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Five Things to Take Out of Tonight’s Scrimmage

By Tom Shane

The green and white scrimmage is going to take place tonight at 6pm (SUNY Cortland).  Here are five things to take out of the scrimmage:

1. Is There an NFL WR on This Team Not Named Jerricho Cotchery?

The Jets crew of receivers have really struggled through camp to get any separation from the corners, leading to the QB’s to have to hold on to the ball too long and killing any minor momentum either QB may have been building towards in the alleged QB “competition.”

The apparent locks to make the roster are Jerricho, Chansi Stuckey, David Clowney, Brad Smith and Wallace Wright, with surprising rookie Britt Davis getting a chance, potentially, to unseat Wright. Right now, the #2 wideout slot is being manned by Chansi Stuckey, who would be much better served using his quick feet to get open against the opposition’s #3 corner, as he won’t be keeping any Defensive Coordinators up at night playing across from Jerricho Cotchery. Smith and Wright are primarily special teamers, though Wright has shown, at times, some very polished route running, good hands, and an impressive physical game. The question then becomes, can David Clowney finally make something of his great speed to finally step up and assume the #2 role? The Jets offense is desperate to get a home-run threat out on the field, and Clowney is being given every chance in this camp to win the job.

In fairness to the Jets wideouts, the Jets depth at corner is fairly impressive, with Revis and Sheppard combining to make a very good, experienced pair of starters, with Dwight Lowery, Drew Coleman, Batman Carroll and Donald Strickland serving as a tough, athletic crew to beat. At this point in camp, these corners know every move these receivers are going to make, making it hard to completely dismiss the Jets receivers as being simply awful. Tonight’s scrimmage gives them a chance to stop with the mano-y-mano drills and make use different combination patterns in Brian Schottenheimer’s schemes to try and get open to make some plays. They may struggle to get open one-on-one against Revis and co., but it will be interesting to see what they do when actual plays are being run at game speed.

What the Jets will take from this: If the receivers do nothing tonight and it becomes obvious that theur lack of playmakers at receiver will end up getting their young QB’s killed, it may just push Mike Tannenbaum to go out and get one of the big, playmaking wide receivers on the market right now, with Braylon Edwards, Roddy White, and Brandon Marshall all unhappy withtheir current teams.

Player to watch: David Clowney, to see if he can step up and take a job that, it seems, Schottenheimer wants him (and needs him) to take.

2. If the WR’s Cooperate, Can Mark Sanchez Move the Team?

When Sanchez struggles, it’s because he’s squeezing the air out of the ball while trying to find an open receiver. Working mostly with the back-ups at the receiver position, Sanchez doesn’t seem to have confidence in any of them outside of rookie Britt Davis, who isn’t exactly Jerry Rice when it comes to shaking a cornerback, either.

Given the chance tonight, can Sanchez use Jerricho Cotchery and Chansi Stuckey, along with Dustin Keller to start showing the skills that made him the #5 overall pick in the draft? Or, on the other hand, will he be exposed for being what he probably is–a very inexperienced rookie QB who needs to sit on the bench and learn the game, and learn how to usethe talent around him, before he can make an impact with the team.

Any rookie’s head is going to spinning at this point, especially a quarterbacks, but you have to wonder how his performance tonight is going to affect Sanchez’s confidence. If he does well, does that propel him to step up and start acting like “The Man”? And if he struggles, does he go into a shell and start wondering why he left USC so early? From my observation from the sidelines, it seems like Sanchez is definitely lacking some of the swagger that he had at USC, and even up to draft night. I suppose trying to complete passes to Huey Whittaker against Darrelle Revis will make take the starch out of anyone’s shorts, but you have to hope that Sanchez is able to understand that the talent around him will get better, and that not EVERY NFL throw has to be a precision dime dropped between two elite defenders into the hands of a rookie UDFA who won’t make the team.

What the Jets Will Take From This: Not much. The Jets coaching staff has to be prepared for Sanchez struggling in live game action, and they have to hope he makes a few plays that shows what he’s capable of, even if those good plays are sandwiched in with a bunch of bad plays where he can’t find people open. And, from a public relations standpoint, I’m sure the Jets would like to be able to put a Sanchez TD toss all over SNY tonight to help those PSL sales.

Player(s) to watch: Sanchez’s favorite targets in camp have been Wallace Wright and Britt Davis, so look for these guys to get some chances with the ball in their hands. Davis has opened some eyes in camp, because he’s the only Jets wide receiver with size that has shown the ability to get open underneath. Sanchez has really taken a shine to him, to the extent that he was forcing balls to Davis in yesterday’s 11 on 11’s. Wright can really cement his role on the team with a good performance tonight, as well. He is the Jets’ best special teams player, and if he can show the good route running and nice hands that he’s displayed in camp tonight, it should keep him in a Jets uniform this season.

3. Can Kellen Clemens Push His Lead?

This factor works in combination with Sanchez’s performance, as well. But what I’m referring to is, does a good performance by Kellen tonight win him enough points with his teammates that it shifts the QB race even further in his direction? The vibe around camp early on was that the Jets players were really energized by the presence of the electric young rookie, and down on the subdued, blue-collar Clemens. When Sanchez was in the huddle early on, even in drills, you got the sense while watching the team that guys were really responding to him, perhaps expecting a Matt Ryan/Atlanta situation. That has changed as Clemens has grown more confident, and as Sanchez has been further relegated to playing with the back-ups. Clemens has been more animated and has taken on a much more visible role as a leader, and has been really demonstrative on the field after positive plays. Early on, it seemed that Clemens was trying to give the starting job to Sanchez by throwing pick after pick, but Sanchez never seized the chances he was given, and now Clemens smells blood in the water. He could use tonight’s scrimmage to drive yet another nail in the Sanchez-as-starter coffin, even though there’s a long way to go.

What The Jets Can Take From This: A higher draft pick. If Clemens is able to play well and hold on to the starting job all year, then the Jets will have a decision to make with Sanchez and Clemens. Do they go into 2010 with Clemens as the established starter, fueling Matt Leinart comparions with Sanchez as yet another USC QB that couldn’t unseat a veteran, or do they trade Clemens and clear the path for Sanchez to open the new stadium as the starter? If the light comes on for Clemens, and it seems like it’s starting to, then the Jets might have a real, live NFL QB with serious trade value at the end of the season. If not, and Clemens struggles, he’s gone anyway, but for much less (no) compensation.

Players(s) to Watch: Darrelle Revis and Kerry Rhodes. Clemens can do alot to earn the confidence of his team and push Sanchez further away from his job by playing well tonight. But,if Clemens comes out and throws a pick or two, then Sanchez will vault meteorically back into the race, perhaps even taking the lead, not only among the coaches, but with teammates as well. The job is Clemens’ to lose right now, and the sticky fingers of Revis and Rhodes can help him lose it in a hurry.

4. Can The Jets Count on Vernon Gholston to Start the Season?

You have to wonder how much patience the coaching staff is going to have with Vernon Gholston this season, particularly if he performs as inconsistently (and incoherently) as he has in practice. Vernon can stun you with a display of power and speed on one play, and make you physically ill on the next with what appears to be a lackadaisical effort and a lack of talent overall. In short, he is an enigma that needs to figure it out real quick–like, four games quick–because that is going to be the extent of his try-out with the Jets while Calvin Pace sits out the first four games on suspension. In camp, Vernon will make some plays that help you understand why Mike Tannenbaum drafted him with the #6 pick overall, but more often than not he looks like an undrafted free agent that would be happier driving a UPS truck somewhere. Adding to Vernon’s urgency should be the fact that Bryan Thomas is playing really well in camp, showing a renewed sense of urgency and making alot of tough, physical plays at the line of scrimmage. Mike Pettine and Rex Ryan have Vernon lining up all over the field: at DE against passing sets, at ROLB and LOLB, and they have been using him on stunts to take advantage of his power and quickness. The ball is clearly in Vernon’s court. He has the phsical gifts, his coaches are designing schemes for him to look like Terrell Suggs, and the path to a starting role for him has been cleared with the Pace suspension. It is time for him to show the Jets something, and tonight is the right time to do it versus two young QB’s that both have a tendency to hold the ball too long. If Vernon stays on cruise control, he is going to end up being one very expensive special teamer and yet another in a long line of Jets draft busts. Tonight, he can give us, and himself, a reason for hope.

What the Jets Can Take From This: The Jets, and Tannenbaum, have to know by now that they are in trouble with Gholston, because on top of showing a lack of intensity, Vernon has shown a lack of pass-rush moves or any semblance of a football IQ. He goes up tonight aganist Damien Woody (who is serviceable) and a TE group that doesn’t have one guy who can block in it. He needs to step up, and the earlier the better.

Player(s) to watch: Marques Murrell. If Vernon continues to show next to nothing, Marques Murrell has shown alot of athleticism on the outside, along with some nifty pass rush ability. Can he start getting some of Vernon’s snaps? It will all go back to how patient the staff want to be with Gholston, and, perhaps more importantly, how much more patience Vernon’s teammates are willing to have with him. This is Bart Scott’s team right now: he’s not tolerating any malingering.

5. Can The Jets Defense Cover Leon?

The answer is, of course, no. No one can cover Leon. But it will be interesting to see how the Jets plan to cover guys like Leon: small, quick receivers who can come over the middle of the field and exploit the lack on speed on the Jets’ interior defense. Bart Scott is a HUGE upgrade in this area, and has looked really good covering backs out of the backfield in practice. Unfortunately, none of the other ILB’s outside of maybe Brandon Renkart has shown any ability to cover even Thomas Jones, who is not exactly Marshall Faulk when it comes to catching passes.

What the Jets Can Take From This: If the Jets’ defense can cover Leon Washington, even in the short sample tonight, it will be a great sign moving forward that the additions of Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard have started to fix one of the Jets major defensive issues from last season, which was covering inside receivers across the middle of the field.

Player(s) to Watch: Brandon Renkart. Earlier in camp, it looked like they were lining up Brandon Renkart in a hybrid strong safety/OLB role where he would actually go out on the perimeter and man-cover backs, TE’s and even slot receivers. Renkart is athletic, and looked pretty good running in space with the quicker players on the team. Could he be the answer for the Jets team in nickel/dime situations?

Be sure to stop by our discussion thread.

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