It will be the shock of the new for the Jets and their fans at MetLife Stadium on Sunday against Tampa Bay. Geno Smith will become only the second rookie QB to start on opening day in franchise history. All seven draft choices could play, three or four should start. Head coach Rex Ryan has three new coordinators — OC Marty Mornhinweg, DC Dennis Thurman and STC Ben Kotwica — orchestrating all the parts, young as well as experienced. First-time general manager John Idzik will observe from pressbox level.
But will it be a good kind of shock or an unpleasant jolt? Time will tell, but here are 10 things to look for before the 1 p.m. ET kickoff and during the first game of the new season.
- Geno vs. the Blitz —** Smith expects the Buccaneers to "try and rattle my cage." So does Mornhinweg: "Certainly it's in their system to blitz. It's a great opportunity, a challenge for our line, and the tight ends and backs and even the receivers. Ultimately the quarterback is responsible for the blitz." So of all the plates Geno will have spinning, he'll have to add blitz awareness to another pool cue. But will Smith get rattled by the pressure? "No," he said simply. We'll all be waiting to see if that's the case.
2. The Wilk Shake — Geno's not yet the face of the franchise. Neither is DE Muhammad Wilkerson, but as Rex said: "Marquee guy? Maybe we don't have one ... but I think we do in Mo." Wilkerson had an eye-popping second half of last season and he wants to pick up where he left off. Watch No. 96's work vs. the right side of the Tampa OL — C Jeremy Zuttah, G Davin Joseph and 6'9" T Demar Dotson — to see if and when Mo starts to make his presence felt.
3. Tone vs. Island? — That would almost be worth the price of admission: Santonio Holmes, lost for the season with his foot injury last year, vs. Revis, who left one game earlier with his knee tear. Neither playmaker played this preseason, and both left some doubt this week that they'd be ready to go at game speed Sunday. But look to see if No. 10 in green and white (listed today as questionable for the game) and No. 24, now in red and pewter (probable), are involved in pregame warmups. That'll be the first sign they could be jousting during the game.
4. Defense's 1A and 1B — First draft pick Dee Milliner has been battling lower-leg tightness but he's listed as probable to get the start at CB. Thurman said: "Are we expecting them to throw balls his way? We sure are." Sheldon Richardson, who also arrived in the first round, with the pick the Jets got from the Bucs in the Revis trade, is also expected to start, but DT said about his frisky DT: "He did pretty well in the preseason, but regular season is something else." To paraphrase Thurman this week, we'll see if they're up to the task, but we think they are.
5. Count the Rooks — Three rookies definitely are lined up to start vs. the Bucs — Milliner, Richardson and Smith. A fourth could also get the nod if we open with seventh-rounder FB Tommy Bohanon in the formation. The last time the Jets started four rookies in a season opener was 1979 vs. the Browns, with Marty Lyons at DE, Stan Blinka at MLB, Donald Dykes at RCB and Eric Cunningham at RG for the ailing Dan Alexander.
6. Defending Doug — Only three players rushed for 1,000 yards over a 10-week period last season — the Vikings' Adrian Peterson (multiple times), the Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch and the Bucs' Doug Martin. Martin's 1,926 yards from scrimmage were second best in Tampa history to James Wilder in '84. Will the fact that he had just three preseason carries mean he'll be a little tentative Sunday? The Jets' front seven can't wait to find out or they'll be looking at the back of No. 22's jersey. Swarm! Swarm! Swarm!
7. Folk Hero — Fresh off of prevailing over two veterans this preseason in Billy Cundiff and Dan Carpenter, Nick Folk is ready for his fourth opener as the Jets' kicker. Watch for Folk to be sharp — in his first three openers he didn't miss a placement (7-for-7 FGs, 9-for-9 PATs). And his openers started him on streaks of hitting his first 11 field goal tries in both '11 — setting the franchise record for most without a miss from the start of a season — and last year — tying his one-year-old mark.
8. Malone's Big Leg — Kotwica notes field position will be ultra-important for these Jets, which means Robert Malone must be zoned in with his drop-punt pooches, which he was in the preseason. But Coach K also says, "Robert's striking the ball as well as I've seen him." The occasions will come when Malone can air it out, as he did last year in becoming the first Jets punter to hit at least one 50-yard kick in every game since 16-game schedules began in 1978.
9. The Series So Far — As the gold ads remind us, past performance is no guarantee of future results. That said, the Jets have dominated the Buccaneers in their handful of meetings. Their .900 winning percentage (9-1) vs. TB is their best vs. any NFL opponent. The only foes the Jets have never lost to at home are the Bucs (6-0), Vikes (5-0) and Panthers (2-0). A win continues these trends, a loss results in new trends in the rivalry and much gnashing of teeth.
10. Rex Redux — Ryan is well aware of the outside critics of his team, but, perhaps more quietly than in the past yet just as forcefully, he advises that this version of the New York Jets is better than a lot of people think. "It's very similar to my first year when I got here, 2009," the coach said Thursday of his first AFC Championship Game unit. "That was a close group, a team that persevered a great deal. There's going to be bumps in the road along the way, but when you have a team with that kind of resolve like we had in 2009, you can do some special things." The most special thing the Jets can do Sunday is to achieve liftoff with their first win of '13.