Lichtenstein: What To Watch, If You Must, In Jets’ Preseason Opener

Steve Lichtenstein
August 08, 2019 - 11:12 am
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I saw a Twitter poll last week that jokingly asked which is more painful: passing a kidney stone or watching NFL preseason football.

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Unlike with kidney stones, folks can dull the pain of these meaningless exhibitions by either eating the extorted ticket cost or, if watching TV at home, simply changing the channel.

The first and last preseason affairs are always the least stimulating. When the Jets open their four-game slate at Met Life Stadium Thursday versus the host Giants, you might get to see a portion of Gang Green’s starters for a series, if that. Running back Le’Veon Bell, the Jets’ marquee free-agent acquisition this offseason, will be held out, according to a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post. The 2s and 3s then typically play until around halftime. 

After that? Don’t bother wasting time with trying to memorize the names and numbers on the backs of the Jets’ new jerseys. With maybe a few rare exceptions, they’ll all be tending to other forms of employment after Labor Day.

Since the two teams will face each other again in the regular season, expect Thursday’s game plans to be especially vanilla, so as to not show anything useful on this game film. Nonetheless, the Jets have quite a few jobs up for grabs and these games will provide new coach Adam Gase with significant input for his decision-making process.

Here then is a brief guide into what to watch, if you must, in preseason Game 1:

Offense:

QB1 is set for the foreseeable future with Sam Darnold, but Trevor Siemian has not quite cemented the backup job just yet, despite his $1 million guarantee for this season. Davis Webb has earned some second-team reps in practices and his command of the offense and passing touch will be evaluated closely on Thursday.

While new general manager Joe Douglas has prioritized building up his offensive line depth (including blocking tight ends) since taking over last month, other positions, like wide receiver, are woefully understaffed. It’s more than a mild concern. The Jets were fortunate that Jamison Crowder’s and Quincy Enunwa’s respective injuries during camp were relatively minor. Will there be another unsung story like Wayne Chrebet turning heads in these preseason games? Keep an eye on Tim White, who seems to make a big play a day in team drills.

Defense:

The Jets are stacked up the middle, but speed on the outside of every defensive level is a major weakness. It’s the main reason why rookie fifth-round pick Blake Cashman has been getting so many first-team reps on passing downs in team drills. His coverage skills have turned some heads. However, it remains to be seen whether that will translate in real games.

Up front, the Jets still after all these years haven’t plugged their gaping hole at edge rusher. Look for a committee approach at first this preseason. Third-round pick Jachai Polite had a rough start at camp but has inched his way up defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ good graces in recent practices. If he indeed “gets it”, he could receive a healthy dose of snaps on Thursday.

Finally, the most troublesome talent deficit: Cornerback. Gase might be thrilled when he’s seen Darnold get on a healthy roll during practices, completing a high percentage of his throws with maybe two interceptions, per the reports I’ve seen from the media. The other side of the coin, though, has been why have there been so many open targets? The obvious answer is that not too many Jets corners have the ability to cover. Parry Nickerson was briefly demoted to the third team before an injury to Arthur Maulet returned him to the backup slot corner role. Former general manager Mike Maccagnan’s draft picks have zero goodwill with Douglas and Gase, meaning Nickerson could conceivably be one of three sixth-rounders from the 2018 draft (along with running back Trenton Cannon and defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi) to be cut by the end of camp. He’ll make it easy if he gets exposed in these games.

Special Teams:

Chandler Catanzaro, the kicker called upon to replace Pro Bowler Jason Myers, has been wildly inconsistent in training camp. For now, he has no competition. That will change if he’s going to miss kicks in games, even preseason games.

The Jets have a second special team Pro Bowler (returner Andre Roberts) whom they need to replace. Again, expect several players to receive opportunities to return kicks. I’m looking to see if undrafted rookie Greg Dortch shows enough in the return game and at wide receiver to beat out Cannon, who couldn’t catch a cold as a rookie returner last preseason.

In general, all nonstarters who can excel in some form on special teams have an edge on their competition. Just look at Charone Peake, who did well as the Jets’ gunner last season but is an awful wide receiver. If a Dortch or a White can make cases for themselves on special teams, say goodbye to Peake, another Maccagnan pick.