In the weeks leading up to the Jets 2014 Training Camp, we will take a position-by-position look at some of the key storylines to follow this summer.
The Jets finished 22nd against the pass last season (246.7 yards per game) and T22 in interceptions (13). Rookie Dee Milliner suffered more downs than ups early in his career, Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie departed to Arizona in free agency and future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed isn't returning for a second season in green & white.
But the Jets think they will be markedly better in the back end in 2014 and there are reasons to be hopeful.
1. Different Dee: The Jets believe last December was just a jumping off point for Dee Milliner. After collecting three interceptions and eight passes defended in season-ending wins over the Browns and the Dolphins, the Jets new No. 1 corner was a changed man this spring.
"I see his dedication," said WLB Demario Davis. "Every time we have a players' only film session, he's in there making all the checks and making all the calls. He's helping the rookies out. He's taking his job very seriously and that's him learning how to be a pro."
"It starts off at Dee at corner who's making humongous strides from his rookie year," added ILB David Harris. "He's taking control over the corner spot pretty much and bringing along the other guys."
2. Pryor's Punch: The wait will soon be over. Rookie safety Calvin Pryor, a 5'11", 207-pound Louisville product who has been labeled as an 'enforcer' by head coach Rex Ryan, will finally be able to don the pads and hit somebody.
But the Jets will have to make sure Pryor saves his fiercest punishment for the opposition as the first three preseason games feature visits from the Colts and the Giants sandwiched around a road date in Cincinnati against the Bengals.
"The guy's a walking playmaking machine," said DB coach Tim McDonald. "He does some things naturally — things you can't teach. He has a great feel for the game, his movements and the way that he sees the entire field. Those are special qualities that you can't teach and he has that 'it factor' when it comes to a feel for the game."
3. Depth at Safety: Calvin Pryor and Antonio Allen played alongside each other during OTAs and minicamp. They are the club's most athletic safeties, but Dawan Landry — affectionately referred to as 'mentor' — will continue to be a major contributor.
You could see a lot of three-safety looks and the Jets like this group.
"Antonio Allen has done a great job to this point. He's really taken a big step forward," McDonald said. "Jaiquawn Jarrett is looking good. We have quite a special group there and we're going to try to get as many packages as we can to get them all playing time."
4. New No. 20: Kyle Wilson, who has four pro seasons under his belt after being taken with the 29th overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, impressed the coaching staff with his assertiveness in the spring.
"This is about as confident as I've seen him since I've been here," McDonald said. "He needs to take his game to the next level. This is a big year for Kyle and he knows that he needs to make his share of plays. I think he is set and ready to prove a point. He has that chip on his shoulder."
A look at the 9th Day of the Jets OTAs
5. Competition at Corner: Veteran Dimitri Patterson has been productive when healthy. He will line up opposite Milliner to start, but rookie Dexter McDougle has already turned heads.
"He's very courageous and he's very smart," McDonald said of the third-rounder from Maryland. "He understands when he can go and when he can let off the pedal a little bit, and I think his talent level is going to show in the preseason just because he is very aware and very smart and very astute.
"He understands a lot of things that young guys don't understand coming into the league about route concepts and understanding what the offense is trying to do to you. I'm pretty excited to watch him play in the preseason."