July 13, 2021 | Nick Frangopoulos
The New York Jets are set to open up training camp on July 27th which means that, as of today, we’re only 2 weeks away from seeing Gang Green step on the field at Florham Park for the first time since minicamp and OTAs ended. It may just be the tip of the iceberg, but here are 3 key things to keep your eyes on this summer:
Zach’s Wilson and the quarterbacks.
It goes without saying that all eyes will be on the quarterbacks when the Jets open up camp, the most notable player in that group being the 2nd overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft. Zach Wilson had a (mostly) strong spring, making a number of very impressive throws, looking more than comfortable running the offense, while drawing quite a bit of praise from his coaches and teammates. Yes, there were some moments where he looked like a rookie (which is to be expected considering that he is one), but the consensus amongst the team beat reporters and those who got to watch him up close was that Wilson was never “swimming” or “lost” and, overall, looked the part. The same, however, cannot be said for fellow young signal-callers James Morgan and Mike White, who struggled mightily. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that it seems to be Zach’s job to lose, but that doesn’t mean the Jets should enter the season with 3 quarterbacks who haven’t started an NFL game. I would expect the team to bring in a veteran QB to back-up, mentor, and push Zach Wilson at some point, either before training camp opens or soon after, perhaps even after the first wave of cuts.
The group of players with the largest boom or bust potential on this years Jets squad might just be the cornerbacks. Penciled in as the outside starters are 3rd year veteran Blessaun Austin and last year’s 5th round draft pick, Bryce Hall, who showed a good amount of promise in the 8 games he played last season. Isaiah Dunn is another name to watch here as he was one of the players who stood out quite a bit during the spring. Javelin Guidry will likely man the slot, however I would expect rookies Michael Carter II and Brandon Eichols to rotate in a fair amount there. Overall, this particular group is young and raw, but the potential is there for a couple of guys to emerge. There is, of course, a chance that Joe Douglas looks to sign a veteran FA like Steven Nelson or Richard Sherman to bolster this group as well, but I don’t expect them to make such a move until after the first pre-season game, at the earliest, as head coach Robert Saleh has already stated that he would like to get the younger players as much playing time and reps as possible before looking to add outside help.
The Offensive Line.
There may not be a position group on this team with more resources pumped into it than the OL, a far cry from the days of Mike Maccagnan. Joe Douglas began building his “Great Wall” last year when he selected rising star LT Mekhi Becton 11th overall after signing free agents Greg Van Roten (RG), George Fant (RT), and Conor McGovern (C). The results were mixed, as the Jets finished in the bottom half of the league in both pass protection and rushing production. That being said, the unit was not helped by Adam Gase’s play-calling or 3rd year QB Sam Darnold’s inability to identify blitz packages pre-snap, set the correct protections, and scan the field post-snap. In fact, there was an uptick in pass protection when veteran signal-caller Joe Flacco was thrust into the starting lineup due to injury, as he was noticeably better than Darnold at all of those aforementioned tasks. However, by seasons end, it was very apparent that the OL still needed some work, especially once it became clear to Douglas that he would be moving on from Sam Darnold and selecting a young rookie quarterback 2nd overall. After selecting Zach Wilson, Joe wasted no time making a big move to protect him, packaging picks, trading up, using his 2nd first round pick on talented OG Alijah Vera-Tucker from USC. Douglas wasn’t done though. His most recent move was inking former Washington Football Team RT Morgan Moses to a one year deal, arguably giving the Jets their best pair of bookend Tackles since D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Damien Woody. All of these moves have a trickle down effect as well. The Jets expect their Center, Conor McGovern, to have a bounce back year, especially with, presumably, better guard play around him. Last years starting RT, George Fant, can now be utilized as a swing tackle, offering extra versatility. What was once a shallow unit now has depth. Training camp will give us a first true look at this rebuilt unit, as the pads will finally be strapped on, and contact will be allowed, something missing and not allowed in minicamp or OTAs.