Over the next several weeks, NewYorkJets.com reporters Eric Allen, Randy Lange, Ethan Greenberg and Olivia Landis will each give their predictions to a series of questions regarding this year’s Jets.
Today’s question: Which position group has the most to prove in 2019?
EA: Offensive line.
Jonotthan Harrison, who did not start more than 10 games in any of his first five professional seasons, is attempting to lock down the starting center job. Left guard Kelechi Osemele was limited to 11 games last year in Oakland due to toe and knee injuries and the Raiders moved the 30-year-old in what many perceived as a salary-cap dump. Both left tackle Kelvin Beachum and right tackle Brandon Shell are entering their last year of their contracts. Right guard Brian Winters, who was set to be the longest-tenured Jet before running back Bilal Powell re-signed, will be working under his fourth position coach in seven seasons as Frank Pollack takes over the reins for head coach Adam Gase.
The group is learning new terms as the terminology is completely different. New Jets general manager Joe Douglas, a two-time all-state offensive lineman at Lee-Davis HS in Virginia who went on to become an All-Atlantic 10 selection at Richmond, wants to be powerful up front along both lines. The Jets finished 26th in rushing (101.4 YPG), 29th in rush average (4.0 YPC) and tied for 23 in run TDs (11) last season, but they should get a shot in the arm with the insertion of RB Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. Still, the group will probably need a little time to get the timing and rhythm down with Bell.
The Green & White finished tied for 12th in sacks allowed with 37 in 2018 and Osemele intends on being the “bodyguard” for quarterback Sam Darnold. And while Darnold has loads of talent and the ability to excel as an improvisor, everything starts up front. Osemele, a former first-team All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler, has the ability to be one nastier interior players in football. Harrison is an athletic pivot man who is hungry for a big opportunity. Beachum is the cagey vet who has the role of protecting Darnold’s blindside while Shell yearns to find more consistency in his game. Winters, who had 70 starts through his first six seasons, wants the group to find success together and joked that he hoped Pollack is his last position coach.
“Like every team I’ve been with, it’s a work in progress,” Pollack said in June. “There’s a lot to get better at. The guys are working really hard — we’re right where we need to be as far as that’s concerned.”
See the Top Images of the Jets Defensive Line
RL: I'll be watching the D-line. It's time for Leo Williams to match and rise above his production as a seven-sack second-year Pro Bowler in 2016. He can do that with the line coming together around him. Henry Anderson, off his career year, returns, as does Steve McLendon. Nathan Shepherd's been working hard around the Jets facility all offseason and needs to show up big in year two.
And then there's Quinnen Williams, the third pick of the draft who holds the promise of lining up in several spots and unleashing havoc as he did last year when he elevated his game for Alabama. If the Jets are going to break opponents of their "double-team Leo" approach, it will take all the big guys working off each other to do it.
It's about the pass rush, yes, but it's also about the run game. As C.J. Mosley has said, if his D-linemen keep him clean, he'll feast on opposing ballcarriers. The Jets' run defense has been on a roller-coaster for a while, top-10 in the NFL in Rex Ryan's first two seasons, 26th in 2012, back to top-five in 2013-15, 24th and 26th the past two seasons. There needs to be a return to greatness vs. the run and the DL has to lead that charge.
EG: The cornerbacks have the most to prove this season. In his first year with the Jets, Trumaine Johnson had what he described as an “alright” season and missed five games with a quad injury and one because of coach’s decision. Johnson led the club with four interceptions but said it’s “bounce back time” in 2019 as he’s reunited with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Opposite Johnson is Darryl Roberts, who’s spent the majority of his three years with the Green & White as a reserve corner. Roberts has played in 43 games and started in 16, 10 of which came last year at both cornerback and safety.
The Jets also have a new slot corner, Brian Poole, who played in 47 games (21 starts) in three years with the Falcons. While the three starters have experience, they need to gel. After Johnson, Roberts and Poole, head coach Adam Gase said the team will look to create more competition in that room. Outside of those three, the Jets have nine CBs on their roster, none whom have more than three years of NFL experience and have combined for 34 game appearances and three starts.
OL: I think the defensive line has a lot to prove this year. This is such a unique group when you look at the depth chart, not only in age range and experience but what everyone brings to the table.
Fifth-year veteran Leonard Williams will play a vital role in the success of this line. In 2016, he enjoyed a breakout season with a career-high seven sacks that led to a Pro Bowl appearance, but it also led to a lot of future double-teams. Someone that will be able to help alleviate some of that pressure is Henry “Goose” Anderson. After tying for the team-lead with seven sacks in 2018 (which was also a career high for him), Goose proved he is a necessity to this line. These two alone have talked about their chemistry on the field and it’s time to see that taken to the next level.
Then you look at the rookie Quinnen Williams who, although only had one year of starting experience at Alabama, was widely regarded as one of the most talented defensive players in this year’s Draft. He played at multiple positions along the d-line in college, so it’ll be interesting to see what roles he takes on this season. One individual we can’t overlook is Steve McLendon, who returns to the Jets on a 1-year deal. His leadership and motivational skills are unmatched, and the attitude he brings to the locker room every day is a big reason why he landed a spot once again with the Green and White. With ten years of experience in the league, he will be instrumental in helping develop a young talent like Williams.
Gregg Williams has a knack for tailoring his schemes to the strengths of his players, and with a lot of talented individuals along the defensive line, this group has a chance to be dominant.