QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Mark Sanchez. Backups - Tim Tebow, Greg McElroy, Matt Simms. The position at which the Jets insist they don't have a controversy will be the one that gets all the attention this summer. Sanchez threw a career-high 26 touchdown passes last season and displayed impressive durability by absorbing a career-high 39 sacks yet throwing all but four of the Jets' 547 passes, but his 18 interceptions and career-low 11.3 yards per completion-as well as his continued sensitivity to any type of criticism-left those inside and outside the organization wondering if he's the long-term answer.
Sanchez was signed to an extension following a brief flirtation with Peyton Manning, but his status as the unquestioned starter lasted all of 12 days before the Jets acquired Tebow from the Broncos. The Jets insist Tebow will be a jack-of-all-trades who is no threat to Sanchez' starting job, but while Tebow's shortcomings as a quarterback are obvious, his ability to galvanize teammates and fan bases will make him a very popular person if Sanchez gets off to a slow start in camp or once the regular season starts. McElroy and Simms will vie for the no. 3 job and project as nothing more than long-term NFL backups.
No matter who his quarterback is, Jets head coach Rex Ryan wants to move back to the ground-and-pound approach that defined his first two seasons. Greene-a steady but unspectacular grinder who enjoyed his first 1,000-yard season last year-is the perfect lead back in such an attack. Greene had at least 18 carries in seven games and averaged 4.0 yards per carry in six of those contests. Ideally, the Jets would like McKnight to emerge as the "lightning" in a thunder-and-lightning tandem and/or to replace LaDainian Tomlinson as the pass-catching threat out of the backfield, but McKnight has just 98 touches as a rusher and receiver in two NFL seasons and averaged just 3.1 yards per carry last year.
The rookie Ganaway, drafted in the sixth round after winning the Big 12 rushing title as a senior at Baylor, is a Greene clone who could end up as the "2" in a 1-2 punch with Greene. Conner, i.e. "The Terminator" is a fine blocking back. Powell's roster spot is not assured after he collected just 13 carries in two games last season.
Keller is the surest thing about the Jets' passing game as well as the only proven commodity among their tight ends. He led the Jets and set career highs in both receptions (65) and receiving yards (815) last season and will be playing for a new contract in 2012.
With the unreliable Santonio Holmes "leading" an inexperienced group of wide receivers, Sanchez-or Tebow-will likely look to Keller again as a safety valve and occasional big-play threat. With three career catches, Cumberland is the only other Jets tight end to record a reception in an NFL game. Smith, a former rugby player in his native Australia who is trying to make it as a 27-year-old rookie, has the most interesting back story of the five players competing for backup and blocking duties.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill. Backups - Chaz Schilens, Jeremy Kerley, Patrick Turner, Dexter Jackson, Scotty McKnight, DaMarcus Ganaway, Jordan White, Royce Pollard, Eron Riley.
The Jets made a mistake in awarding the captaincy to Holmes last season. Did they also make a mistake in keeping him on the roster this season? The Jets had little choice but to hope for the best after giving Holmes more than $24 million in guaranteed money in the five-year, $45.25 million deal he inked right after the lockout last year. But Holmes hasn't exceeded 100 yards in a game since November 2010-a span of 25 games-and has just one 1,000-yard season under his belt at age 28.
More alarmingly, Holmes continued his diva act during the offseason and capped the spring by storming off the field because he was asked to take too many reps and then missing the final week of OTAs with a hamstring injury. The rookie Hill has impressed the Jets with his maturity, versatility and big-play ability, three traits that should allow him to start right away.
There's not much behind Hill-Schilens had just 72 catches in four injury-prone years with the Raiders while Kerley showed flashes of promise as a rookie, but the rest of the wide receiving corps is comprised of unproven and largely untested first-, second- or third-year players-so the Jets will need him to immediately emerge as a legitimate NFL receiver.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - C Nick Mangold, RG Brandon Moore, LG Matt Slauson, LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, RT Wayne Hunter. Backups - Caleb Schlauderaff, Robert Griffin, Terrence Campbell, Fred Koloto, Vladimir Ducasse, Matt Kroul, Stephon Heyer, Austin Howard, Dennis Landolt.
The Jets' starting offensive line technically returns intact, but while Mangold, Ferguson, Slauson and Moore are all veterans who are entrenched and provide the Jets uncommon stability along the line-Mangold and Ferguson are entering their seventh seasons as starters while Moore has started 120 straight games for the Jets-Hunter will almost certainly be pushed this summer after he allowed 8.5 sacks and was flagged for 11 penalties last year.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DE Muhammad Wilkerson, DE Quinton Coples, NT Sione Pouha, DT Mike Devito. Backups - T Kenrick Ellis, T Marcus Dixon, T Matt Hardison, T Damon Harrison, T Brett Roy, T Martin Tevaseu, DE Jay Richardson.
With a pair of recent draftees in Wilkerson and Coples and two long-term starters in Pouha and DeVito, the Jets have a solid mix of youth and experience on the line. Wilkerson, who dodged serious injury when his car flipped over on a highway in New Jersey in June, and the rookie Coples are expected to help the Jets usher in a 4-3 defense and provide a pass-rushing duo the team has long lacked.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine hopes Wilkerson can play 80 percent of the snaps in his second season while Coples could eventually become the first Jets player to record double-digit sacks since John Abraham. Ellis played in just five games and had seven tackles as a rookie last season-and spent part of this offseason serving a jail sentence from a 2010 incident in his native Virginia-Rex Ryan has been excited by his progress the last few months and hopes he will provide valuable depth behind the steady Pouha and DeVito. Dixon and Richardson are solid veteran backups.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - ILB Bart Scott, ILB David Harris, OLB Calvin Pace, OLB Aaron Maybin. Backups -- DeMario Davis, Nick Bellore, Bryan Thomas, Josh Mauga, Garrett McIntyre, Ricky Sapp, Marcus Dowtin.
The Jets infused some youth in an aging linebacker corps by selecting Demario Davis in the third round of April's draft. Scott seems re-energized after a tumultuous 2011, but it remains to be seen how much he and Pace have left in the tank after Scott recorded just 53 tackles (his fewest since 2004) and Pace racked up just 4.5 sacks (his fewest since 2006). Both turn 32 this season. Five-year veteran Harris had four interceptions and five sacks last season, but the breakout player among linebackers was Maybin, who had a team-high six sacks and four forced fumbles in limited duty as he began removing the "bust" label that had been affixed to him during an unsatisfying two-year stint in Buffalo.
There will be more expected of Maybin this season, but Ryan and his staff were pleased by what they saw of Maybin during OTAs. Speaking of the highly excitable Ryan, he compared Davis to Ray Lewis this spring-big-time praise indeed for a third-round draft pick, but Davis has already exhibited a top-notch motor and leadership qualities and could push Scott for the starting job by the end of the season. Thomas, the longest-tenured Jet, is no lock to make the roster after undergoing left Achilles and right shoulder surgeries last year.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Darrelle Revis, CB Antonio Cromartie, FS LaRon Landry, SS Eric Smith. Backups - Kyle Wilson, Ellis Lankster, Josh Bush, Donnie Fletcher, Julian Posey, Ryan Steed, Isaiah Trufant, Yeremiah Bell, Antonio Allen, Tracy Wilson, Royce Adams, D'Anton Lynn.
There are few cornerback tandems in football better than the Revis-Cromartie combination. Revis may or may not report to training camp as he seeks a new contract, but by any measure, he's a Hall of Famer in waiting whenever he takes the field. He made his fourth straight Pro Bowl, earned All-NFL honors for the third consecutive year last season and single-handedly changes the game plan for opposing offensive coordinators.
Cromartie, who had a Revis-like impact during his breakout seasons with the Chargers, has been credited with 29 passes defensed and picked off seven passes in two seasons in New York. The Jets are not nearly as strong at safety, where they are crossing their fingers that LaRon Landry is over the left foot and left Achilles injuries that cost him chunks of playing time the last two years with the Redskins and that Eric Smith isn't on the downward slope after a rough 2011.
The initial signs weren't great on Landry who didn't participate at all in OTAs as he continued his rehabilitation. The Jets picked up the underrated Yeremiah Bell as a free agent and can pencil him into either safety slot, but rookies Bush and Allen may have to play a bigger role than anticipated if Landry and/or Smith fails to meet expectations.
The Jets signed Brown shortly after he was released by the Rams and he'll have a, pardon the pun, leg up on Folk in a legitimate two-way battle at kicker. Folk hasn't distinguished himself in two seasons with the Jets, for whom he has nailed 76.6 percent of his field goals, while Brown has hit 80.9 percent of his field goals in a nine-year career and is 22-of-36 from beyond 50 yards.
Conley should again be the Jets' punter after a solid 2011. McKnight finished second in the league in average yards per kick return last year (31.6) while Kerley was ninth in average yards per punt return (10.9), so the Jets should once again have their usual strong return game under special teams coach Mike Westhoff.