Michael Carter II, NY Jets, Preseason
Michael Carter II, New York Jets, Getty Images

The late summer classic has been moved to Week 1

A tradition unlike any other… the future practice squads of the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles doing battle in the latter stages of the summer.

Both sides will be seeing more green than usual on Friday night, as they’ll do preseason battle at Lincoln Financial Field (7:30 p.m. ET, WCBS) Such a ritual probably doesn’t rival beach trips to the Jersey Shore or Montauk, but it’s nonetheless been kept alive for two decades.

This time around, the exhibition has been moved to the opening slot of the preseason slate rather than its traditional spot at the end, one that produced one of the most exhilarating equalizers in the history of consequence-free football in 2021, with the Jets tying an eight-point game with a last-second heave and two-point conversion at MetLife Stadium.

Lampooned as the preseason may be in recent history, the summer slate perhaps lingers for teams like the Jets, who are looking to further push a developing quarterback entering a crucial second season on the path to NFL stardom. Zach Wilson’s excuses, at least those that focus on his supposed lack of offensive assistance, have effectively been fully eradicated. Thus, he could perhaps use a couple of snaps in a game day situation to prepare for a fateful campaign, meaningless as they may be.

How can the Jets use their time wisely? Jets-X investigates.

Hold Starters to a Single

The reduced preseason slate somewhat further complicates the conundrum that is playing starters. Game three was often used as a de facto dress rehearsal but the concept has been thrown out of whack in the name of adding an extra regular season contest. Unlike last year’s preseason finale against the Eagles, starters are expected to at least pick up a few snaps in front of the winged helmets.

But in his final statements before making his way to Philadelphia, Jets head coach Robert Saleh hinted that Jets fans should want to see as little of Wilson and his fellow offensive starters as possible.

“If they put together a good first series, we’ll call it a day. If not, we’ll just go out there and try to get a certain number of plays,” Saleh said. His expectations for Wilson are nothing out of the ordinary, granting a de facto blank slate for his new unit.

“(I want Wilson to) get comfortable in a game situation, timing, clock, play clock, getting out of the huddle, getting lined up, playing through cadence a little bit,” he said. “It’s just a matter of just getting out there and getting comfortable. No expectations.”

It’s the furthest thing from fair, but an outpouring of overreactions will pour out from the opening series, namely what Wilson does. He remained relatively productive during the last preseason, notably displaying a strong ability to take care of the ball and at least get the Jets into field goal range.

If Wilson can consistently duplicate the feat this time around, the Jets can go into September on a relatively soothing note. The Jets will likely be satisfied if Wilson can, at the very least, just get them into field goal range so as to set up the final stages of the kicking battle between Eddy Pineiro and Greg Zuerlein.

Don’t Let It Hurts

Friday’s opponent is likewise looking for something to prove, as many have pegged the Eagles as the defending division champion Dallas Cowboys’ biggest threat in the historically open NFC East.

What the Eagles do will likely come down to what Jalen Hurts does under center. Hurts’ first season as the Eagles’ full-time franchise quarterback was a roller-coaster affair. He was able to take advantage of the newly-minted extra wild card spot but did nothing to cement himself as the team’s long-term aerial answer.

Like another second-year franchise man on the other side, Hurts saw his attempts to deflect blame significantly reduced this offseason. A.J. Brown came over in a trade with Tennessee and Philadelphia management further mined the AFC South for effective slot option Zach Pascal from Indianapolis. That doesn’t even include rookie sensation DeVonta Smith, whose early sophomore prospects have been derailed by a groin injury.

Hurts is facing a make-or-break situation as is and it doesn’t help that a quite capable veteran backup (Gardner Minshew, no stranger to posting big numbers against the Jets) lingers behind him. The pressure only rises when his residency is considered (what Eagles fans have in, erm, passion they lack in patience).

He’ll no doubt look to make an impression in his limited preseason time, especially when it comes to working with a new premier talent like Brown. Philadelphia supporters, as seen above, recall that the Eagles waste little time in getting high-profile newcomers adjusted to The Linc. Though tumultuous (if not victorious) times were ahead, it was hard to blame Eagles fans for celebrating a summer Super Bowl when they opened their 2004 exhibitions with an 81-yard hook-up between Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb.

In other words, the Jets’ wary secondary situation better be ready for a fight. Newcomer D.J. Reed won’t be around, which hints at a big opportunity for first-round pick Sauce Gardner. Third-year man Bryce Hall also has a major opportunity, while the latter portions of the game could be an opportunity for sophomores like Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols, and Jason Pinnock, all of whom could play deep into the night.

Simply put, if the Jets can at least hold a lead by the midway mark of the first quarter tonight, they can return to Florham Park with a smile on their faces.

Take It To The Max

When it comes to individual cases to watch on Friday, Max Mitchell might fly under the radar with so many high-profile 2022 debuts to look forward to. But as a relatively high pick at a crucial position going through a sense of turmoil, no one might have a bigger opportunity than freshman Max Mitchell.

While he might’ve seen it coming, this week’s signing of Duane Brown no doubt had to sting Mitchell, the Jets’ fourth-round pick from last spring’s draft. Mitchell was perhaps the top candidate to step forward after the latest brutal medical blow around Mekhi Becton.

Saleh said this week that the right tackle spot is “open”, though it’s probably a big ask to dethrone both an All-Pro in Brown and Becton’s previous successor George Fant, who’s likely coming off a career-best season. Saleh’s final comments strongly hinted that the eyes of the coaching staff will linger upon him, as a big opportunity lies ahead with Brown not dressing in The City of Brotherly Love.

“I love his play demeanor, love his mindset, love where he’s at with regards to responsibility and execution,” Saleh remarked before adding “he’s got a way to go with regards to understanding pass sets and how to play in those one-on-one situations, and the same thing in the run game. It’s all leverage and angles and all that stuff.”

“He’s never seen ends like we have, and they’re all like that in the NFL. They’re talented. Like where he’s at. Obviously, he’s got a long way to go, but he’s a lot further along than we thought.”

While working with Brown could provide a unique mentoring opportunity in the NFL, it stands to reason that his snaps could shrink once he gets into the New York groove. He needs to take full advantage of a prime opportunity against the Eagles.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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Geoff Magliocchetti is a veteran football writer with years of credentialed experience with the Jets and Giants. Email: geoffmags90@gmail.com
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