Florham Park N.J. - If you have not started the countdown, now will be the perfect time. A total of 49 days separate the Jets from their first preseason game against Jacksonville and 12 Sundays until kickoff between the Jets and Bengals on September 11. With training camp right around the corner, there are questions the Jets will need to address on both sides of the ball before opening day arrives.
Starting with the offense, three questions surround Chan Gailey's crew after a record setting first season.
Let's be honest here. If Ryan Fitzpatrick is not under contract for the upcoming season, Geno Smith will be the starting quarterback on opening day. Todd Bowles confirmed it. Smith's play in minicamps reinforced it.
The main concern about Smith does not regard his abilities. The fourth-year QB can throw a tight spiral in a small window and his legs are a speed threat once out of the pocket. If you are evaluating Smith based on talent, he will be ready to be the starter. But, part of being a quarterback is between the shoulders. Smith's maturity and mental-toughness has always been in question since he was taken out of West Virginia. Coaches and teammates believe Smith has progressively shown growth on and off the field, which is a good sign.
"Geno has come a long way," said Gailey during OTAs. "He has done a good job of learning from last season and this past offseason."
Look for Smith to start making smarter decisions with the ball, especially limiting the turnovers, in training camp.
2) Can the offensive line be just as effective without D'Brickashaw Ferguson?
Finding consistency on the frontline has been an issue for the Jets even though they have remained atop of the league in rushing the last three seasons.
With D'Brickashaw Ferguson retiring, the Jets brought in LT Ryan Clady from the Denver Broncos to fill that hole on the left side. New York does not need Clady to be the Pro Bowl lineman he once was. When healthy, he is a stable force on the offensive line with strength and explosiveness.
"I feel like I have something to prove. I'm ready for the challenge," said Clady in OTAs.
Aside from Clady, the Jets will presumably go with James Carpenter at left guard; Pro Bowler Nick Mangold at center; Brian Winters at right guard, and Breno Giacomini at right tackle. If Winters struggles, expect a young Dakota Dozier to step in as a versatile lineman who also took snaps at center while Mangold was unavailable. From what was seen at OTAs, Dozier has good body control and balance as a pass protector but will need more development as a low blocker for the ground attack.
Down the stretch of last season, Bilal Powell emerged as a hybrid running back with speed and catching ability. Powell's success signaled the end of Chris Ivory's tenure. Since LaDainian Tomlinson retired in 2012, the Jets tried to find a running back that can stretch the field with not just his legs but with his hands. While Ivory showed glimpses, as did Shonn Greene, they were never as effective as what Powell has shown early in his career.
Powell's return combined with the acquisition of Matt Forte opens new windows of possiibility. He provides more weaponry for Geno Smith (or Fitzpatrick) and will stump opposing defenses, as it will be difficult to read whether or not the Forte/Powell duo will come out of the backfield with the ball, run a wheel along the sideline, or be a simple check-down option. It is time for Chan Gailey to get creative.
In 13 games last year, Forte had 898 yards and four touchdowns rushing with 389 yards and 3 touchdowns receiving. While his numbers did not light up the box score, Forte is not far removed from the three consecutive 1,000 plus yard rushing seasons.
The aforementioned three questions remain unanswered as training camp approaches in late July. Expect some clarity as the summer continues to heat up leading to Opening Day. Stay tuned for three more questions regarding the defense for the 2016-17 season.
Joe Barone is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone), or via email (email@example.com)