Wow! Rex Ryan must not mind living on the edge!
The controversial Jets coach was reportedly the driving force behind the acquisition of the one and only Tim Tebow, the polarizing ex-Heisman winner from Florida and magician for last year’s Broncos when leading Denver into one of the most-unexpected playoff berths in recent memory.
Yet if all goes to plan, Tebow, who alternately captivated and thrilled the Rockies with his unorthodox style a year ago, will only be a bit player as Ryan looks to steer the Jets back to the postseason after fading down the stretch to 8-8 a year ago, missing the playoffs altogether after qualifying for the AFC title game the previous two seasons.
A more important development for the Jets this fall is likely going to involve holdover QB Mark Sanchez, who has not progressed since his rookie season and might have even taken a step or two backwards a year ago. With limited physical attributes, Sanchez regressed markedly in 2011, tossing 18 picks and sacked 39 times as the Jets deviated from their run-first formula that had somewhat protected Sanchez in his first two years.
Sanchez was also guilty of crucial mistakes last season, such as the ghastly turnovers that allowed Miami to sneak away with a win in the regular-season finale and bury the Jets’ playoff hopes once and for all.
Still, Ryan and his new offensive coordinator, ex-Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, believe a return to an infantry emphasis is the best way to shield Sanchez. The Jets fell to 22nd in NFL rushing stats a year ago after ranking first and fourth, respectively, the previous two years. Look for the Sparano offense to revolve around RB Shonn Greene, who recorded his first 1,000-yard rushing season a year ago (1,054 yards).
Enter Tebow, whose acquisition was also heartily endorsed by Sparano who introduced the 'Wildcat' looks to the NFL four years ago in Miami with Ronnie Brown taking direct snaps, and envisions Tebow as a similar-type threat this fall. If all goes to plan, Tebow will be spotted accordingly by Sparano, often in short-yardage or goal-line situations where the ex-Gator’s powerful running style offers the sort of dimension Sanchez cannot provide.
The risk of having Tebow as another offensive option are the peripheral distractions (no fault of Tebow’s) that might result if: A) Tim Terrific excels in his limited role, or B) Sanchez endures another difficult season.
There are other issues offensively, especially among the receiving corps where the moody Santonio Holmes has underachieved while proving a divisive influence in the locker room – his latest misadventure was asking out of June OTA work because he felt he had taken too many snaps already – and an OL that leaked too much in 2011 and failed to keep Sanchez upright. Sparano will have to thread the needle this fall to avoid many of these issues.
Moreover, there are defensive issues for Ryan to address as the stop unit has gradually weakened over Rex’s three years in charge. Indeed, the Jets’ 'D' allowed 123 more points in 2011 than it did in Ryan’s first season back in 2009.
Although the Tebow addition stole the offseason headlines, Ryan and GM Mike Tannenbaum made perhaps their boldest moves in the offseason with hopes of bolstering the recently-sagging defense. The top free-agent addition was ex-Redskins safety LaRon Landry, while the Jets went for additional defensive help with their top pick in the draft, tabbing North Carolina’s pass-rush demon DE Quinton Coples with a first-round selection.
Landry, however, might not prove the answer at one of the safety spots that has opened up with the likely departure of key performer, injury-prone Jim Leonhard (still unsigned as of early July), as an Achilles tendon injury limited Landry’s offseason work and threatened his availability for training camp. The secondary still features shutdown CB deluxe Darrelle Revis, but his partner on the other side, Antonio Cromartie, was picked on a bit too often a year ago as opponents mostly chose to avoid throwing the way of Revis.
The front seven will hopefully be bolstered by the addition of rookie DE Couples, who could provide a spark that was missing a year ago. Worryingly for Ryan, LBs Bart Scott and Calvin Pace both seemed to slow noticeably last fall.
Maybe Ryan can use Tebow on defense, too.
Summary: Ryan is attempting to change a formula that seemed to go bad a year ago, authorizing staff changes and making bold moves in the offseason that hardly appear foolproof. The Tebow acquisition, while looking good in theory, also threatens to be an unwanted distraction, with a simmering QB controversy the last thing Ryan or confidence-shaky holdover QB Mark Sanchez needs at this point.
But the Jets’ re-emergence as a playoff team likely rests with Sparano’s 'O' rediscovering its ground game roots, and for Ryan to reboot a defense that sprung a lot of leaks last fall. There is no guarantee the whole situation won’t blow up in Ryan’s face this fall.
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