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.
After signing Eric Decker and Jacoby Ford in free agency and then drafting three players, the Jets have increased their depth at the wide receiver position.
"It's a strong group from top to bottom and it's an eclectic group," said WR coach Sanjay Lal. "Everyone has a different trait, so we have our choice of a lot of good traits."
Spring football and summer football are two entirely different ball games for receivers. Once practices commence in Cortland, will a couple of players not named Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley separate themselves from the pack?
"Right now, you have an image on air and kind of in the nice setting of OTAs," Lal said. "But when it gets grimey, who rises to the top?"
1. Decker's Chemistry with the QBs: After playing the past couple of seasons with perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Eric Decker officially begins life without Peyton Manning.
"He has a unique feel for getting open," Lal said of the 27-year-old. "You can't quantify that it's a step here or speed. It's just savviness and he's really shown that."
2. Kerley an Outside Possibility: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg mixes up formations and personnel with the best of them. With more talent at his disposal, Mornhinweg has options and one of those includes shifting Jeremy Kerley to the outside at times.
"Due to injury the past two years, he's played outside," Lal said of Kerley. "He just doesn't know it — he knows it with great detail."
3. Nelson Back for Year 2: In just 12 games of action last season, David Nelson finished T2 on the team in receptions (36) and third in receiving yards (423). The 6'5", 215-pounder is a big target with good hands and some pundits think he could begin the year opposite Decker with Kerley manning the slot.
"He came in on a Wednesday and he started on Monday Night Football basically and made some big catches. We don't win the home New England game without the big catch he made," Lal said. "He's been great."
4. Hill Has to Continue Climb: To say this is a huge training camp for Stephen Hill would be an understatement. After taking some strides in the spring, the third-year pro now has to beat the bump & run and finish in the summer.
"He's been healthy and he's been a contested ball catcher in these OTAs and minicamp," Lal said of the 6'4", 215-pounder with sub-4.4 speed. "That's a big step for him — learning to use his body, strong hands, pushing DBs out of the way legally and making the catch."
A look at the 2014 Offseason: Jets Wide Receivers
5. Long & Short of It: The story is an entirely different one for the two Jets wideouts selected in the fourth round. Shaq Evans, a tough 6'1", 213-pounder who missed all of OTAs in order to finish school at UCLA, will remain in study mode at SUNY Cortland.
"It is tough because he probably missed the most football he ever would have had in one stretch of time," Lal said. "We had four to six hours with the rookies every day and he missed that time. It's a challenge for me and for him to get him up to speed."
Conversely Jalen Saunders, a 5'9", 165-pounder expected to assume the No. 1 role as a punt returner, is off to a fast start and could help the offense in a situational role.
"Jalen is a true football player," Lal said. "He's instinctive, he's quick, he's fast and he's tough."