FLORHAM PARK, NJ - The Jets started their first day, of three, of mandatory mini camp today with no progress towards a return of Muhammad Wilkerson or Ryan Fitzpatrick but despite the media's obsession with the two players not under contract the Jets practiced anyway. As Todd Bowles says all he can do is "focus on the players that are here."
The players that are here are far from a perfect product, but you can tell that collectively the team is way ahead of where they were last year. The players are louder in their communication, more confident in their roles and they are playing at a much faster speed. There's still inconsistency from every position group on the field, but there's a lot of positives for the Jets to focus on and we'll start with three tidbits from today's practice.
WR Jalin Marshall - Jalin Marshall turned in his best practice of his professional career today. He ran crisp, clean routes, found multiple ways to get open and caught everything within his reach. Marshall flashed a ton of ability and potential in college but was limited in his routes and playing time, he should've stayed another year in college but his decision not to could benefit the Jets greatly down the line.
Jalin Marshall seems like an early favorite to earn a spot on, at least, the practice squad and if he can develop while watching and learning from veterans like Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker there is clearly potential there to turn into a solid NFL receiver down the road. Today he showed off his speed, quickness in and out of cuts, and his strong hands. He's definitely a player to keep an eye on in training camp.
S Doug Middleton - Safety Doug Middleton was another player who turned heads today. He made a great play to intercept Geno Smith, Smith tried to hit Decker on a deep post route but he never saw Middleton shading over the top. The throw was a little too far inside and Middleton jumped right in front of the route and came away with an impressive interception. A little later Middleton burst through the offensive line immediately and as Christian Hackenberg was getting ready to rush his throw Middleton swatted it right out of his hand.
Middleton, a rookie out of Appalachian State, was constantly in the right position and making plays around the ball. He was easily one of the standout players on the day and will need more days like today to ensure he makes the final roster.
Quarterbacks inconsistency - Smith continues to be, by far, the best quarterback on the field but today was probably his most inconsistent practice of the offseason. He was the most consistent of the three, not surprising of course, and overall made far more impressive plays than bad plays. Smith is clearly more comfortable and confident but one of the most noticeable improvements is the way he has been successfully throwing from different arm angles when he has to. He's incorporated a jump pass/sidearm throw to weave the ball through the defense in tight spots and with Matt Forte and Bilal Powell as the lead running backs it's something you might see a lot of this year is Fitzpatrick doesn't end up returning.
Bryce Petty and Hackenberg continue to look like overwhelmed young quarterbacks still trying to get a feel for playing in the NFL, which is okay because it's how we should expect them to look. Petty started off strong, looking to build off of the last voluntary OTA practice the media saw, but quickly fell right back into one bad throw after another. In 11-on-11's he started off with a gorgeous 25 yard pass down the sideline over the shoulder of Charone Peake, just over Kevin Short's outstretched hands, for an impressive completion. The next play was a nice rip, right through a tight window of defenders 10 yard hook to Jace Amaro. But the next two throws is where he fell off the rails and he never recovered. The next pass sailed a good 15 yards out of bounds, nowhere near the intended receiver, and the one after that he tried to hit a 15 yard out but was also picked off by linebacker Bruce Carter.
Hackenberg made a few nice throws here and there, as he always does, but the large majority of his throws either sailed high and wide or skipped low in the dirt. As we will continue to say Hackenberg has the tools to maybe one day become a good starting quarterback but that day is years away.
Chris Nimbley is the editor-in-chief of JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@cnimbley), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)