NEW YORK JETS PREVIEW
Rex Ryan has enjoyed phenomenal success in his first two years as Jet head coach, going to the AFC Championship Game. But the coach’s own rhetoric has led to a Super Bowl-or-failure mindset developing around media coverage of this team. Given that Ryan—whom I like and find a humorous breath of fresh air—brings it on himself, that’s fair enough. But anyone who pays attention to football should appreciate just how much the brash head coach gets out of a team that realistically doesn’t have the talent to cash the checks their boss’ mouth writes.
Defense is the Jets calling card, and it’s Ryan’s area of unique expertise. But they have problems up front, something that was completely exposed by Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game. And for as much as their 3-4 defense relies on plays from the linebackers, they don’t have dominators on the outside. Yes, Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas are good. But they aren’t great. David Harris is outstanding at inside linebacker, while Bart Scott is more a leader than a dominator.
If we go into the secondary, Darrelle Revis returned to lockdown form by the second half of the season, while Antonio Cromartie had issues with inconsistency. Jim Leonard is a solid, tough player at strong safety. Again, this unit is good, but like with the defense overall, they play together at a level that’s greater than the sum of the parts. As you go through these team previews, you see a lot of good individual players, but very few truly outstanding units. The Jets are the latter, and it’s Ryan that deserves the credit.
I’ll admit I’m still not sold on Mark Sanchez is a really big-time quarterback, but he’s already better than I thought he would be, and his receiving corps was re-tooled in the offseason. The Jets took a flyer on Plaxico Burress, hoping his post-incarceration career goes as well as Michael Vick’s. Santonio Holmes was re-signed, and the team also added veteran Derrick Mason from Baltimore. Mason was miscast as a primary target with the Ravens, but is perfectly suited to be a solid #3 man in this offense. Tight end Dustin Keller is a solid, consistent target.
The offensive line is the New York calling card and where hopes for greatness can lie. D’Brickashaw Ferguson is an elite left tackle, and the same goes for Nick Mangold at center. Guards Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson are steady. Only right tackle is iffy, and this group is overseen by position coach Bill Callahan, who has excelled as a line coach over the years.
New York is still a very good team, one that’s going to make the playoffs and has a shot at the Super Bowl. But they don’t have the elite talent that’s often presented by the media and I have my doubts they can push it over the top in January.
NORTH CAROLINA PICKS UP THE PIECES
The North Carolina program had been making good progress under Butch Davis. They were contending for the ACC’s Coastal Division each year amidst a group that included Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia Tech. While they didn’t win the division they scored signature wins over all the above, went to bowls and there was every reason to think an ACC title and Orange Bowl bid would be in their future. Then the recruiting allegations built and this summer Davis was shockingly fired. Everett Withers takes over as interim coach and has to pick up the pieces at a program that suffered the most offseason damage outside of Columbus.
Regardless of who was head coach, there was some re-tooling that would have to be done. Tyler Yates departed at quarterback, and it looks like Bryn Renner will get the first crack at replacing him. Most of the skill positions will have new personnel, with only Dwight Jones back. The positive is that upperclassmen will fill most of these spots and Davis’ recruiting was generally pretty good. And the offensive line will at least be able to lean left, with that entire side of the line returning.
North Carolina’s success is going to have to be built on perimeter pressure from their 4-3 defense. Defensive end Quinton Caples is an All-Conference player and he’s joined on the other end by Donte Paige-Moss. The inside is reliably manned by Tydreke Powell. With an inexperienced secondary, the surest way to stop opposing quarterbacks is going to be putting them on their back.
It’s going to be a tough row to hoe for Withers this season. Even with Davis, this wasn’t going to be the breakthrough year. Without him, you have a whole new set of issues to deal with the team’s psyche in addition to the rebuilding that has to be done on the field. This is a program that’s fading from football relevance as quickly as it arrived. If nothing else, the basketball team should be ranked #1 in the country by October.
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