Head coach Rex Ryan really liked how the New York Jets looked during OTAs and minicamp. Of course, what else is he, or any other NFL head coach, going to say'
"The energy and all that stuff has been outstanding," Ryan said. "I love the way we're competing against each other."
As routine as optimism is at this time of the year, there is little doubt the Jets seem to be in a better place heading into training camp than they were 12 months ago, when Ryan, working under first-year general manager John Idzik, appeared to be a lame duck operating with a talent-deficient roster.
The Jets will go to their summer home at SUNY-Cortland, with players reporting July 23 and going on the field the next day for their first practice the next day.
The offense needed attention. And with quarterback Michael Vick added to the roster it may get more attention than it wants — again.
For his part, Vick believes he can win a championship with the Jets — as the backup to Smith. Or that is the party line for now.
"I think it can happen this year," Vick said during minicamp. "I think Geno can take us where we need to go."
The general belief is that Vick is far more likely to supplant Smith as the Jets' starter this year than Smith is likely to lead the Jets to the promised land for the first time in 46 seasons. But Vick said winning a Super Bowl, even as a backup, would be the perfect way to end an interesting, polarizing career.
"If I can walk away from this game with a ring, I'll be so thankful," Vick said. "Because I've never won a championship at any of the levels that I've played on. Almost had one in college [in 2000 with Virginia Tech]. I want a ring."
Last season, the Jets exceeded expectations by finishing 8-8, which earned Ryan a short contract extension. And Idzik disproved, to some degree, his overly cautious reputation by bolstering a tepid offense with free-agent signees wide receiver Eric Decker, running back Chris Johnson and quarterback Michael Vick.
The infusion of talent, as well as a second season in Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense, incumbent starting quarterback Geno Smith believes the Jets are much further along than they were a year ago.
"Obviously, there is a big difference with just the way that we've gelled, having a second year in this offense and a better understanding of what's required of us and the way to get in and out of routes, the timing of the offense; all those little subtle details that really takes time to develop," Smith said. "Once we get out there against an opposing defense and play another 16 games, we'll be able to measure just how much we're improved."
The measures will come far sooner for some members of the offense: wide receiver Stephen Hill and linemen Oday Aboushi and Will Campbell, in particular. Hill, who is trying to hang on to his roster spot after two injury-wrecked seasons, has a fan in wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal.
"It's a little early to label him a bust," Lal said. "I have a hard time labeling a guy a bust when he's done everything in his power. Luck, in terms of injuries, hasn't been on his side."
Still, Hill has a lot to prove. He was viewed by many as a reach when former general manager Mike Tannenbaum traded up to select him in the second round of the 2012 draft. Despite elite measurables - he stands 6-foot-4 and ran 40 yards in 4.3 seconds — the young, raw Hill needed time and a stable system in which he could develop.
That does not describe the Jets. Hill made a terrible first impression on Idzik in 2013, when he collected 24 catches in 12 games, but just 11 receptions in his final nine games before once again going on injured reserve in December. The Jets upgraded their receiver corps during the offseason, which means Hill is in for a battle just to remain with the Jets as the No. 5 receiver.
Neither Aboushi nor Campbell played a snap as rookies last year. One or both will have to emerge, at least as a legitimate backup, for a Jets squad that had uncommonly good health along the offensive line last season.
There are clearly questions at guard entering camp. The Jets barely managed last season with workmanlike efforts from rookie left guard Brian Winters and veteran right guard Willie Colon, which was a good thing, since their backups were annual tease Vladimir Ducasse and journeyman Caleb Schlauderaff.
But Colon was absent during the spring due to a torn biceps suffered in the season finale and a knee injury during workouts. This magnifies the Jets' lack of depth at the position. Campbell and Aboushi got extended reps in OTAs along with fourth-round pick Dakota Dozier.
Winters is also saw time at right guard, which might be an indication of a lack of faith in alternatives and concern about Colon's ability to be full strength in September.
"We're excited about the young guys," Mornhinweg told season-ticket holders on a conference call. "We've got an opportunity to become one of the better offensive lines in the league."
The team heads to camp with confidence in the defensive line, an area that once brought fame to Ryan as a defensive coordinator. Few teams in the league have a 1-2 punch like ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, who can wreak havoc with opposing running backs and quarterbacks. Their dominance creates a trickle-down effect for the rest of an otherwise average defense.
The competition in the secondary will be worth watching. Two years ago, the Jets had the best cornerback pair in football. Now, with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie gone, the Jets are left to hope they can get through this season with the inconsistent yet promising Dee Milliner and the injury-prone, unproven Dimitri Patterson before Milliner and/or rookies Dexter McDougle and Brandon Dixon, whom the Jets took in the third and sixth rounds, respectively, emerge as legitimate starters. The Jets need Milliner, in particular, to build on an impressive final month as a rookie because the veteran backups are fringe role players at best.
Amazingly, the Jets are in better shape at safety, a position that Ryan has largely ignored for most of his tenure. The hard-hitting Calvin Pryor has already begun establishing himself as a team leader and should provide the Jets an immediate physical and vocal presence at the back of the secondary. Antonio Allen worked with the starters during minicamp, an acknowledgement by Ryan that he possesses the upside and big-play capability that Dawan Landry lacks. Landry will still be a valuable mentor and sounding board as well as a key backup in a unit that otherwise lacks experience.
The Jets will find out soon if the optimism is warranted, or just a springtime tease and whether the quest for a ring is realistic at some point in the near future.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun