East Rutherford N.J. - On Thursday, the New York Jets will take the field in Philadelphia to face the Eagles for the team's final preseason tune up before they take flight on opening day. The regular season is inching closer and after dropping the previous two games to Washington and New York, the Jets would like to end their preseason on a high note.
Although the first three preseason games were very important to players fighting for roster spots, this one is critical for those who find themselves on the bubble. With all NFL rosters needing to be trimmed from 75 to a 53-man maximum by 4 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday, Todd Bowles is well aware of the many "tough decisions on a few spots," he has to make. "It'll be interesting to see who plays well," the coach said in a conference call Tuesday.
WHEN: Thursday, September 1, 2016 7 p.m. EST
WHERE: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
KEYS TO THE GAME
Wideouts Receiving One More Chance:
The Jets have a long list of wide receivers on the roster bubble that are fighting for a spot in the NFL in 2016. Thursday's game in Philadelphia must be the most well played of Jalin Marshall, Chandler Worthy, Charone Peake, Robby Anderson, and Jeremy Ross' career. Last game, Anderson had four catches for 65 yards and one touchdown and Marshall had three catches for 30 yards. These receivers have had flashes of brilliance during training camp and in stretches during the first three-preseason games. Now, they will receive one last chance to give Todd Bowles an even tougher decision on who to keep and who to waive. Make no mistake, the wideouts will use the final preseason game as an audition for the Jets special teams unit, practice squad, or any NFL team who is in need of a young and talented receiver. Then again, Bowles said: "they've all had flashes in games, it's possible [we keep all of them]."
Returning For The Regular Season:
While Jalin Marshall and Jeremy Ross would love to be depth wide receivers for the Jets in 2016, Todd Bowles and special teams coordinator Brant Boyer may have helped these two find their niche - kick returning. The battle continues Thursday, as the two will compete for a spot with the big club. Ross has been known as a kick returner his entire career, as he has bounced around from Green Bay, Detroit, Baltimore, and Oakland in five years. Last season with the Raiders, Ross had 12 returns for 265 yards with an average of 22.1 yards per return in six games. While he has had an average training camp, his competitor Jalin Marshall - the undrafted rookie out of Ohio State - has been nothing short of dynamic. If you recall, Marshall busted down field for an 84-yard return against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first preseason game.
Middleton, Defensive Backs Must Find Middle Ground:
After a promising start to training camp and the preseason for defensive back Doug Middleton, he produced one of his toughest performances of the summer - assisting on just two tackles against the Giants. What once seemed like a possibility as a depth player in the secondary after his six tackles and one interception performance facing the Jaguars is on the verge of drifting away. Middleton also joins cornerbacks Dexter McDougle and Dee Milliner whose status remains unclear for the 2016 season. McDougle will not play due to his tweaked hamstring and Bowles said the team would continue to run tests on Milliner to see how he is feeling. If healthy, Milliner will play.
Big Test For Big Linebackers:
Going into training camp, it was noted the Jets have arguably their deepest core of linebackers with speed and skill in recent history. After a head-turning rookie campaign and impressive training camp, Lorenzo Mauldin has had an underwhelming preseason. In three games, Mauldin has a mere five combined tackles. There were many expectations for Mauldin to take the next step as a starting outside linebacker for the Jets in 2016 but he has not met the bar just yet. Expect to see a heavy dosage of Mauldin on Thursday, as well as Mike Catapano, Bruce Carter, and Freddie Bishop III as they compete for the final few roster spots. With David Harris' shoulder injury leaving his status in the air for the opener, one of these linebackers can find themselves on the defense on September 11.
X-FACTOR: Bryce Petty
Quarterbacks have been dropping like flies recently. With Tony Romo and Teddy Bridgewater battling injury concerns, the Cowboys and Vikings are two of many NFL teams in need of a starting or backup quarterback. Enter the Jets who have not one but four quarterbacks - Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith, Bryce Petty, and Christian Hackenberg. Petty and Hackenberg will be the only two signal callers playing against the Eagles on Thursday. It will be a chance for them to showcase to Bowles and the rest of the league what they can bring to the table. If Petty - who has had a solid preseason going 28-50 with two touchdowns and one interception - continues his strong play, maybe the Jets explore trading Smith or Petty, or decide on keeping all four quarterbacks in 2016.
Joe Barone is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).