Preview: Jets Still Adjusting To Mangini

The Jets and Vikings were in a similar predicament during the 2006 offseason with new coaches and uncertain expectations. Both teams still appear to be adjusting to their new schemes, and the Jets have a number of personnel questions they'd like answered this preseason. We take a look at that personnel.

Heading into the 2006 season, the Vikings and the New York Jets had several similar parallels. They had both come off less-than-expected seasons. Both had their 2005 seasons spoiled by injuries to their franchise quarterbacks. Both had hired new coaches that were assistants for successful Super Bowl franchises.

The similarities ended there in 2006, however, as the Vikings limped to a 6-10 record, dropping eight of their last 10 games, while the Jets made the playoffs by winning eight of their final 11 games after a 2-3 start. As the Vikings enter their first preseason road game, the Jets are a team that has many around the NFL scratching their heads and asking, "Can they do it again?" The team has been molded under Bill Belichick disciple Eric Mangini into a championship contender without the usual array of star players. Instead, they have a lot of players who know their role and work well together, proving that in team sports the final result can be more effective than the sum of its individual parts.

There have been lingering questions as to whether quarterback Chad Pennington can be the savior and faceplate of the franchise. In his eighth season, Pennington has endured shoulder surgeries and criticism for his lack of arm strength. He started all 16 games last year and, while he averaged just 210 yards a game and had 17 TDs and 16 interceptions, he is entrenched as the starter in Mangini's offense and is asked to manage games instead of putting the team on his back to win games. So confident is Mangini that Pennington can stay healthy and get the job done, he doesn't have a backup with much tangible playing experience on the roster. Second-year pro Kellen Clemens, who some speculated was in the sights of the Vikings on draft weekend 2006, is developing nicely as a backup, and former Raider Marques Tuiasosopo has been brought in as a veteran presence in the event Pennington goes down and Clemens buckles under the pressure of starting. While this is Pennington's offense, there remain concerns over his long-term health, so it's not too likely the Jets will overwork him in the preseason.

One of the areas the team vowed to upgrade at the end of last season was the running game, which was a three-headed beast last year that, while moderately effective, never came close to living up to the standard set over the years by retired veteran Curtis Martin. The Jets looked to change that by trading for Bears running back Thomas Jones. A hard runner with good shiftiness, Jones is no stranger to the Vikings, but he suffered a calf injury in camp and is unlikely to play Friday. That, compounded with the sudden departure of Cedric Houston during the first days of training camp, has left the Jets running back corps a little thin. Leon Washington, who started eight games last year, is likely to see most of the action, with free agent signee Tony Hollings looking to make his mark. With the injuries, there's also a chance fullback Darian Barnes will get a chance to get a few rushing opportunities to go along with his blocking duties.

While the running game still has some question marks, the receiver corps looks to be in good shape. Laveranues Coles is an undersized receiver, but, like Steve Smith, is capable of big plays at any time. He caught 91 passes and had five 100-yard games, including a huge 12-144-1 game against the Vikings last year. Opposite Coles is Jerricho Cotchery, a guy many fantasy football players might know, but not many casual fans. Cotchery was supposed to be the No. 3 guy behind Justin McCareins, who was acquired from the Titans in a 2004 trade. Instead, Cotchery excelled in the short passing game of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and finished the season with 82 catches and 961 yards of his own. McCareins is back as the No. 3 guy, but has been a big disappointment for what the Jets gave up to get him. Beyond those three, there is a lot of competition being waged for roster spots. Converted quarterback Brad Smith, oft-injured Tim Dwight, fifth-year pro Frisman Jackson and rookie Chansi Stuckey are all competing for roster spots and it's likely that at least one of them, if not two, will have to go. The tight end position has been almost non-existent as far as offensive production. Chris Baker led the group last year with 31 catches for 300 yards, as he and backups Sean Ryan and second-year man Jason Pociask are used more as blockers than receiving options.

The Jets offensive line has had some turmoil over the offseason. Not happy with his contract, left guard Pete Kendall has been a noisy distraction during training camp. Constantly spouting about his contract, he can be part of one of the best lines in the league. Last year, the Jets committed the business portion of their draft to the O-line with fantastic results, as both left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold were drafted in the first round and paid immediate dividends. Like the Vikings, the right side of the line isn't as dominant, with guard Brandon Moore and tackle Anthony Clement being serviceable but not spectacular. The team has a couple of solid reserves in Wade Smith and Adrian Jones, who both back up multiple line positions and could give the Jets the flexibility to go with one less linemen on the final roster or the active game-day roster than most teams. The competition for backup spots is being waged, with youngsters Jacob Bender, Na'Shan Goddard and Ed Barton trying to lock up backup tackle jobs and Adrien Clarke trying to land a role as an interior lineman. This is a solid group, especially on the left side that will pose some problems to the Vikings run defense.

When Mangini arrived, the Jets converted to a 3-4 defense that at first had former top draft pick Dewayne Robertson playing out of his normal position. But he came on as the year progressed and, although the Jets had one of the worst run defenses in the AFC, there were signs of improvement. At the end spots, Shaun Ellis made the transition to the 3-4 well, but expensive free agent signee Kimo von Oehlhoffen struggled badly – to the point that he's in a starting battle with former Cowboy and 3-4 savvy free agent Kenyon Coleman. Early reports have Coleman winning the battle. Looking to win a job as backup nose tackle is former Viking C.J. Mosley, who is a battle with third-year man Sione Pouha. At the ends, von Oehlhoffen will likely remain along with pass-rush specialist David Bowens, but there will be competition for a roster spot or two between 12-year vet Bobby Hamilton, fifth-year man Michael Haynes and former third overall draft pick Andre Wadsworth – who, after being out of the league for six years, is trying one of the great comeback stories ever as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker.

The linebackers had a somewhat easier time making the transition to the 3-4 because of their athleticism. The team has three solid starters – OLBs Bryan Thomas and Victor Hobson, both high draft picks in the 2002-03 drafts, and inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma, a first-round pick in 2004. Thomas and Hobson are both very good pass-rush linebackers and Vilma has great instincts and the ability to get through traffic to the guy with the ball. The other ILB spot, however, isn't as sure a thing. Second-round rookie David Harris is battling nine-year veteran and full-time starter Eric Barton for the starting job. Whoever performs better in games like Friday's against the Vikings will win the job and send the loser to the sidelines when the regular season begins. Others fighting for playing time on the outside include Andre Wadsworth and Matt Chatham, and on the inside the competition includes the loser of the Harris/Barton battle, sixth-year man Brad Kassell, fourth-year veteran Cody Spencer and 2006 third-round draft pick Anthony Schlegel. Depending on how many inside ‘backers they're willing to keep, one of these guys may have to go.

The secondary got a big boost Wednesday when first-round rookie Darrelle Revis agreed to a contract after holding out all of training camp. It's unclear how much, if any, action he'll see Friday, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Mangini "punish" him by giving Revis plenty of playing time. Seventh-year man Andre Dyson came to the Jets in 2006 and played well enough to hold down his starting spot and, while the team has waited for Revis to sign, it has given other corners like Hank Poteat, Justin Miller, David Barnett and Drew Coleman – all of whom started at least three games last year – a chance to make their case to be the top nickel and dime back candidates. At safety, the Jets have a true gem in Kerry Rhodes. While not a household name, Rhodes – a fifth-round pick in 2004 – has developed into a strong run threat, blitzer and over-the-top cover safety. Eric Coleman made too many mistakes last year that resulted in easy receptions and, in some cases touchdowns, but his starting spot looks safe. Those expected to battle to survive the final cuts include 2006 third-round pick Eric Smith, fourth-year man Rashad Washington, and second-year players Jamie Thompson and Raymond Ventrone. The addition of Revis couldn't have come at a better time for the Jets, who struggled badly at right corner last year.

As with most preseason games, look for the starters to play most of the first half and try to make a solid showing for themselves. Some will play more, some will play less, but unlike the Rams game where the starters primarily came out after a couple of series, the Jets and Vikings will be a more representative showing of where both teams are as the regular season approaches.

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