1) Vinny Testaverde - So what else is new? The Jets have finished 9-7, and 10-6 in the past two seasons, but 2000's late-season collapse and last year's playoff loss to Oakland are still fresh in fans' minds. The general consensus is that if the Jets want to make any sort of noise in the playoffs this season, it will have to be with Vinny, but then again, if I had told you last year that Tom Brady would be the winning QB in the Super Bowl, and the MVP to boot, I would have had to buy earplugs to drown out the laughter.
In his favor, Vinny should have a better grasp on Paul Hackett's West Coast offense, and more comfortable because of several adjustments made to cater the scheme to Vinny's aptitudes. Also, Lavarenous Coles and Anthony Becht both made significant strides last season, and should be ready to contribute even more in 2002. Then, there's always Curtis Martin, who will probably be even more effective this season, since last year's second round selection, Lamont Jordan has proven he can be effective while giving Curtis a breather.
There is reason for concern, as the Jets have overhauled the offensive line, turning over two of five starters, and by the fact that offensive line guru Bill Muir will now be plying his trade in Tampa Bay, but with Kevin Mawae, Jason Fabini, and Randy Thomas all returning, the core of the Jets' offensive front should be able to live up to their excellent performance of the last two seasons.
2) Sam Cowart - If Cowart can play to his pre-injury levels, he could be a steal for the Jet defense. If not, you'll hear a lot of grumbling about how the Jets should have made a better effort to retain James Farrior.
Part of the reason Cowart chose to come to the Jets, was his past relationship with Jets' defensive coordinator Teddy Cottrell, under whom Cowart had his most successful seasons with the Bills, in Buffalo. Playing with vets Marvin Jones and Mo Lewis should also help Cowart ease into the scheme.
Of all the new starters on the Jets' defense, Cowart's responsibilities are the most imposing, since he is replacing the player that had the best season of any of the Jets' departed starters from 2001. He will need to be an anchor from his weakside position, particularly against the run in 2002.
3) Lavarenous Coles - Is Coles the guy he was in 2001, or somewhere in between that and his 2000 persona? Given a chance to start in 2001, Coles proved his mettle, emerging as a legitimate downfield threat for Vinny Testaverde, leading the Jets in both receiving yardage and touchdowns.
Coles' role will be different in 2001, as Herman Edwards has pledged that he will make a concerted effort to throw more to Wayne Chrebet. But don't expect L.C. to become invisible. His combination of speed and strength still makes him a legitimate downfield threat, and he should help to stretch defenses and score some big plays. Where Coles is underrated is the way he locks onto the ball, and is effective in blitz situations. He is also probably the best Jet receiver in terms of adjusting in mid-air to gather in passes.
Coles' speed also makes him an asset on trick plays, where he lines up in the backfield, and comes around the end. With a year of experience under his belt, and having won Vinny Testaverde's confidence in 2001, expect that Coles will be frothing at the mouth to show that last season was not a fluke. Expect bigger and better things from this former Seminole, this season and beyond.
4) Jason Ferguson - Fergie is the Jets best run-stopper, and comes off an injury that ended his 2001 season before it started. The off-season surgery was deemed a success, and Ferguson is ready to accept his role as a focal point in Herman Edwards' 4-3 scheme.
Last year, the Jets were sorely lacking against the run, and many felt a big part of that was Ferguson. If he is able to come back healthy, Jason would anchor a tackle rotation that will include ex-Raven Larry Webster, and ex-Titan Josh Evans. Last year's 7th round pick James Reed, and 2002 4th rounder Alan Harper also hope to contribute alongside Jason in 2002.
A return to form would make the Jets formidable up front, as Ferguson, teamed with John Abraham would give the Jets a fire and ice combination of a top-flight pass rusher on the outside, and a force to control the inside against the running game. Ferguson is no slouch against the pass either, so his presence could also help Shaun Ellis recover from an off-season in 2001.
With all the changes the Jets have made on defense, Ferguson could help ease some of the transition, since he has played with Ellis, Abraham, Lewis and Jones previously. The Jets have probably amassed the best front seven talent since the Sack Exchange Days, but it all may turn on the repaired shoulder of number seventy-two.
5) Kareem McKenzie - Last year's 3rd Round draft choice will be pressed into starting duty in 2002, mostly due to the salary cap. In exchange for plucking the high-end salaries of Marcus Coleman and Aaron Glenn from the Jets, the Houston Texans were rewarded with tackle Ryan Young, who had developed into a solid player under the tutelage of Bill Muir.
Kareem's physical tools are not in question, but even though he played at a big time program in college (Penn State) there are doubts about his effort, play-to-play. There is a question as to which side he will play on, although left tackle is his more natural position, the Jets may play Jason Fabini there to protect Vinny Testaverde's blindside, and have McKenzie play on the right side.
McKenzie's margin for error will be small. The Jets have brought Jumbo Elliot back as a back-up, and will not hesitate to slide him into the lineup. McKenzie's job will be further complicated by the fact that guard Dave Szott, expected to replace the departed Kerry Jenkins will miss the season, and be replaced by either J.P. Machado or Steve Goodwin, both of whom are limited in experience. He will have to hit the ground running, and in a big way.
Five Players On the Spot For the Jets in 2002
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