Just days away from the commencement of the Jets' 2009 training camp, newyorkjets.com is taking a look at the "25 Hot Topics" of summer before the hitting begins. Today the countdown concludes as we work our way from No. 10 down to No. 1 ...
10. What can we expect from Rex Ryan?
What you see is what you get. Ryan is a straight shooter who is extremely confident in his ability to lead men. He waited a long time for his head coaching opportunity and doesn't seem like your typical rookie HC. A son of former Jets defensive assistant Buddy Ryan, the 46-year-old Rex grew up in an NFL household, has coordinator experience and won't be surprised by any situation.
"Rex is the same guy, Rex is not going to change," said S Jim Leonhard, who flourished under Ryan in Baltimore. "The biggest thing that I've seen that is different is he doesn't have quite the same time to spend with the defense. He has to take care of the offense and he has a lot more priorities and a lot more responsibilities as a head coach, so he has to rely on his staff a little bit more than he had in the past. I think it's great — they have the right guys in the right places to do everything on the defensive side of the ball.
"But he's a great guy. He brings a defensive mentality to the entire team," added Leonhard. "He coaches the game the way it is meant to be coached and it's good to see him get that across to an entire team and not just a defense. It's been fun to see him in that role and just the way he's handled it has been exactly the way like I've expected him to."
9. Are any young players poised for breakout seasons?
When the depth chart is released to the public prior to training camp, you'll see the No. 2 receiver is Chansi Stuckey. (More on Stuck below.) The 6'0", 196-pound Stuckey is quick, possesses good hands and is a fine route runner. Expect him to easily top his 31-reception total of a year ago.
On the defensive side of the ball, it will be interesting to see if DE Mike DeVito, the stout third-year player from Maine, and DT Sione Pouha, now in his fifth season, can challenge for more time. Does DeVito push DE Marques Douglas and will Pouha see some more work at the nose when Kris Jenkins shifts to end and the 3-technique?
Obviously Vernon Gholston will begin the season in the crosshairs, but what about the youngsters providing depth at linebacker. Will Marques Murrell, Jason Trusnik and Brandon Renkart continue their development?
8. Do the Jets have enough ammo to play from behind?
Ryan has delivered his blueprint for winning. He wants to win with a sound defense and a solid running game. But what will happen if the Jets are forced to play catchup?
No matter who plays quarterback, the Jets are going to have a relatively young passer taking snaps. Jerricho Cotchery led the Jets with 71 receptions in 2009 but no other returning WR had more than 32.
On the surface, this is not a team built to win a high-scoring game. But that doesn't mean the Jets won't score points, since they're planning on having an opportunistic defense. The Ravens averaged 24.1 points per game in '08 and they did that with the NFL's fourth-ranked rush offense and 28th-ranked pass offense.
7. In their last year at the Meadowlands, can the Green & White and their fans create a homefield advantage we haven't seen over the past decade?
The numbers suggest the Jets are not an imposing team in their building. Since 2000 at the Meadowlands, they've won 39 and dropped 33. That's a winning percentage of 54 and their 6-2 mark in 2004 stands out above the rest.
"I want to challenge our fans. Our fans are part of our defense in particular," Ryan said at his introductory press conference. "They're obviously part of our whole football team, but in particular you can see the value of your fans in how you play defense at home."
Last season, the Ravens posted a 6-2 home record and they did it with a stifling D. And when that defense was out on the field, the Ravens' faithful joined the party to create a festive atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I know the Jets' fans. This is going to be great," said Ryan. "This is a great marriage right here, I can honestly say. The style of defense that we're going to play, with our fans — whoo, it's going to be rough on people. Baltimore was pretty rough on people. Nobody scored more than 13 points against us at home last year and I think that's the first time it's been done in 40 years in the NFL."
This could be a memorable year at the Meadowlands and Ryan has asked for your participation.
6. Speaking of defense, how quickly can the Jets jell in a new system?
It's going to have to come together quickly because the Jets are going to be challenged immediately by some of the league's top offenses. The Green & White open the season in Houston, host New England and Tennessee in Weeks 2 and 3 respectively, then finish the opening quarter in the French Quarter against the Saints.
Ryan's crew built a foundation in the spring and the defense has some confidence heading into this all important training camp.
"We will be the best defense in the league this year," S Kerry Rhodes posted on his Twitter account. "I feel for the offenses we're gonna face."
5b. How will the loss of Calvin Pace for the first four games affect the defense?
Pace, who will miss action after violating the NFL's Policy on Performance Enhancing Substances, racked up a career-high seven sacks last season and his 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage led the Jets. The 6'4", 270-pounder also tied for the league lead with four fumble recoveries and for the club high with five forced fumbles. Pace is one of the most fluid athletes on this club and he can cover in space, so the Jets need someone to step up.
5a. Ryan has said that Gholston will start in Pace's absence. Is the No. 6 overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft ready to step up and contribute?
With Pace out, veteran Bryan Thomas may play a lot of OLB over the tight end. He could be counted on more in coverage early and it will be interesting to watch him in dropping situations. The Jets might opt to line up Gholston, who set an Ohio State single-season record with 14 sacks in 2007, on the open side (away from the tight end), give him less coverage responsibilities than BT and send him loose at the quarterback.
For his part, Gholston put in a lot of overtime at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center during the off-season. Don't forget that Gholston missed action last spring because the school year didn't end until June, so he's feeling more confident as the scene shifts to Cortland.
"Guys have got to step up, and we talked about Vernon Gholston," Ryan said last week. "Hey, here it is. We said he's going to be a big part of what we do. Now he's in the starting rotation."
4. What are the Jets' chances in the AFC East?
Most everyone has made the Patriots favorites in this division. The thinking is the Pats won 11 games with their backup quarterback a year ago, but they'll get Tom Brady back and also added valuable veteran commodities in the off-season with signings of RB Fred Taylor, WR Joey Galloway, CB Shawn Springs and even former Jets TE Chris Baker. Corner Darius Butler, a first-round pick from UConn, is a tremendous athlete and should eventually help New England's defensive backfield.
With all the attention the Pats are getting, it's easy to forget the Dolphins are defending AFC East champs. And the Bills, who already started camp, brought in Terrell Owens to help their offensive attack.
The AFC East is one of the best divisions in the NFL. Last season the Green & White finished with a solid 4-2 record in the East by sweeping the Bills and splitting with the Pats and 'Fins.
You would think most in Jets Nation would take a 4-2 mark in the AFCE this year. If you study the schedule, the Jets play only one division game (Dec. 3 against Buffalo in Toronto, Canada) after Thanksgiving.
3. Does Woody return to the postseason?
Since Woody Johnson purchased the franchise on Jan. 18, 2000, the Jets have earned postseason appearances four times out of nine seasons. The heartbreaking finish in 2008, four losses in the last five games to finish 9-7, left the Jets on the outside looking in for the second consecutive season. And that had never happened before under Mr. Johnson, so big changes were made.
This is a man committed to winning and excellence. By many accounts the Jets now have the finest practice facility in the league and he's signed off on many bold and expensive transactions in order to improve personnel.
2. Who will be the Jets' No. 2 receiver?
Unless the Jets add someone to their roster, this battle will be among Chansi Stuckey, Brad Smith and David Clowney. Stuckey, who admits to being more comfortable in the slot, worked with former Jets WR Terance Mathis this summer and is getting more accustomed to life on the outside. The versatile Smith has sure hands and Clowney's a burner.
If the Jets stand pat, it wouldn't be a shock to see a committee approach. You know Jerricho Cotchery, who's averaged 78 receptions and 983 yards each of the past three seasons, is not coming off the field. If Stuck starts in two-receiver sets, he most likely will be moved inside when the Jets go to three and four wides.
1. Who will quarterback the Jets?
For the third time in four training camps, the Jets open up the summer with a QB opening.
Kellen Clemens, in his fourth season in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's system, hopes the third time is the charm. A second-round pick out of Oregon back in 2006, the 26-year-old Clemens has started eight times in his career and believes No. 9 is approaching.
"I'm going out this year and my expectations haven't changed since the draft," he said. "I fully expect to be under center opening day when we go down to Houston."
Of course, the Jets moved up in April's draft to get Southern Cal QB Mark Sanchez. He is the future of the franchise, but is the future now? Sanchez, who departed Los Angeles after passing for 3,207 yards and 34 TDs while leading the Men of Troy to a 12-1 record, is not thinking about holding a clipboard.
"For me, I feel like I'm going to be on the field and that's what you always want to do," Sanchez told newyorkjets.com. "You don't grow up dreaming of being a backup, so I'm going to go for it. I know Kellen's going to do the same thing, and it's going to be a great competition and I'm excited to compete with him."