By Glenn Naughton
The Jets kick off their exhibition season tonight at MetLife Stadium against the Jacksonville Jaguars with kickoff set for 7:30.
The outcome won’t have any true meaning in regards to the 2016 season, but for those players trying to fight their way up the depth-chart or on to the roster, each pre-season game will mean plenty.
JetNation.com takes a look at six players you should be keeping an eye on once the action is under way:
QB Bryce Petty- Following a slow start to this year’s camp, Petty has come on strong as of late. At the conclusion of last season, Head Coach Todd Bowles said the former Baylor product would be given a chance to beat out incumbent back-up Geno Smith for the number two job and he echoed that on day two of camp this season.
While GM Mike Maccagnan has said publicly that the team is willing to carry four quarterbacks, doing so clearly isn’t optimal. A strong pre-season from Petty would be a key development for several reasons.
First, it would give the team the opportunity to cut ties with Smith as he has just one season remaining on his rookie contract and is clearly not viewed as the quarterback of the future by the franchise. It would also mean that the Jets, for the first time in forever, will have a young rifle-armed quarterback trending in the right direction from one season to the next. Expect a healthy dose of Petty and Smith throughout the pre-season starting tonight.
Of course you could make the argument that Smith is the player to watch in the scenario, but Petty is more of an unknown at this point than Smith who has a couple dozen NFL starts under his belt.
TE Jace Amaro- As Amaro said in a recent interview on ESPN radio, the current coaching staff saw him on a very limited basis last
season as he was placed on IR in the early going due to a torn labrum. Since last season, he’s dropped over 20 pounds and has had a strong camp up to this point.
He has looked fluid in his routes, hasn’t had the issues with drops that we saw as a rookie and has been putting in extra time at the juggs machine after practice.
Whether or not the Jets still view the slimmed down Amaro as a tight end, an H-back, or perhaps even another option out of the slot remains to be seen, but no matter how you slice it, this is somewhat of a “do or die” season for Amaro. If his reps are limited, he’ll have to make a play or two early on to make a case for himself.
WR Jalin Marshall- At this point, it might be fair to say that Marshall, an undrafted wide receiver out of Ohio State, has garnered more ink from the Jets press corps than any other rookie in camp.
As he continues to make play after play as a receiver and return man, It’s become virtually impossible to discuss some of the promising young rookies on the roster without hearing Marshall’s name.
Having played on what is arguably college football’s biggest stage, Marshall is less likely than most rookies freeze under the bright lights. However, this will be our first look at him against actual competition, facing off against somebody else’s players and game plans.
RB Romar Morris- Full disclosure…I’m a big Morris fan, personally. He’s a long-shot to make this roster, but he has the speed (4.33) and acceleration on offense that the Jets have seemingly been missing since the days of Leon Washington. A smaller back out of North Carolina at 5’ 10’’ 190 lbs, Morris has a second gear that the other backs on the roster lack.
With Matt Forte and Khiry Robinson at less than 100% and it being week 1 of the pre-season, Morris could see significant time tonight. He’s had more drops than I expected to see in the early going, but if and when he makes a catch in space, he can be a factor. He has also had his share of runs in camp that have seen him hit the crease quickly enough to make something out of nothing.
Morris’ speed should also get him some looks as a gunner and return man on special teams.
CB Dee Milliner- Even more so than Amaro, this is a make or break season for Milliner as he enters the final season on a rookie deal that the Jets chose not to exercise a fifth-year option on.
He’s battled injuries for the majority of his career but reportedly spent the off-season doing yoga in an attempt to increase his flexibility and decrease his injuries. Thus far, he’s been one of the top defensive backs in Jets camp. Should he find a way to stay healthy and play to his full potential, he would give the Jets one of the top cornerback duo’s in the NFL in teaming with Darrelle Revis while allowing Buster Skrine to stay in the inside playing the slot.
More specifically with Milliner, look to see him attempt to force some fumbles. He’s managed to sneak up and rip the ball loose on at least three plays during camp.
OLB Jordan Jenkins- A third-round pick out of Georgia, Jenkins was the only rookie listed with the starters on the team’s “unofficial depth-chart” but that comes as no surprise since he’s been plugged in to that spot since OTA’s.
In Jenkins, the Jets are hoping they have a younger version of Calvin Pace who can play strong against the run while providing a bit more burst off the edge when called upon to blitz.
With this being his first NFL action as he tries to acclimate to the pro game, don’t be surprised if Jenkins sees more reps than the veteran starters who are unlikely to go more than a couple of series.
OG’s Dakota Dozier and Jarvis Harrison- Brian Winters is slated to start at the right guard spot, but he’s far from irreplaceable at this point.
In Dozier and Harrison, the Jets have a holdover from the John Idzik/Rex Ryan regime entering his third season after being drafted as a project lineman out of Furman where he played offensive tackle. After working at guard as a rookie and at center last year, Dozier is back on the inside where he’ll try to stick on the 53-man roster yet again at least in a backup role, while hoping to push Winters for the starting job.
Meanwhile, Harrison could be on thin ice. After being chosen in the 4th round by Mike Maccagnan and company last season, Harrison found himself jettisoned to the practice squad late in the season while Dozier remained on the 53-man roster. Not a good sign for the Texas A&M product.
Said to be supremely talented, Harrison has been dogged by accusations of inconsistent effort which is what reportedly stopped him from being chosen sooner.
His late-season demotion could be a telling sign as the next step would be off of the roster if he doesn’t show something this pre-season.
OT’s Brenq Qvale and Ben Ijalana- See above on Winters in regards to Breno Giacomini’s current status. Due to count for over $5 million against the cap this season for the cash-strapped Jets, the dinged up Giacomini has been sidelined thus far with Brent Qvale and Ben Ijalana splitting reps at right tackle.
Qvale, a former undrafted free agent out of Nebraska, is another Idzik/Ryan holdover who has earned high praise from both regimes. A versatile lineman who played both guard and tackle in college, Qvale’s strength is in the run game. Just how much his pass blocking has come along will be revealed in the coming weeks, starting tonight.
Then of course, there’s Ijalana who you could say has had either the best or worst job in the NFL over the past few seasons, depending on your perspective.
As D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s back-up, Ijalana was never called on for a spot-start, or even to fill in for an occasional snap from time to time. This season will represent Ijalana’s first real opportunity to see significant playing time should he manage to unseat Giacomini.
CB Juston Burris- Another rookie on defense, Burris has been hot and cold during training camp. He’s shown off excellent length and timing in batting away countless passes in coverage, but has also been beaten deep several times.
A physical cornerback out of NC State, the book on Burris is that he’s a physical player who lacks elite speed and will get called for his share of interference calls.
With Milliner’s deal due to expire, plus his durability concerns and Darrelle Revis’ age and price tag, the Jets would like nothing more than to get themselves a late-round steal who could develop in to a starting cornerback over the next couple of seasons. Burris has a chance to be just that.
The 2016 season is upon us Jets fans…enjoy!