The offseason is finally nearing a close, players and beat writers alike are returning from their vacations and preparing for the start of the season. Football is (almost) back! With the New York Jets reporting to training camp in only seven days, let’s take a look at some key position battles that will surely be interesting to watch this summer.
Fullback: Anthony Firkser vs. Julian Howsare
The fullback position was essentially eliminated from Chan Gailey’s offense over the last two years, so much like the tight end, it is likely to make a comeback under John Morton and RB coach Stump Mitchell.
Firkser played primarily at the tight end position during his time at Harvard, but the Jets have looked to convert him to a full-time fullback. Firkser was signed as an undrafted free agent in April and would be a more versatile weapon for Morton to deploy from the backfield.
Howsare went undrafted as a linebacker out of Clarion in 2015 when he latched on to the Jets, securing a space on the Practice Squad during his conversion to fullback. He beat out Tommy Bohanon for the job last year but was released after a few weeks. In January, he signed a reserve/future deal with he Jets. At 6’2″, 255 lb. he is built more like a natural fullback than the 220 lb. Firkser.
Projected winner: Anthony Firkser refines his blocking and wins it based on his versatility.
Right Tackle: Ben Ijalana vs. Brandon Shell
The offensive line had zero continuity last season, which is shown by the four different players who made starts at Right Tackle last season.
Ijalana had the job essentially locked down after the first few weeks of the season, but an injury to Ryan Clady forced him over to the left side where he struggled. The Jets felt strongly enough to ink him to a 2 year, $10.25 million deal this offseason.
After looking horrendous in the preseason, Shell rode the bench for the majority of the year until his number was called for the final three games. While the Jets were offering a ton of help to him, Shell allowed zero pressures on 114 pass blocking snaps, per PFF. Despite the help, those numbers are impressive and shows why the Jets felt strongly enough to trade up for him.
Projected winner: Brandon Shell proves that he wasn’t dependent on the help he received.
#2 Cornerback: Buster Skrine vs. Daryll Roberts vs. Juston Burris
The Jets brought in former first round pick Morris Claiborne to lock down one side of the field, if he can stay healthy. The competition for his opposite starter will heat up this summer.
Skrine has been inconsistent in his two years with the Jets; he definitely excels as a slot cornerback and can get too handsy when forced to cover bigger, more talented outside receivers. In 2015, Todd Bowles used Skrine as a blitzer with great success, another benefit for him returning to the slot. If you’re a Jets fan you’re looking for Skrine to lose this #2 job.
Burris impressed last season in limited action, and by all accounts has picked up right where he left off this spring. He has reportedly dropped his weight down to improve his quickness, his technique was solid enough last season to make up for his relatively slow speed.
Roberts is more of an unknown to a lot of fans, but it seemed towards the end of last year he was around every single play. He finished the year with six PD’s, tied for the team lead despite only playing around 27% of defensive snaps.
Projected winner: Juston Burris will get the outside spot in base and Skrine will play inside in nickel sets.
Slot Receiver: Jalin Marshall vs. ArDarius Stewart
With Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson seemingly occupying the #1 and #2 receiver spots, one starting spot is up for grabs. Charone Peake and Chad Hansen will compete for playing time, but they’re more outside receivers.
Stewart, a rookie out of Alabama was the Crimson Tide’s most productive receiver, notching nearly 900 yards and 8TD’s in a run-heavy offense. Stewart has the advantage of familiarity with John Morton’s system which he says is similar to what Lane Kiffin ran in Bama. Scouts saw him as a mix of Jarvis Landry and Anquan Boldin, the Jets will be ecstatic to get that type of production from him.
Marshall is serving a four game suspension for PED use but I think many are writing him off too soon. He is still probably the best return option the Jets have, and he over-performed any expectations of him as a rookie undrafted free agent. He was surely overshadowed by Anderson, but Marshall proved his worth over the ten games he appeared in. It will be up to him to blow the competition out of the water in training camp if he wants to see extended action upon his return.
Projected winner: ArDarius Stewart not only wins it, but fends off Marshall upon his return as well.
Quarterback: Josh McCown vs. Christian Hackenberg vs. Bryce Petty
Oh yeah, I guess this position battle will be a bit interesting to watch too. While the above competitions may intrigue the fans, this is the battle that the entire league will be keeping tabs on.
Many have written off Bryce Petty’s chances to win this job, now I don’t think they’re very high myself, but it’s not like he’s going up against Montana and Young, he has a chance — even if it’s slim — to build on the uninspiring games he started last season.
McCown is a known quantity. Sometimes he can seem like a capable starter, other times he’s floundered. Many will point to his 2-20 record over the last 3 years, but go back a year further when he was in Chicago with new Jets QB Coach Jeremy Bates and you’ll see in 5 starts McCown threw 13 TD’s, 1 INT and a 66% completion rate.
Hackenberg is the most unnecessarily polarizing figure I’ve ever seen. There should be no reason that his name incites so much anger within people, the kid hasn’t even played an NFL snap. He will get plenty of chances to start this season and prove people wrong (or right), but he’ll need to play lights out in training camp to win the job. It won’t be handed to him.
Projected winner: Josh McCown’s familiarity with the system makes the difference, but not for long.