Offense – When former Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini stepped in as head coach of the New York Jets this offseason, his list of concerns must have been considerable. What was at the top? Hard to say, given their 4-12 record at the end of last year. However, it seems likely that the quarterback position is his biggest question mark.
The quarterback battle seems to be wide open right now. Former front man Chad Pennington is still recovering from his second major shoulder surgery in two years. Patrick Ramsey has been brought in this offseason and he's got the arm strength to throw Pennington out of the spotlight. Simply put, Ramsey throws farther, even against a healthy Chad Pennington. This fact bodes well for Ramsey, considering that new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer – Yeah, Marty's son – said that he wants to stretch the Jets passing game down the field this season. However, Ramsey wasn't impressive in mini-camp and Kellen Clemens apparently showed a good deal of promise. Right now, Clemens looks to be the Jets quarterback-of-the-future, but Schottenheimer and Mangini seem to be ready to give the job to whoever's ready to lead the team.
Mangini, who seems to be trying to adopt much of the coaching strategy he learned as the Patriots defensive coordinator under Belichick, has made it clear that all positions are considered unfilled as of yet. This policy also includes aging running back Curtis Martin. A future Hall of Famer, Martin failed to reach 1,000 yards rushing last year for the first time since entering the league with the Patriots in 1995. Don't stick a fork in him just yet – he was only three yards shy of 1700 just two years ago – but he may have been run into the ground that year. An injured right knee and a porous offensive line contributed to his career-low output last season. It's likely he'll get plenty of relief from Derrick Blaylock, who sat out with a broken foot much of last year, and Cedrick Houston who came on late in 2005. The Jets also took Leon Washington in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL draft and are hoping he can learn from Martin. Also, the fullback position now belongs to B.J. Askew, since Jerald Sowell was released this offseason.
Under Mangini's new regime, it seems that a lot of overhauling is in store. The Jets averaged only 3.5 yards per carry on the ground last year and much of that was due to their weak offensive line. Mangini addressed this problem in the offseason, selecting both tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold in the first-round of the draft. Although their jerseys probably aren't flying off the shelves, it seems likely that they'll be seen in the Meadowlands with increasing frequency. Both rookies are likely starters heading into their first NFL season. The Jets also picked up veteran center Trey Teague in free agency, but he broke his ankle just before mini-camp and will likely be recovering well into preseason. Other projected starters on the offensive line include left guard Pete Kendall, right guard Brandon Moore and right tackle Adrian Jones. With two rookie starters, don't be surprised if it takes the offensive line a while to gel.
Wide receiver Laveranues Coles is back again this year. Even with all the Jets quarterback problems, he still managed to catch 73 passes last year and still possesses game-breaking speed. Justin McCareins had a shaky 2005 season, mostly due to leg injuries, but if he and Coles get a consistent arm on the other end of their passes, they could both be more intimidating this season. At any rate, the Jets passing game could be stronger than last season if tight end Chris Baker can produce. Then again, that big quarterback question mark is still a glaring problem.
Defense – Mangini has already begun making changes aimed at turning the Jets program around. Mini-camp was reportedly much harder than it has been in recent years and Mangini's weight-training and conditioning standards are said to be much more demanding than those of Herm Edwards. Although Mangini is only 35 and Schottenheimer 32, age and experience can both be found in new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. In his seventh season with the Jets, Sutton is moving from a five-year stint as their linebacker coach to take over as coordinator. Sutton did remarkably well with their linebacker corps and is probably the reason that the linebacker position boasts the toughest competition for a starting spot on the team. Mangini is instituting a new 3-4 defense this year and Sutton's role in this is not clear because Mangini has more experience in running the 3-4.
Inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma was the most valuable fantasy linebacker in the NFL last year with a whopping 128 solo tackles. He is a great all-around inside linebacker and an obvious starter, but it isn't clear if the new 3-4 defense will free him up more, or bog him down with more linemen moving downfield towards him. Outside backer Eric Barton could have a breakout season now that he's returned from injury and Victor Hobson has flown under the radar a bit, but may be one of the most underrated defensive players in the NFL. Former Patriot Matt Chatham is also in the mix, since he's moving from New England to New York along side Mangini.
The Jets defensive line lost a lot when John Abraham left this season, and it's not clear how well defensive end Shaun Ellis will do on the edge without Abraham blowing things up opposite him. The Jets may also have trouble finding a nose tackle for their 3-4 among the list of defensive tackles. They may flip-flop into a 4-3 at times, but then they won't be able to utilize their depth at linebacker.
Although they lost Pro Bowl cornerback Ty Law in the offseason – and we all know how tough he can be to replace – they did pick up Seattle free agent Andre Dyson, who is looking to make an impact, though he's had some lingering injuries. Justin Miller had no picks and only 2 passes defensed last year, but this could be a breakout year for him. Free safety Erik Coleman showed a glimpse of what he could become during his rookie season, but didn't reaffirm it last year. Kerry Rhodes won the starting strong safety position last year, but he'll also need to have a good year to stay in Mangini's new defense.
Overall – The Jets have no sure-thing at quarterback. Their best running back is older than their offensive coordinator. Their head coach is only 35 and only spent one year as the Patriots defensive coordinator. The whole team is being overhauled and redesigned with the defense switching to a 3-4 and the offense doing everything they can to avoid having the second-worst yards per game average in the NFL again this season. The organization passed on Matt Leinart to pick D'Brickashaw Ferguson in the draft and hopes to change the team mindset from Herm Edward's gamer mentality to Bill Belichick's team-over-player mindset. They also have a new general manager in Mike Tannenbaum. The whole thing seems to add up to an obvious transition year for the Jets, but like the Dolphins last year, any team can rise up and surprise.
Mills third rookie to sign
ESPN.com reported on Monday that fourth-round draft pick Garrett Mills signed a four-year contract. Mills is expected to play an H-back role with the Patriots, lining up at both fullback and tight in the New England offense.