Thursday, July 23, 2009

Offensively Challenged: Jets Roster Weaknesses

July 24, 2009

By Anthony Tripicchio

Despite the Jets high-profile off-season acquisitions, the roster is still far from perfect.

The most glaring weaknesses exist on the offense. With the much-ballyhooed arrival of rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, some obvious deficiencies have escaped the scrutiny of the public eye.

First, the quarterback position is riddled with inexperience. Regardless of whether you anticipate Sanchez being a franchise player, he is an unproven commodity at the NFL level.
Even though he is lauded for his leadership ability, Sanchez has questionable arm strength. He has a stronger arm than Chad Pennington, but will not be confused with Jay Cutler anytime soon.

Growing pains are a package deal with the position, and the Jets will need to endure struggles from their quarterback, whether it is Sanchez or Kellen Clemens.

Clemens at least has had a sampling of starts in the league, though his performance was uneven. Granted, the offensive line was a shambles when he started eight games in 2007. It is exceedingly difficult to evaluate a quarterback when he is running for his life after every snap.

This year, if he gets an opportunity, Clemens will have adequate protection with D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Damien Woody at the tackles, and Alan Faneca, Nick Mangold, and Brandon Moore on the interior line.

An uninspiring receiving corps will not provide any government-size bailouts for the neophyte quarterbacks. Jerricho Cotchery is the only established pass catcher of the bunch.

While Cotchery is certainly serviceable, he is ideally a No. 2 receiver. On this roster, he is clearly the top option and that is cause for concern.

The supporting cast is not much better. David Clowney, Brad Smith, and Chansi Stuckey have fewer combined career receiving yards than Cotchery's 858 last year alone.

Prior to the blockbuster Sanchez trade, wide receiver was a position the Jets had targeted in the draft. Now, aside from flirting with the beleaguered Plaxico Burress, there are no immediate plans to ink a game-breaker.

Burress still faces possible jail time for the shooting incident in a Manhattan club that ended his tenure with the other New York football team. If he does end up in the big house, any fantasies of a quick fix are unrealistic.

Brett Favre's departure predictably fascinated the media, however, the loss of tight end Chris Baker garnered meager attention.

Baker, the most complete tight end on the roster, signed with New England as a free agent and joins Bill Belichick's perpetual stable of effective tight ends. Baker is being portrayed as a blocking tight end, but he is an underrated pass catcher as well.

Considering the lack of weapons in the Jets receiving corps, Baker's soft hands could have been a tremendous asset for Sanchez and Clemens. Without him, they will need a more consistent season from the highly touted Dustin Keller.

General Manager Mike Tannenbaum has failed to install a true blocking tight end behind Keller. Bubba Franks was resigned and subsequently released and a cast of unknowns will vie for the vacated spot.

The Jets anticipate that the ferocious defense they have assembled can aid in overshadowing some of the offensive deficiencies and, in order to do so, NT Kris Jenkins must sustain an All-Pro level of play all season long.

Jenkins was a monster who seemingly single-handedly shut down the run for the first half of the season. Considering the sieve the Jets defense had been against the run for years prior to last season, and the gargantuan disappointment Dewayne Robertson was, Jenkins was the most vital cog in the defense and arguably the team overall.

Nothing documents his value more than the Jets dramatic rise from 29th in rushing yards allowed per game in 2007 to 7th in 2008. As the season wore on, it was clear the rigors and demands of the 3-4 were getting to Jenkins. Keeping him fresh for the late season push will be tantamount to the Jets being a dominant defensive force throughout the year. If not for the Sanchez trade, this situation may have been addressed in the draft. Sione Pouha has yet to establish himself as the guy to do it.

They did sign former Seahawk Howard Green in mid March, who is listed at 320 pounds, but you have to be skeptical of the journeyman's impact.

Ryan will lean heavily on his three-headed running game as well with Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and Shonn Greene.

If the ground game is ineffective, it will be a long year for the Jets offense.

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