Published November 20, 2014
New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan said at the start of his team's 2012 training camp that not making the playoffs last season made him sick.
He didn't say if a temperature came with that feeling, but there is a new fever gripping the Gang Green: Tim Tebow nation.
But Ryan and the Jets hope that their new backup quarterback isn't the biggest story of the upcoming campaign as they try to get back to the postseason.
Following back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances -- both with starter Mark Sanchez under center -- the streaky Jets failed to grab a playoff spot a season ago due to a trio of losing streaks that led to an 8-8 mark, with the team dropping its final three games of the year.
With the Jets still in some control, a 29-14 loss to the New York Giants in Week 16 essentially sunk the season. One could even pinpoint the exact play in which it all went wrong -- a 99-yard touchdown pass from the Giants' Eli Manning to Victor Cruz late in the second quarter that put the G-Men ahead for good.
"Oh, I was sick," said Ryan of last year's results. "Because I knew that, and I told our guys that if we get in [the playoffs], that's the main thing. If you get in everybody forgets what happens, but I still think that we could have done damage. It hurt me because I believed it. I almost felt like I was the only one that believed it. And that wasn't the case, but I kind of felt that way."
Cruz's score was a rare slip-up for a Jets' pass defense that is one of the best in the league. However, the offense ranked just 25th in total yards, though the team still managed to average a respectable 23.6 points per game.
So, New York and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer amicably parted ways at season's end and Ryan added former Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano.
Sparano, of course, made the Wildcat offense all the rage in 2008 while with the Dolphins, and he may have the perfect candidate to run it in New York after the Jets acquired Tebow for a pair of draft picks during the offseason.
Tebow took over the Denver Broncos starting job during last season and helped guide the club to an AFC West title -- with the same 8-8 mark that failed to produce a playoff spot for the Jets -- as well as a postseason victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the Broncos acquired quarterback Peyton Manning during the offseason, leaving Tebow without a starting job.
He doesn't figure to start in New York either, as Ryan has continued to proclaim there is no quarterback controversy and that his starter is Sanchez, who signed a contract extension in March that added three more years to his deal.
"Now clearly we have a starting quarterback, it's Mark Sanchez, period, there's no question about it," said Ryan during camp, while joking that he would put Tebow in protection if it would help the team win. "We're going to do whatever it takes to win...Mark is our quarterback. As much as people are trying to make it a quarterback controversy, it's not. Mark is our starting quarterback, and Tim is an excellent football player like we've said."
Ryan, though, did acknowledge that the Wildcat will be a part of the offense this season, and that doesn't seem to bother Sanchez.
"I trust Coach Sparano with it and however he thinks the best way to use it, that's what we'll do," Sanchez said. "I know the entire offense has full faith in him and we're excited about the scheme."
Tebow is just one of a few new players who are expected to contribute this season. New York does return 20-of-22 starters from a year ago, but not all of them are guaranteed their same spot.
Competition never hurt anybody.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the New York Jets, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 RECORD: 8-8 (2nd, AFC East)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to Pittsburgh in AFC Championship
COACH (RECORD): Rex Ryan (28-20 in three seasons)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Tony Sparano (first season)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Pettine (fourth season)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Mark Sanchez, QB (3474 passing yards, 26 TD, 18 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Darrelle Revis, CB (52 tackles, 4 INT, 21 PD)
2011 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 25th overall (22nd rushing, 21st passing), tied 12th scoring (23.6 ppg)
2011 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 5th overall (13th rushing, 5th passing), 20th scoring (22.7 ppg)
KEY ADDITIONS: WR Stephen Hill (2nd Round, Georgia Tech), SS Yeremiah Bell (from Dolphins), FS LaRon Landry (from Redskins), QB Tim Tebow (from Broncos), WR Chaz Schilens (from Raiders), WR Jordan White (7th Round, Western Michigan), OT Jason Smith (from Rams), DE Quinton Coples (1st Round, North Carolina), ILB Demario Davis (3rd Round, Arkansas State)
KEY DEPARTURES: WR Plaxico Burress (free agent), TE Matthew Mulligan (to Rams), RT Wayne Hunter (to Rams), SS Jim Leonhard (to Broncos), QB Mark Brunell (free agent), QB Kevin O'Connell (free agent), RB LaDainian Tomlinson (retired), C Robert Turner (to Rams), DE Ropati Pitoitua (to Chiefs), OLB Jamaal Westerman (to Dolphins), CB Donald Strickland (free agent), CB Marquice Cole (to Patriots), S Brodney Pool (to Cowboys), S Tracy Wilson (to Titans)
QB: Sanchez is one of only five quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to win 30 career games (including playoffs) in his first three NFL seasons and has taken the Jets to within a game of the Super Bowl twice, but now has the polarizing Tebow looking over his shoulder. One has to wonder how long it will take for Jets nation to jump on the backup's bandwagon should the "Sanchize" struggle. A duplication of Sanchez's 2011 season should keep the fans on his side, as he threw for a career-best 3,474 yards and 26 touchdowns, tied for the second-most by a Jets quarterback in a single season. The 25-year-old also found the end zone six times on the ground, meaning Tebow isn't the only signal-caller on the roster who can make plays with his feet. It may take a lot to happen for Tebow to take over the No. 1 quarterback spot, but he should still see plenty of time on the field in the Wildcat. He ran for six touchdowns in just nine games as a rookie in 2010, then passed for 1,729 yards in 14 games (11 starts) last year, completing 12 touchdown passes to six interceptions while running for 660 yards and six scores. Greg McElroy enters his second season in the league as the third quarterback.
RB: Shonn Greene begins his second season as New York's featured back and made 15 starts a year ago, running for 1,054 yards and six touchdowns while adding another 30 receptions. While the 226-pound Greene will be the key to the Jets' ground-and-pounding the ball, he may not figure as much into the red-zone offense with Tebow on board. LaDainian Tomlinson's offseason retirement opens the door for return specialist Joe McKnight (134 rushing yards, 13 receptions in 2011) to back up Greene after he ran the ball just 43 times in 2011. Second-year back Bilal Powell should also be in line for more carries as the third man on the depth chart. Clearing the way for the rushers will be fullback John Conner. Nicknamed "The Terminator," the 245-pound owns just 21 carries in his two-year career and is the only true fullback currently listed on the roster.
WR: A quick look at the Jets' group of wide receivers won't have a lot of names popping out at you, and that could be an issue for Sanchez. New York does have a true No. 1 in Santonio Holmes (51 receptions, 8 TD), but he has been slowed in training camp by a rib injury. He is the lone starting wideout to return as the Jets opted to not re-sign the 6-foot-5 Plaxico Burress, who matched Holmes with eight touchdown receptions last year and was one of the big reasons why the Jets led the NFL in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 36 of their 55 trips inside the 20-yard line. New York did add a burner to its roster by trading up in the second round of April's draft to get Stephen Hill, who has good hands to go along with excellent speed and solid blocking skills. His main obstacle early on in the NFL could be that he did not run a lot of different routes while playing for Georgia Tech's option attack. Still, Hill is in line to be the first rookie wide receiver to start in Week 1 for the Jets since Wayne Chrebet in 1995. Second-year wideout Jeremy Kerley (29 receptions, 1 TD) also returns as the slot receiver after holding that role as a rookie, while the Jets signed Chaz Schilens (23 receptions, 2 TD with Raiders) in the offseason to add to the mix. Further backups like Patrick Turner and rookie Jordan White (7th Round, Western Michigan) don't add much experience.
TE: Sanchez's security blanket is tight end Dustin Keller, who led the Jets last season with 65 receptions and 815 receiving yards. Keller added five touchdown receptions to his rising stock, and his catch total was the most by a tight end in franchise history since Mickey Shuler nabbed 70 in 1988. Given the lack of depth at the wideout spot, Keller should see plenty of targets from Sanchez again this season. Jeff Cumberland is the main reserve and is looking to bounce back from a torn Achilles that sidelined him for the majority of the 2011 season. The loss of Cumberland led to previous third- stringer Josh Baker playing in 11 games, but he was placed on injured reserve following a knee injury suffered during the preseason.
OL: The Jets return four of their five starting lineman from 2011, with the lone change coming at right tackle. New York first tried to shake up the spot by trading for Carolina Panther Jeff Otah just before camp, but he failed his physical and the deal was voided. Wayne Hunter made 16 starts there last year after a solid performance in the previous season's playoffs, but was overtaken by Austin Howard, a third-year vet out of Northern Iowa, in the preseason. New York then agreed to deal Hunter to the St. Louis Rams for right tackle Jason Smith, the underachieving second overall pick of the 2009 draft. The rest of the line looks the same and is anchored by left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who is coming off his third straight Pro Bowl selection and has started every game since being selected fourth overall in the 2006 draft. Left guard Matt Slauson holds down his position for a third straight year next to four-time Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold. Adding to the longevity of the line is right guard Brandon Moore, who has made 121 straight starts and comes off his first Pro Bowl appearance as well. Young linemen Vladimir Ducasse and Caleb Schlauderaff add depth at guard.
DL: Given the Jets' strength in defending the pass, the pressure is always on the front seven to play the run strong. New York's three down lineman will be under the tutelage of new defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, who will hope that 2011 first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson (49 tackles, 3 sacks) can build off his excellent rookie campaign. The 6-foot-4, 315-pound end has excellent size and strength and started every game last year. Nose tackle Sione Pouha had the most tackles of any Jets defensive lineman (58) in 2011 and also had a sack, while Mike DeVito (34 tackles, 1 sack) is solid at the other tackle spot but missed four games last year due to injury. Pouha will have to hold off second-year pro Kenrick Ellis, who is looking for more playing time after being used sparingly as a rookie, while 2012 first-round pick Quinton Coples will try to work his way into the mix at end. The North Carolina product has great strength and lateral mobility, meaning he could develop into both an impact run-stopper and pass rusher at the NFL level. However, he'll need to shake off his reputation from his college days of taking plays off. Marcus Dixon (16 tackles, 1.5 sacks) is also part of the line rotation.
LB: New York has one of the game's top inside linebackers in middle man David Harris (86 tackles, 5 sacks, 4 INT), and he showed his versatility last year by contributing in pressuring the quarterback, making tackles and picking off passes. Harris matched the club high for picks and returned one for a touchdown in 2011. Outside linebacker Calvin Pace (72 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT) finished third on the team in tackles in his fourth season with the Jets, while opposite-side starter Bryan Thomas was limited to only four games last year -- his 10th in the league -- because of a torn left Achilles tendon injury before re-signing this offseason. Fellow veteran Bart Scott (66 tackles, 4.5 sacks) enters his 11th NFL season alongside Harris and the Jets may have taken his future replacement in 2012 third-rounder DeMario Davis (Arkansas State). Pass rusher Aaron Maybin was solid in limited time a season ago, notching six sacks with four forced fumbles in 13 games without a start.
DB: No team can match the cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis (52 tackles, 4 INT) and Antonio Cromartie (45 tackles, 4 INT), but the duo will have new help behind them in safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell. New York added the two through free agency, and Bell (107 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) shouldn't miss a beat playing in the AFC East after spending his first eight seasons with the Dolphins, including each of the last four as a starter. He went over 100 tackles each season as a regular and owns six career interceptions. Landry (48 tackles, 1.5 sacks), meanwhile, has been limited to just 17 starts in the past two seasons due to injury after having three healthy years after the Redskins made him the sixth overall pick of the 2007 draft. Those additions could push 2011 14-game starter Eric Smith (89 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT) into a backup role, while veterans Jim Leonhard and Brodney Pool were not re-signed. Whoever starts will have the luxury of playing behind Revis, a four-time Pro Bowler considered the top cover corner in the game. With him leading the way, the Jets have held quarterbacks to an NFL-low 68.7 passer rating since 2009. Cromartie is another former Pro Bowl corner, a position where 2010 first-round pick Kyle Wilson (41 tackles, 2 INT) as well as Ellis Lankster, add further depth.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Jets opted to bring in veteran kicker Josh Brown, formerly of St. Louis, to challenge incumbent Nick Folk, but the latter kept his job in camp and Brown was released. Folk has hit on 76.9 and 76.0 percent of his field goal tries in his two years with the Jets, going 5-of-11 from 50 yards or longer over that span. New York's offense usually benefits from good field position, as McKnight led the NFL with an average of 31.6 yards per kickoff return and Kerley notched an average of 10.9 yards per punt runback. Punter T.J. Conley stuck 32 of his 92 punts inside the 20-yard line and averaged 42.7 yards per punt last season, while long snapper Tanner Purdum returns for his third season.
PROGNOSIS: Last season's results -- an 8-8 record and no playoffs -- may have humbled the Jets a bit, and that could be a good thing. If not for the addition of Tebow, New York certainly would have flown a little more under the radar this year. Instead, the Jets' passing game features a host of uncertainty thanks to a looming quarterback controversy and a lack of playmakers at the receiver spot. Sanchez did enough last season to entrench himself as the starter, but missing the playoffs certainly dampened that resume. A fast start is a must for him lest the masses cry for Tebow. Luckily for New York, the defense is once again solid and should carry its weight all season long. With few light spots on the schedule, the Jets will certainly need to improve on their 3-3 division record from a season ago.