The revamped NY Jets are trending upward, but many consequential questions remain as the team enters training camp 2021.
1. Will the defensive scheme be limited due to the youth and inexperience at cornerback?
The New York Jets have a tremendous amount of youth at the cornerback position, which could be problematic. Will the Jets struggle with man-to-man calls and be forced to lean heavily on zone concepts?
This could be an issue against the great wide receivers of the AFC East.
The Buffalo Bills still employ Stefon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders, and Cole Beasley. The Miami Dolphins have Will Fuller, Jaylen Waddle and DeVante Parker. The Patriots added some weapons in Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor.
There are some outstanding wide receivers in this division and the Jets need to find answers on the outside.
2. How will Zach Wilson handle the excellent defensive coordinators within the division?
In the AFC East, Zach Wilson will be facing some of the top defensive minds in the league—New England’s Bill Belichick, Buffalo’s Leslie Frazier and Sean McDermott, and Miami’s Josh Boyer.
Boyer led the Dolphins to the league’s top-ranked third-down defense in 2020. Frazier has led Buffalo to top-10 ranking in takeaways four years in a row. Belichick is 10-0 against rookie quarterbacks since 2013.
The AFC East’s defensive coaches are highly regarded throughout the league. Wilson is going to be tested.
3. Can the Jets stop the run?
Jeff Ulbrich‘s Jets defense features some of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL, but can the EDGE depth chart led by Carl Lawson, Vinny Curry, Kyle Phillips, Ronald Blair, Jabari Zuniga, and Bryce Huff do the job in the run game?
The Jets’ run defense will be tested early. They open the season with games against the Panthers, Patriots, and Broncos. Carolina ranked 14th in rushing yards with a healthy Christian McCaffrey in 2019. This past season, New England ranked fourth in rushing while Denver ranked 13th.
Lawson can rush the passer, but he is undersized and has struggled at times in the run game over his career. Curry, Huff, and Zuniga also have their issues against the run. Phillips and Blair are the group’s only proven run-stoppers.
4. Will the Jets trade for Nick Foles or Gardner Minshew?
Robert Saleh should know this based on his experience in San Francisco, where he watched the 49ers go 22-8 with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo and 7-27 without him.
Besides the on-field performance aspect, veteran backups help youngsters in ways that are rarely seen publicly. Zach will learn fast that the pro game is much different than college.
5. How will Mike LaFleur handle the pressure of being a first-time coordinator?
Sometimes, first-year coordinators and young coaches try to throw too much on the table. Will Mike LaFleur give Wilson a limited game plan to ease his transition?
If you look back at Andy Reid and his first year with Patrick Mahomes, he ran 50% fewer concepts with Mahomes than he did with Alex Smith the previous year. Mahomes flourished and had an off-the-charts season with the simplified game plan.
Lafleur needs to simplify the offense so Zach can flourish as a rookie. He must avoid making it a mental game for Wilson by trying to throw too many concepts and checks on the table.
6. How will Robert Saleh impact the defense?
To me, this is an interesting question. Over Saleh’s four years at the helm of the San Francisco 49ers defense, they ranked 25th, 28th, 7th and 17th in scoring defense.
In 2018, San Francisco’s secondary gave up 35 touchdowns with only two interceptions. That was with an All-Pro caliber player in Richard Sherman at cornerback and a fantastic duo of Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner on the defensive line.
One season later, the defense was great and powered the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Same coach, better players (Nick Bosa and Dee Ford representing the biggest additions to the defensive roster).
With a questionable back-seven in New York, the performance of Saleh’s defense will be interesting to watch.
7. Who will emerge as the third LB in base personnel?
Who will be the third linebacker?
8. Who will play right guard?
Will the Jets experiment with George Fant at right guard or simply go with either Greg Van Roten or Alex Lewis? Second-year man Cameron Clark could also be in the mix here. It seems that the competition will be big at this position in August.
If Lewis or Van Roten don’t win the position, will they be wearing green in 2021 or will they be cut to free up money for other signings?
9. Who will play the Nickel LB position when they play their 4-2-5 scheme?
It is a position that is up for grabs and it will be intriguing to see which young player takes it.
10. Will the Jets sign a CB or LB?
The Jets’ weakest defensive positions are CB and LB. They do have some money available to make last-second additions, but the market is dwindling.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson would be a very solid addition if the Jets decide to spend some of the $25 million in cap space they have available. Longtime Seahawks starter K.J. Wright could solve issues at linebacker. He shared time with both Saleh and Ulbrich in Seattle.
Money doesn’t seem to be the issue for the Jets. The team’s lack of activity at cornerback and linebacker is mostly due to their willingness to go with what they have. They are confident that they can develop young talent.
At linebacker, can Cashman, Sherwood, or Nasirildeen be trusted?
Saleh is betting the house on the developmental abilities of his coaching staff.