So, what is it that you should keep your eye on? Here are three things to watch, and questions that should be answered Thursday night:
If need be, can Bryce Petty be the Jets No. 2 quarterback?
Through the first three weeks of training camp, rookie Bryce Petty has shown he still has quite a ways to go before he can reliably be considered a player that can come in and start games. It seems pretty obvious that before the start of the season, New York will add a veteran quarterback to the mix, at least until Geno Smith returns from a fractured jaw.
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With that being said, Petty is the No. 2 quarterback on the Jets roster right now, and with Smith out 10 weeks, it’s highly unlikely Fitzpatrick sees more than a series or two before getting yanked. Being that Todd Bowles all but confirmed at his Tuesday press conference that undrafted rookie Jake Heaps is nothing more than a project player right now, Petty should see an awful lot of playing time.
During training camp, Petty has struggled with reads and often times looked too nervous, or maybe excited, on the field. He’s missed throws he should make, rushed things and hasn’t looked comfortable. But in camp, Petty was getting third-team reps after Smith and Fitzpatrick. It’s near impossible to get in a rhythm when after three throws you’re yanked. Thursday will be the most action he’s seen since becoming a Jet.
Can Lorenzo Mauldin translate training camp success to the preseason?
It’s sometimes a little difficult to judge backup defensive linemen, specifically pass rushers, in the preseason. With so many teams using a defensive line rotation, even though a player is listed as a “second-“ or “third-string” defensive lineman, he still sees action on Sundays.
That’s not the case for offensive linemen. There’s a much, much steeper drop-off from a team’s starting left tackle, and the backup. As a result, those crazy dominant performances put together by pass rushers in the preseason are sometimes a bit misleading. However, when a defensive player is invisible working against a second-team offensive lineman, that’s usually a cause for concern.
Thursday will be the first time rookie Lorenzo Mauldin appears in a game for the Jets, and if his training camp is any indication of how things will go, all eyes will be glued to No. 55 when he rushes the passer.
Throughout camp, Mauldin has shown an impressive burst and rotation of pass-rushing moves. The Lions will be the first team Mauldin faces where he’ll have an offensive tackle going full speed trying to stop him, and a quarterback on the other side he can hit.
Last week, Bowles said it’s unlikely Mauldin supplants Calvin Pace at outside linebacker this year, but with a good preseason, he could push for playing time. While recording two sacks Thursday night won’t make Mauldin the next Lawrence Taylor, it will show if he’s ready for some snaps with the 1s.
Will a receiver near the bottom of the depth chart separate himself?
The moment Brandon Marshall’s trade to the Jets became official, the big-bodied playmaker, partnered with Eric Decker, gave the Jets one of the best 1-2 receiving punches in the NFL. Marshall was, and is, a true No. 1 target, and Decker one of the best route runners in the NFL.
After the two, though? Well, things get a bit more interesting. New York has a group of eight players competing for two-to-three spots assuming rookie Devin Smith and Jeremy Kerley are locks to make the roster.
Chris Owusu has been receiving the lion’s share of first-team reps in three-wide sets, but he’s out with a concussion. With that, the door has suddenly opened for Quincy Enunwa, Shaq Evans, T.J. Graham, Saalim Hakim, Austin Hill, DeVier Posey and Walter Powell to show they belong.
What will likely be the difference between who makes the final 53, and who doesn’t, is what player can show the most value on special teams. Sure, the Jets want to see all shine as pass catchers, but if one or two break a return into the open field, it will go a long way in aiding their cause.