The Jet Set: Five Critical Players Who Will Make or Break Gang Green’s Season
- Updated: August 26, 2013
There are few predicting great things for my New York Jets this season. That’s more than understandable. It’s a team riddled with far too many question marks to prognosticate any sort of consistent success. That said, one could argue those professing the certainty of apocalyptic failure, or the faithful asserting 2014 is a lock for competitive mediocrity, have equally firm footing (or at least that’s my belief). So, what will be the difference? What could swing the tide from 5-11 to 9-7? A top five pick or a puncher’s chance at a 8-8? As with most teams, it will rest on the broad shoulders of only a small handful of players. Here are five that will make or break the 2014 campaign for Gang Green.
Chris Ivory, RB
While Marty Mornhinweg may get the Jets employing some more West Coast-ish passing, this team doesn’t have the firepower or the desire to stray too far from Rex Ryan’s “ground-and-pound and play good defense” roots. It was that formula that helped steer the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship games. The issue? How do you ground-and-pound with a duo of running backs with no credible history of doing so? Bilal Powell enters his second year and has shown glimpses, but it’s newly-acquired Chris Ivory that will have to shoulder the load. Nobody doubts Ivory’s potential. He’s a physically imposing back that doesn’t shy away from contact. He also has a burst. In running back-rich New Orleans, Ivory compiled a career 5.1 YPC over 250 carries. The 5+ is a sexy number. The “but” is only 24 games played over three seasons. How far the Jets offense goes will rely heavily on getting consistent returns from Ivory who’s never been given the keys to the wheel. Should be an interesting ride.
Santonio Holmes, WR
Let me get this out of the way. I didn’t like Santonio Holmes before he was a Jet, and I don’t like him any better now. He seems like a first-class di*!, and you’ll never see his picture next to the dictionary definition of “team player.” That said, he’s had some tremendous stretches of clutch play for the Jets during his brief tenure. He’s also the team’s biggest playmaker. Check that…he may be the team’s only proven playmaker on the offensive side of the ball. So, suffice to say, his performance is kinda going to be important. The question is when. When do the Jets get him back on the field? Holmes’ return from a serious Lisfranc injury has become (like so many things at Jets camp) a perpetual soap opera. One day we won’t be seeing Santonio until October, and he’s taking his sweet ass time slacking off. The next day he’s working out harder than anyone has ever seen and don’t be surprised to see him lining up against the Bucs in Week One. The latest? Holmes is off the PUP list…and your guess is as good as mine. I’d anticipate seeing Holmes in the starting lineup for Gang Green’s second game against the Pats up in Foxboro. If Holmes can deliver anything resembling 2011-type stats (16 games, 51 receptions, 8 TDs and countless clutch grabs), the Jets offense has a fighting chance. Speaking of which…
Mark Sanchez, QB
Like it or not, Mark Sanchez will be the Jets starter. How long, who knows? He of the new Fu Manchu-style facial action is the Jets offensive leader, even if he isn’t. Geno Smith was given the opportunity to win the job. And as much as you could feel Jets management willing him to the victorious finish line, it simply didn’t happen. Sure, there’s another preseason game. And, yes, Sanchez is “hurt.” But c’mon, Jets fans. It was always going to be this way. It had to be. Just because at the end of last season you couldn’t think of any logical reason it could possibly be true come September of 2013. So, OF COURSE, here we are and so it is. Mark Sanchez will be under Nick Mangold’s butt, just as he has been for the last four seasons. Here’s the thing. Sanchez does have the ability not to suck. Notice I did not say “excel,” “be good” or “impress.” NOT. TO. SUCK. Unfortunately, he’s also shown the propensity to “suck quite greatly.” If somehow he can lean toward the “not suck” side of the fence, Jets fans can continue to believe relevance is entirely attainable.
Dee Milliner, CB
Antonio Cromartie has proven he’s an elite cornerback in the NFL. He has his faults. Tackling is not his favorite activity. There are judgment lapses. But having Cro at one corner is a luxury. Milliner is going to be asked to man the opposite. He will be required to do a lot of the things Darrelle Revis used to do. Get up on receivers. Be physical. bump and run. Play one-on-one. Exist on an island. Yet, nobody is asking Milliner to be Revis. This has been a sentiment that has been publicly expressed time and again and with good reason. Milliner won’t be Revis. He can’t be. I’ve yet to see a corner who can do the unique things Darrelle can do. Milliner just needs to be decent. He’ll make rookie mistakes, but, realistically, he needs to perform at least like a middle-of-the-road NFL starting cornerback. Cro affords us that. The defensive line can also help carry some of the burden by putting more pressure on opposing signal-callers. However, if Milliner simply can’t cut it…big problems.
Quinton Coples, LB
The defensive line is one of the most promising units on this Jets team. It’s built around a future All-Pro in Wilkerson and a host of versatile and talented supporting cast members including impressive rookie Sheldon Richardson. The man who could tip the tables for this group is Quinton Coples. Coples is a physical freak. One of those guys that make you drool. Ryan has been shifting the 6 foot 5 nearly 300-pounder to linebacker with the hopes of unleashing his athletic ability predominantly to the detriment of opposing quarterbacks. Coples is the catalyst for what this line can achieve (IMHO). Of course, as is the familiar track on this album, how much of Quinton we get and when is the primary question. Following an ankle injury, he’s aiming for a week one or two return. But how many snaps? Will he be slowed coming off a fracture? How much “learning time” was left on the table for a kid already trying (and struggling at times) to make a significant positional shift? So. Many. Questions. But should Coples be ready to go, he can make a huge difference. Reaching his potential would have dramatic implications on just what this defense can do across several fronts.
So, there you have it. The five players that will make or break the Jets season. The fact that all of them are injured, coming off injuries, entirely new to their positions in the NFL and/or coming off of shortened or terrible 2013 seasons should cause no Jets fan pause. And awaayyyy we go!