As the Jets prepare to kick off their 2018 pre-season, ,there are plenty of questions surrounding the team’s personnel. How will they generate a pass rush? Will Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye take “the next step”? When will Sam Darnold get the nod to take the reins? All of these will be answered in time, but there are also questions about head coach Todd Bowles, and left guard James Carpenter’s play could provide us with an answer.
Through his first three years at the helm for the Jets, one flaw in Bowles’ style, and one that seems to be often overlooked, is his unwillingness to bench, or in some cases adjust his game plan, when dealing with an under-performing veteran starter.
We saw it in year one when the Jets shocked onlookers by going 10-6, missing the playoffs by a hair. It was at 10-5 when the Jets needed to travel to Western New York and take on the Buffalo Bills whose season was over and had nothing at stake. On that day, time and again, the defensive-minded head coach had no answer for the Bills’ only real aerial target in Sammy Watkins.
As former star cornerback Darrelle Revis consistently gave Watkins cushions of ten to fifteen yards, Bowles did nothing, opting to leave “Revis Island” all alone. That day, the Island was flooded with completions from Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor to Watkins who hauled in 11 balls for 136 yards. So wide open was Watkins, that his 15 targets outnumbered the rest of the Bills entire offensive roster as they saw just 13 passes come their way.
The following season, it was Ryan Fitzpatrick. Bowles handed the starting job to Fitzpatrick before he was signed, opting to forego a quarterback competition of any kind. When Fitzpatrick’s early failures led to the crumbling of the locker room and rapidly lost season, Bowles waited until the team sat at 1-5 before finally pulling the plug.
Last season, we saw Bowles’ unwillingness to bench a starting player once again when right guard Brian Winters struggled through what was easily his worst season as a pro. To make matters worse, we learned after the season that Bowles had been playing Winters despite his struggles being caused by a torn abdominal muscle.
It was a head-scratching move if ever there was one. Especially given the fact that Winters’ play was among the worst in the NFL at the position, and the Jets had a couple of options behind him in Brent Qvale and Dakota Dozier. Neither one a superstar, but both better than what Winters offered for much of the season.
Muhammad Wilkerson lack of effort was also an issue last season, but there’s really no need to re-hash that disaster.
Now, we move on to 2017, where the expectation is for the Jets to transition to a heavy zone-blocking scheme up front. The same type of scheme that left guard James Carpenter has struggled with in the past as he himself acknowledged after signing with the Jets as a free agent.
The Jets are in the midst of trying to build something special with a young quarterback, and if Carpenter plays as poorly as he did in Seattle and with the Jets last season, Bowles’ willingness to keep running a starter out there simply because he’s a starter will be tested.
Jets fans will be watching, and along with Bowles, hoping that Carpenter finds a way to make things work and make it a non-issue. If he doesn’t, and Bowles doesn’t make a change, he could be shooting himself in the foot once again.