Desperation Means Experimentation in New York
CORTLAND, N.Y. — For the price of free admission, on a wide-open practice field at the state university here, more than 1,000 fans watched yesterday morning as the Jets worked on becoming a certain kind of offense.
What kind of offense? Well, personnel deployment, and formations, and offensive schemes are forbidden from being reported—a policy most NFL teams share during training camp, despite the fact that anyone could grab a ticket and watch every installation from the grandstand.
But we can say this: The Jets are open to exploring all kinds of ways to move the ball and score some points, two things they were among the worst in the league at doing in 2012.
“It’s either that, or you better be really good,” coach Rex Ryan says. “And if that’s the case, then why create something?”
To Ryan’s point, there are a few paths to take when designing an offense in the NFL. Some teams keep it simple because they have a really good traditional passer. Some teams scheme for the unique dual-threat quarterbacks rising from the college ranks.
The Jets are in another category: They don’t know yet who their starting quarterback will be. Mark Sanchez has four seasons of experience, but yesterday’s practice displayed his limitations: Of his nine passes in team drills, he completed just three, with one interception. Second-round pick Geno Smith’s throws stand out for their strength and smoothness, but he is untested against NFL defenses, which showed on a play yesterday when he held onto the ball too long then unwisely fired into double coverage.
The Jets do know, though, that they can’t afford to be the third-worst offense in the league again—not if they want to finish better than 6-10—so they’re practicing with an open mind. New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is installing a West Coast offense that was extremely productive during most of his seven years with the Eagles, but the boundaries of his system are not the boundaries of the Jets offense.
“You’ve got newer-school players who are used to stretching the field,” receiver Jeremy Kerley says, “so he’s open to all kinds of ideas. He’s not just set in his ways.”
Ryan drew some eye rolls in the public when he said yesterday that the Wildcat would be “part of what we do.” Go ahead: Is this 2009? Moreover: Is this 2012? Haven’t the Jets been here before, with a guy named Tim Tebow? There’s no way of knowing how much the Jets will actually use the Wildcat or, probably more accurately, a wider package of read-option-type plays, during the regular season. But Ryan’s commitment to this being a part of his team’s repertoire goes back to the notion of “creating something.”
Ryan views the game with a defensive mind, so he uses an example from his days as the Ravens defensive coordinator, when a depleted lineup pushed him to use Adalius Thomas, all 270 pounds or so of hulking linebacker, at safety. “You better come up with something,” Ryan says. Essentially: Where you don’t have an advantage, you’ve got to scheme one up.
Both the Wildcat and the read-option help an offense do that, because when the player taking a snap is a threat to run, it takes away the defense’s man advantage and creates 11-on-11 football. Back to the earlier point: Didn’t the Jets promise this last season, with Tebow? The hype a year ago—stoked by moves like practicing the Wildcat in camp practices closed to the public and partially shielded from the media—never came close to being matched.
With former offensive coordinator Tony Sparano at the helm, Tebow only played 77 offensive snaps and averaged just two carries per game. This summer, though, people around the team say there seems to be more of a commitment to actually running these packages. The new quarterbacks coach, David Lee, spearheaded the Wildcat’s graduation to the NFL with the Dolphins in 2009. And Kerley, who has run the Wildcat for the Jets in the past, said one difference is that instead of having a so-called designated Wildcat quarterback, the Jets are rotating about three players.
Then, there’s this: Ryan likes the advantage “even better” when a quarterback, rather than a receiver or running back, is at the helm. Does that open the door for Smith to see more playing time, or earn the starting job?
While Smith was used as a traditional pocket passer at West Virginia, the Jets can see him in that role, a player with a strong arm who can also run. “I see Geno as an athlete,” Kerley says. “If you’ve got a guy that can really do that, and who can do it well, he’s going to be a factor.”
One week into training camp, Smith has been holding his own on the practice field. Ryan gushed about Smith’s “96 mile-per-hour fastball,” before quickly adding that Sanchez has “a good enough arm” to start in the NFL. One practice doesn’t tell the whole story, but the feeling around the team is that while Sanchez had the early advantage, the quarterback competition is about even right now—and if it stays even, that bodes well for Smith.
So would helping the offense be able to create something, in whatever way that comes.
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