By Glenn Naughton
In their pre-season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Jets came out largely unscathed with the exception of running back Donmique Williams suffering a concussion that will keep him out for an unspecified period.
Otherwise, the news couldn’t have been much better for Gang Green as many of their young training camp standouts were able to carry over their strong performances to game conditions in a 17-13 victory over the Jags.
First and foremost, rookie wide receiver/return man Jalin Marshall made the biggest play of the night when he returned a kickoff 84 yards that set up a Geno Smith touchdown pass just before the half. The return included some nifty moves from Marshall, a big hit on a block by Rontez Miles, and the touchdown pass from Smith was a thing of beauty. A perfectly thrown back shoulder throw to seventh-round draft choice Charone Peake who managed to keep his feet in bounds as he fell to the ground.
By game’s end, Peake, who had a slow start to camp but has come on of late, finished with a team-high 4 receptions and his 45 yards were bested only by Quincy Enunwa and Jeremy Ross who finished with 69 and 51 yards respectively.
Another youngster who has seen an increase in reps as his performance has recently improved is second-year quarterback Bryce Petty. Petty came out hot and looked light years ahead of the quarterback he was last season as a rookie out of Baylor.
Petty connected on his first three pass attempts before badly overthrowing a wide open Jace Amaro who was streaking down the right sideline. Petty was far from perfect, finishing 7-14 for 93 yards, but it was an encouraging showing as Petty is still viewed as a project in year two who had to make several throws on the run as the blocking up front was less than stellar at times.
On the defensive side of the ball, rookie linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Darron Lee were exactly as advertised. Jenkins picked up a pair of solo tackles on the Jaguars first drive, and Lee would later on pick up a sack, showing off the speed and burst that convinced the Jets to make him their number one overall choice. Jenkins has been plugged in at linebacker since the day he arrived at OTA’s and if he keeps this up, there will be no looking back.
Lee, meanwhile, despite being referred to as a back-up or nickel-backer by the Jets brass, will undoubtedly see considerable time on the field this season. In an era that sees most teams using their sub packages on more than half of their defensive snaps, Lee will be on the field just plenty even if Erin Henderson is the starter on paper. Don’t be surprised either if we see Lee steal the starting job from Henderson at some point this season, making him an every-down ‘backer.
Rookie cornerback Juston Burris was hot and cold in coverage but did get his hands on a couple of passes, one of which may have gone for six the other way had he managed to hold on to the ball late in the game.
You won’t see it in the box score because he was ruled out-of-bounds, but another potentially dynamic young receiver, Robbie Anderson out of Temple, made an impressive grab in the end zone that was almost good for six. So no points because of the throw, but very good hands and concentration were on display from Anderson.
Rookie kicker Ross Martin may be the only player to have taken a huge step back last night when he missed a pair of field goals. One that went wide-left from 39-yards, and a 54-yard attempt that landed in the middle of the end zone. Booming 60-yards FG’s through the uprights in practice is a way to get yourself noticed. Missing them in the games is a way to get yourself cut.
Shaky run blocking up front for much of the night prevented rookie running back Romar Morris from seeing much daylight as he was held to just 27 yards on 11 carries, but the speedy North Carolina product showed a little bit of what he can do with the ball in his hands when he raced down the sideline on a 21-yard gain off of a screen pass.
Fittingly enough, the games final play came from another standout, undrafted free agent safety Doug Middleton who made a heads-up play, intercepting a batted Bradon Allen pass in the end zone before taking it out of bounds at the Jaguars 39-yard line.
All in all, a good night for the Jets. They were limited to just the one injury, they got the win, but most importantly, the young kids gave the organization and their fans that much more reason to believe GM Mike Maccagnan has Gang Green heading in the right direction.