faneca sprains an ankle, is Robert Turner the answer at guard? Probably not. Hopefully, Mike Tannenbaum will be extremely active picking up veteran players who become training camp roster casuaties from other teams. Otherwise, what could be a promising season in Jetland can go down in flames with a few twisted knees.

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