This weirdest of Jets and NFL preseasons careens toward its conclusion. But if the Green & White young guns are reeling from the whirlwind of activity, they're not showing it.
Two preseason games in a four-game span? "We're playing a doubleheader," linebacker Nick Bellore says. "It's another opportunity to get better."
"This is a big chance," said Matt Kroul, the one-time defensive lineman now trying to stay with the Jets as an O-lineman, "to make this team or make another team.
The next few days will have a major impact on rookies, first-year players and Jets on the bubble. The "twos" and "threes" got to play most of the second half of Monday night's 17-3 triumph over the Giants. Tonight most of those young men and backups will play most of the preseason finale tonight against the Eagles at MetLife Stadium (kickoff 7:30 p.m.).
How unusual is this? It may be the second-shortest time between games in franchise history. Back in August 1976, the Jets-Giants game at Yankee Stadium was moved from Monday to Wednesday due to Hurricane Belle. Then the Jets returned to the House That Ruth Built two nights later to host the Raiders.
But that was in the middle of a then-six-game preseason schedule. Tonight's game comes at the end of the contorted and condensed 2011 NFL summer calendar. By Saturday all teams must go on a crash diet and shed bodies to get from the 80-player limit to 53. That's about 27 players per team (the Jets are already at 78), or 864 players who will be out of work by this weekend.
Bellore and Kroul are two of many fighting for jobs as Jets. Both acquitted themselves well in the second half against the Giants, and both will need to do it again against the Giants' NFC East brethren at the other end of the New Jersey Turnpike.
For Bellore, the undrafted free agent from Central Michigan, his most extensive playing time resulted in a strong defensive stat line: five tackles, one third-down sack that set up a blocked field goal, a pass defense, and a share of a tackle for loss on a screen pass. Add to that two tackles and a forced fumble on kick coverage.
"I felt good. I felt I was overdue for making plays out there," he said after the game. "Obviously it's never as good as you think and never as bad as you think. But to be more active out there, I was excited about that."
Bellore is fighting to hold onto his spot as a backup at inside linebacker. Head coach Rex Ryan has already said Josh Mauga is the first man in behind David Harris and Bart Scott. Bellore's listed as the first backup behind Harris. But will the Jets be able to keep four ILBs? Much will depend on Bellore's special teams impact as he and Mauga attempt to make up for the special skills of players who didn't return to the Jets, ILB Lance Laury and S James Ihedigbo.
Kroul's deal is different. With injuries on the O-line, among them C Nick Mangold, G Brandon Moore OL Rob Turner. Suddenly there was a need for bodies to step in on the interior for practice and perhaps to be candidates for a regular-season role. And with some strong depth on the D-line, the Jets coaches asked Kroul to leap over the trench.
So far, so good. On Monday night Kroul was throwing his weight around at RG as the Jets' rushing game showed a little more life in the final two quarters, and his sealing block was one of the keys on Bilal Powell's first pro TD.
"You can't get enough reps," said the "first-year" player who is now in his third season on one of the Jets' rosters and played in six games on defense last season. "It was good to watch those starters play a couple of quarters to kind of get the feel of the game and then to be ready to go when it's your turn. For me it's about just being able to read defenses, read my blocks, read my assignment. It's coming along but I definitely just have to keep improving as fast as I can."
But is one month of offensive line exposure enough time for Kroul? And can he fill those Rob Turner roles, especially as a third TE and blocking on kickoff returns for rookie Jeremy Kerley until Turner gets back from his ankle injury?
Even though the Jets have won nine straight in the last nine preseasons over the Eagles, the outcome of this game just doesn't loom as large as the decisions that will be made off of the video of the game. The coaches coaches will be sorting through all those questions in the next 48 hours. Some players will no doubt be told tonight after the game that they've either made the squad or made the waiver wire. The Jets could announce their roster moves Friday or Saturday. Some who are released this weekend could be back on the Green & White practice squad after clearing waivers by Sunday night.
If it's any indication of the ongoing football careers of the two players in this piece, they're not sweating the small details of their potential roster status.
"You can't really count the numbers," Bellore said. "You just go out there and do the best you can."
"It's a cliché, but you just keep grinding, keep hoping they think the most of you," Kroul said, "and maybe you'll still be around."