By Zack Levine
In 2009, the New York Jets hired the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens to become their head coach and drafted a promising young quarterback from the USC. The coach, Rex Ryan, built and coached a team that prided itself on tough defense and efficient offense. The quarterback, Mark Sanchez, played well as a rookie and looked to have a promising future as the leader of the Jets.
That year, the Jets would finish 9-7 during the regular season, good enough to earn them a wildcard spot in the playoffs. From there, the Jets relied on its unrelenting defensive play and power running game to carry the team through the postseason. The strategy worked, as Ryan’s club held the both the Bengals and Chargers to 14 points in the Wild Card and Divisional round, respectively.
The Jets finally met there match in the AFC Championship game in which Peyton Manning and the Colts proved to be too much to handle. Still, there was ample optimism for the Jets following the season and high expectations for both the team and its young quarterback in 2010.
The next season, Sanchez’s numbers improved. His interception total dropped from 20 to 13 and he threw five more touchdown passes than the year before. He and the even stingier Jets defense led the team back to the AFC Championship game after finishing 11-5 in the regular season. Again, New York failed to advance to the Super Bowl as they were thwarted by the Pittsburgh Steelers this time.
The following offseason, New York parted ways with veterans Damien Woody, Kris Jenkins and Jason Taylor. The Jets, who had been so strong up front on both sides of the ball, now had holes to fill. Although the team brought in young talent to replace it departed players, New York was never quite the same in the trenches.
The Jets’ real problem, however, began to reveal itself during the season. After showing so much promise during his first two seasons, Sanchez was no longer progressing as a quarterback. Instead, his decision-making ability seemed to be regressing. During the 2011 season, Sanchez threw five more interceptions than in 2010 and lost seven more fumbles. He was also sacked a whopping 39 times, many of which can be attributed to poor choices on his own part rather than shoddy protection from his offensive line.
After finishing at a very mediocre 8-8 during the regular season and missing the playoffs entirely, the crushing weight of the New York media and fan base began to come down on the team and especially on its quarterback. Football analysts and sports journalists began to question whether Sanchez had the intangible attributes that are so essential to a quarterback’s success.
Then, just when it seemed things couldn’t get much worse for the Jets, the 2012 offseason rolled around. New York failed to upgrade its roster and instead chose to rely on many of the same players from their 2009 and 2010 campaigns who were now past their prime.
In addition to failing to improve the roster, the Jets also decided to fill their open offensive coordinator position with Tony Sparano, formerly the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. It was a decision that made little sense, considering the Dolphins had one of the most anemic and bland offenses in the league when Sparano was holding the reins.
The dagger, however, came in the form of a trade. On March 21st of the 2012 offseason, the Jets acquired Tim Tebow from the Denver Broncos. What followed was a media storm that would create endless controversy and eventually drag the entire organization into chaos.
For all of Tebow's positive attributes, bringing him onto a football team when you have no intention of starting him immediately erases all of those positive things.
As soon as he stepped foot in the Jets’ locker room, Tebow was nothing more than a distraction. Bringing in a new, high-profile player to back-up a struggling young quarterback would have been a bad situation anywhere, but in New York, where it is impossible to escape the spotlight, the negative effects were magnified.
The Jets started out the 2012 season at 2-1 before dropping their next five of six. Sanchez was playing terribly. He wasn’t throwing touchdown passes and instead developed a habit of turning the ball over whether it was by interception or fumble. He looked uptight and uncomfortable in interviews, especially when asked about Tebow.
When it was all said and done, Sanchez finished the season with 13 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 8 lost fumbles, and a quarterback rating of 66.9. The quarterback’s inability to mentally handle the weight of the New York media and to steadily improve on the field was a flaw the Jets could not have recovered from. The team finished with a 6-10 record and missed the playoffs for the second straight year.
Now, the Jets have added another unstable quarterback through the draft and traded away their best defensive player rather than re-signing him. All of the credibility that the Ryan and Sanchez built during the 2009 and 2010 seasons has vanished as quickly as it arrive. The entire organization has become dysfunctional and unless changes are made quickly, Jets fans should prepare for another rough season.
New York Jets
By Jeff Risdon
May is the slowest month of the year for the NFL, but that doesn’t mean the football world stops. Here are some quick thoughts on some recent developments.
--Geno Smith impresses in minicamp. All reports from the New York Jets' rookie camp were glowing in praise of Smith, who unexpectedly fell into the second round of last month’s draft. Smith appears to be seizing his opportunity, holding players-only meetings in the team hotel and impressing all viewers with sharpness and velocity on his passing reps. The cynic in me wants to say, “well of course he’s impressive compared to Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy”. And there is probably more than a little of that going on here; the Jets' media and fan base knows some bad quarterbacking from recent times, so anything resembling competence is a refreshing change. But I am a more ardent believer that Geno Smith can emerge as a very good NFL quarterback in time. I still prefer that he tutor behind David Garrard for a few games, if for no other reason than to set the bar a little lower, but it sure appears as if Geno Smith will start Week 1 against Tampa Bay.
--Chip Kelly is changing the culture of the Philadelphia Eagles. Gone are Fast Food Fridays, unhealthy eating, and passive practicing. In are customized smoothies, carefully choreographed music during practice sections, and a frantic no huddle offense and practice system.
This is a radical change from the Andy Reid era. After more than a decade of the same routine, Kelly isn’t just rocking the boat, he’s torpedoed it. I happen to think that’s a very good thing. The Eagles appeared complacent and uninspired last year. Kelly is pumping up the intensity, improving the physical fitness and conditioning, and bringing something new and fresh to the NFL. Nobody knows how it is all going to work for Kelly with Philadelphia, but I admire the Eagles for giving Kelly the chance to try such a radical experiment. It’s a far better option than using a retreaded coach with a philosophy that got him fired from some other NFL team recently. Successful coaches instill a defined culture to a team, and that is exactly what Kelly is doing in Philadelphia. It might rankle some veteran feathers, but this franchise was unlikely to fly again without serious changes.
--The Arizona Cardinals released QB Brian Hoyer. Can we finally put an end to the mystique of the Patriots backup quarterback? Hoyer was cut by the Patriots at the end of the 2012 preseason. The Steelers, who were down to Charlie Batch as the starter with no backup thanks to injuries, signed Hoyer in late November but quickly discarded him as soon as bodies became healthy. The Cardinals lapped him up in a desperate attempt to rectify their desperate quarterback situation. In two games he managed to not completely stink, but didn’t show enough to merit any sort of commitment; the Cardinals signed Drew Stanton and traded for Carson Palmer. Now they have chosen Ryan Lindley over Hoyer as the third option.
Let that sink in for a second--the new regime in Arizona feels that Ryan Lindley is a better option than Hoyer. Just as Matt Cassel proved incapable of being a good starter after looking fantastic playing behind Tom Brady, Hoyer is much less desirable once stripped of the Patriots luster. In fact, Hoyer wasn’t as good as Cassel in his limited opportunity. No doubt Hoyer will get yet another chance somewhere, but here’s the plain truth: if Hoyer had never been a Patriot, his career would be over. Sadly, we will go thru this same cycle with Ryan Mallett in another year or two. For the record, I’d take Hoyer over Mallett any day.
--Titus Young gets arrested. Again. I wrote extensively about this at DetroitLionsDraft.com, but here is the Reader’s Digest version: Titus Young needs help. The story is not funny anymore. Here’s hoping that Young can turn his life around, if for no other reason than to be a father to Titus Young Jr. Football is irrelevant at this point.
--There is growing momentum from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that rookie Mike Glennon has a very good chance to unseat incumbent Josh Freeman as the starting quarterback for the Buccaneers. Glennon had a very strong minicamp and has impressed the coaches with his quick knowledge of the offense. He’s also a competitor and not afraid to show a little emotion, boxes in which Freeman often fails to check off.
Aiding in Glennon’s case is that Freeman is entering the final year of his contract and there is little reason to pay him big money if he continues to plod along. Other than about two months of his four year career, Freeman has been a below-average NFL starter. His penchant for poor decisions and relative apathetic persona has rubbed Bucs fans--and some coaches--the wrong way. Glennon offers change, and does so inexpensively. Don’t think that doesn’t factor into the equation for the spendthrift Bucs, who have ranked in the bottom 5 in payroll for years. I’m admittedly not a Glennon backer; he was my 11th rated QB in April’s draft with a grade equivalent to a 5th-6th round pick. I worry about his sloppy foot mechanics, his alarming tendency to drop his eyes when pressured, his propensity to fabricate pressure, and lack of velocity on his throws. But if he can seize the day with a better supporting cast, the Bucs are better for it. However, I sense the endgame the Bucs really want here is for Glennon to push Freeman into being the guy who nearly wedged the team into the playoffs back in 2010 with a brilliant finish to the season and not the guy with a 3-12 record with 24 INTs in games beyond Week 8 the last two seasons.
--Former Chargers RB Chuck Muncie passed away. He was 60 and died of an apparent heart attack. I loved Muncie’s rough and tumble running style, sort of an early predecessor of Jerome Bettis. As a prematurely bespectacled child, I also loved that Muncie wore glasses while he played. Alas, there was more to the Chuck Muncie story than just his powerful running.
Muncie had a couple of very prominent strikes in his NFL career. After toiling for some truly dreadful Saints teams, he pouted and sulked his way into a trade to the Chargers. This was one of the earliest cases I can personally recall of a disgruntled player forcing a team’s hand, and that bothered me as a naïve young fan. A handful of years later, Muncie was banished for a cocaine addiction that cost him his career. He even served prison time for it. That could have been the sad ending to a tragic story, but Muncie chose to write a different ending.
Chuck Muncie became a widely respected advocate and agent of change for troubled youths. His foundation gave kids a chance to avoid the drug-and-thug lifestyle, and did so with compassion and personal commitment by Muncie himself. He mentored scores of young athletes, steering them on the right path and teaching them about making the smart choices he failed to make in his early life. His final years were a source of redemption and virtue, and that is what Chuck Muncie should be remembered for as much as his on-field success. RIP Mr. Muncie.
New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots
By Zack Levine
Every NFL season features several running backs that quickly become household names either during their rookie season or after a year or two of development.
Last season, there was rookie Alfred Morris of the Washington Redskins who recorded over 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Trent Richardson also had a great season for the Cleveland Browns by rushing for 950 yards and making 11 end zone appearances.
There are three scenarios that stimulate the possibility of a running back having a breakout season.
The first is if it is the rookie season of the player. Rookie tailbacks have a high chance of being breakout candidates because despite all the scouting and film-watching, coaches don’t really know what they’re getting until he gets on the field.
A fresh start could also indicate that a player will have a breakout season. Sometimes, a new place and a new look can create an entirely new opportunity. An example of this would be how Michael Turner became of the NFL's most valuable running backs for the Atlanta Falcons immediately after leaving the San Diego Chargers and the shadow of LaDainian Tomlinson.
The third place to look for a breakout candidate is in training camp when there is a battle at the running back position. The player that steps up and wins the starting job should be able to continue that momentum going into the season.
Here are several 2013 breakout candidates at the running back position:
Chris Ivory, New York Jets
Ivory is one of those backs that has been given chances due to the players ahead of him getting injured. Whenever the Saints gave Ivory carries, he always ran like he was finally getting his big break. The Saints never made him their feature back, however, and now he has a chance to be one with the Jets.
The Jets' offense currently is filled with uncertainty, with no solid starter at quarterback or running back. Ivory will certainly have the opportunity to earn the starting job, and if he runs like he did when he got his opportunities with New Orleans, there’s a good chance he has an excellent year.
Giovanni Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Bernard is a dynamic player out of North Carolina who was the first running back taken in the 2013 NFL Draft. You’ll have trouble finding a more patient runner who waits for blocks to develop before he attacks the hole. In the open field, Bernard is shifty and his low center of gravity makes him difficult to bring down. He has the ability to score every time he touches the ball and is even a dangerous weapon in the return game.
The Bengals currently have BenJarvus Green-Ellis plugged in as their starter, but he was inconsistent last season and uncharacteristically struggled to hold onto the football. If that trend continues, don’t be surprised to see Bernard get substantial playing time early in the season. He certainly has the skills to be a breakout performer for the Bengals.
Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
This is scenario number three, where there will be a battle during training camp and throughout the preseason that will determine the week one starter. The Dolphins let Reggie Bush walk this offseason and picked up rookie Mike Gillislee from Florida in the draft. That means that Gillislee, Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller will be competing for the starting running back job this summer.
Miller should be able to beat out the rookie and the injury-plagued and inconsistent Thomas. When he does, he will be able to truly showcase his talent and expand on the good things he did last season. Although he only carried the ball 51 times in 2012, Miller averaged an excellent 4.9 yards per carry. If he becomes the Dolphins’ starter and keeps his yards per carry average that high, he will be a tough problem for defenses to deal with throughout the season.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh finally gave up on the Rashard Mendenhal and decided to look for a running back in the draft. They found former Michigan State standout Le’Veon Bell. A physical yet athletic runner, Bell should fit perfectly into what the Steelers try to do with their running game.
Another reason Bell could be primed for a breakout season is that Pittsburgh doesn’t seem to be too thrilled with any of the backs currently on its roster. Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Chris Rainey have all been effective at times, but never consistently. If Mike Tomlin gives Bell significant carries, the rookie could have a season similar to the one Alfred Morris enjoyed last year.
Honorable Mentions: Jeff Demps, Tampa Bay; Ryan Williams, Arizona; Daryl Richardson, St. Louis.
Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets
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