The New York Jets’ joint practice vs. Carolina is a unique opportunity for some players
Prior to their preseason game against the Carolina Panthers this Saturday, the New York Jets will head down to Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC for a pair of joint practices with the Panthers. These will take place on Wednesday and Thursday.
Joint practices present a unique opportunity for player evaluation at this point of the football calendar. While they do not match the live-game physicality you see in preseason games, joint practices offer something that most preseason games do not: starters on the field.
The next two days should yield Aaron Rodgers’ first-ever action against an outside opponent while wearing a Jets helmet. Considering he may not play in the entire preseason, Rodgers’ joint practice appearances (including two upcoming meetings with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) could be his only opportunities to compete against non-Jets opponents prior to his regular season debut.
While Rodgers will draw the spotlight over the next two days, the presence of starters on both sides of the field will yield some tantalizing opportunities for players who are aiming to win position battles.
For the players on New York’s roster that are competing for either a starting spot or a roster spot, the possibility of playing some reps against Carolina’s starters will give them a chance to make an even bigger impression than they could make in the preseason games against backups.
Here are some of the Jets players who could make a statement in South Carolina.
WR Jason Brownlee
Undrafted rookie Jason Brownlee has been the breakout star of training camp. The Southern Miss product started generating buzz from day one of OTAs and has only strengthened his resume in camp, especially since taking over first-team reps in place of the temporarily sidelined Garrett Wilson.
Brownlee’s viral one-handed catch made national headlines, but it’s not as if Brownlee’s hype is based on one catch. New York’s coaches have continuously raved about Brownlee, and multiple members of the national media have reported hearing about the Jets’ love for Brownlee.
“Mixed bag” is the best way to describe Brownlee’s preseason debut against Cleveland. While he showed a few flashes, he did not quite live up to the hype, catching 2-of-5 targets for 17 yards (also drawing a 24-yard defensive pass interference penalty). Brownlee had one drop.
In Spartanburg, Carolina’s cornerback room will present Brownlee with a golden opportunity to make his presence felt.
Keep in mind who Brownlee (and all of the Jets’ offensive weapons) have been competing against in practice every day: arguably the NFL’s best cornerback trio of the 2022 season. His success has largely come against top-tier competition. Now, Brownlee will face a team that ranked 27th in pass defense DVOA last year.
Carolina is running it back with essentially the same cornerback unit from that 27th-ranked pass defense. Each of the Panthers’ top four cornerbacks in snaps is returning: Jaycee Horn, C.J. Henderson, Keith Taylor Jr., and Donte Jackson.
Horn is an absolute stud when healthy, but the rest of the unit is ripe for the picking. In 2022, Henderson, Jackson, and Taylor Jr. combined to allow a passer rating of 109.0 on throws into their direction.
If Brownlee can continue performing at the same level he’s performed in Florham Park, his production should skyrocket by default due to the decrease in competition quality.
OT Mekhi Becton
While concerns about his knee persist, Mekhi Becton passed his first on-field test in the Hall of Fame Game. Becton was flawlessly dominant against Cleveland’s backups. Even if it was only seven snaps, it was still a promising sign from a player who had not suited up for a real game in nearly 700 days.
The joint practices in Spartanburg will present Becton with an opportunity to continue strengthening his case for a starting job.
Becton will likely get some reps against Brian Burns, a two-time Pro Bowler who had 12.5 sacks last season. Burns is a particularly valuable measuring stick for Becton because he is one of the game’s best speed rushers – the type of pass rusher that has caused Becton the most trouble in his career.
Carolina also recently bolstered its edge rush by signing longtime veteran Justin Houston. Now 34 years old, Houston is still a serious threat, as he collected 9.5 sacks in 14 games for Baltimore last season.
Becton battled Houston back in 2020 while he was with the Colts. The rookie held up impressively well. Before exiting in the second quarter, Becton allowed zero pressures over 20 pass-blocking snaps, with many of the reps coming against Houston.
On Sam Darnold's fantastic scrambling TD, Mekhi Becton put the clamps on Justin Houston pic.twitter.com/fhR2slUf3R
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) September 29, 2020
It’s unclear if Houston will suit up over the next two days. If he does, the veteran will surely be out for revenge, providing Becton with a stiff challenge that should teach us a lot about where he is as a player.
Holding up against Cleveland’s backups over seven snaps was one thing. Holding up against Burns and Houston is another. Becton can raise his stock significantly by earning positive reviews for his performance in Spartanburg.
At the end of the day, durability will always be the primary concern for Becton. That’s largely out of his control, though. What Becton can fully control is his performance on the field. It would go a long way to see him continue proving that he can be a solid starter when healthy.
EDGE Jermaine Johnson
The strongest part of Carolina’s roster is probably the offensive line. It’s a unit that played solid football last season (15th in PFF’s rankings) and aims to take a leap in 2023 on the strength of continuity and the development of young talent.
All five starters are returning: LT Ikem Ekwonu, LG Brady Christensen, C Bradley Bozeman, RG Austin Corbett, and RT Taylor Moton. Continuity is a major asset for offensive lines and the Panthers have it going for them.
Ekwonu was the sixth overall pick in the 2022 draft and is a candidate to take a major leap in his second season. Christensen was a third-round pick in 2021 and handled a full-time starting role for the first time in 2022. Like Ekwonu, the team hopes he can make a jump in his second year as a primary starter.
This unit should present a good challenge for the entire Jets defensive line. Of the many talented players on New York’s defensive front, Jermaine Johnson is the player I will be watching the most closely.
Expectations are high for Johnson going into 2022. These expectations have been levied by not only his coaches and teammates but also Johnson himself. The first-round pick has consistently stated throughout the offseason that he plans on having an enormous breakout season.
In his rookie year, Johnson was a solid run defender who also provided a high motor and excellent chase-down ability in the passing game, but his consistency as a one-on-one pass rusher needed improvement. That’s the area where Johnson needs to show the most progress in 2023.
Since Johnson lines up at left defensive end for the majority of his snaps, he will likely spend most of his time in Spartanburg rushing against Panthers right tackle Taylor Moton. As one of the best pass-blocking right tackles in the NFL, Moton will serve as a stellar measuring stick for Johnson’s progress. Moton allowed just 21 total pressures in 17 starts last season (1.2 per game).
Johnson’s ability to consistently win one-on-one pass rush reps will be tested by Moton. This is a chance for Johnson to prove that he’s sharpened his pass rushing repertoire and is ready to turn up the heat in 2023.