NY Jets: Top 5 Hard Knocks camp storylines (and one to ignore)

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By: Rivka Boord

These are the things New York Jets fans should look out for during training camp and on Hard Knocks

Well, it’s official: the NFL and HBO forced the New York Jets to do Hard Knocks. This despite Robert Saleh‘s public disdain for the show, and, presumably, more vehement private protestations.

Once the Jets are on TV, though, most fans are naturally going to watch it. That means getting to see the shiny new toy, Aaron Rodgers, up close and personal.

However, the HBO crew will not get the drama they were looking for. Quinnen Williams signed his contract extension and will report to training camp as usual. No cameras in his face as he stages a hold-in.

Through all the noise and the personal narratives, here are five actual football storylines to keep an eye on. Obviously, many of them are going to feature key camp battles.

Who’s playing free safety?

This is the Jets’ single murkiest question this offseason. Many want to talk about the tackle positions, but Robert Saleh all but settled the question in his press conferences during OTAs. Who the Jets’ free safety will be, though, is a complete unknown.

Do the Jets really intend to use Jordan Whitehead and/or Adrian Amos in the deep middle of the field? They should’ve learned their lesson from the times that Whitehead did it last year. Is it going to be Tony Adams, an undrafted free agent who played just 118 defensive snaps in 2022?

Joe Douglas has openly demonstrated his disdain for the safety position during his tenure in New York. From trading Jamal Adams to letting Marcus Maye walk, he simply does not think that safeties matter all that much. Having Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner as the team’s two safeties in 2022 was also a tip-off. Now, though, he doesn’t even have a player who has played deep consistently in the past.

Most of us at Jet X know who we’d prefer to be the Jets’ deep safety. The question is who’s getting the reps in practice, which will be a likely tip-off to their plan. During OTAs, Chuck Clark and Whitehead were rotating into that position, even though Clark is also more of a box safety. Does Amos simply take Clark’s place, or do the Jets go to the only player on their roster with the range to truly play the position?

The Jets play a defensive style that aims to keep everything in front of them. That is unlikely to happen if Whitehead and Amos are the back-end pair.

Mekhi Becton: play and motivation

As stated before, I don’t think there’s much of a competition at the tackle spots. It’s pretty evident that Duane Brown on the left side and Mekhi Becton on the right is the Jets’ best tackle combination, even if Becton might be a better left tackle than he is right.

Assuming that Becton plays on the right side, it’ll be interesting to see what his motivation level is. He clearly wants to play the left side, but it’s not the best thing for the team. Can Becton put aside his own preferences and do what’s best for the team?

Furthermore, the 24-year-old has not played in an NFL game in almost two full seasons. Last year, he suffered a season-ending knee injury during training camp. Will he be able to stay healthy after losing 50 pounds?

Moreover, how will he actually perform? In 2021 training camp, Carl Lawson was running circles around Becton prior to Lawson’s Achilles tear. Big tackles tend to have a hard time with speed rushers, which Lawson was at the time (unlike in 2022 when he used the bull rush almost exclusively). On the right side of the line, Becton will go up against John Franklin-Myers, Jermaine Johnson, and Bryce Huff. How will he do against Huff, who is extremely quick off the line? In general, how will Becton perform this offseason?

Many take Becton’s performance for granted and focus only on his health. However, there is a reason to be concerned about his play level, as well, as Michael Nania detailed. Becton had deficiencies as a pass-blocker in his rookie season. Has he made any strides in his technique after not seeing the field for so long? It’s something to keep a close eye on.

One thing that stood out in 2022 training camp was that the offensive line did not gel. Obviously, part of this was the late Brown signing after Becton’s injury and George Fant’s missed time due to his offseason knee surgery. However, it was an early ominous sign of things to come. Therefore, it will be important to keep an eye on the offensive line as a whole, and Becton in particular.

Offensive chemistry

Rodgers’ film from last season shows a quarterback often out of sync with his receivers. That was one of the misfortunes of losing Davante Adams without properly replacing him, but also, possibly, somewhat on Rodgers for missing OTAs. This year, the new Jets quarterback was present at OTAs and working on his chemistry with Garrett Wilson, in particular.

Wilson has the chance to be Rodgers’ new Adams in 2023. The veteran quarterback loves to throw with anticipation, which means that his receivers need to know what he’s thinking and react accordingly. On film, Wilson showed the smarts and the feel for coverage to potentially build a lethal connection with Rodgers. How will that work out for the pair in training camp?

Furthermore, even though Rodgers, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, and Billy Turner are familiar with Nathaniel Hackett‘s offense, the rest of the Jets’ offensive players are not. Will there be a lot of miscommunication in camp, or will the adjustment go smoothly? How quickly will the whole offense gel?

What’s the story at running back?

The Jets and Breece Hall continue to state that they’re hopeful he will be ready for Week 1. However, even if Hall does play, it’s questionable how much and how quickly he’ll be back up to speed. There are a number of question marks behind him.

Michael Carter had a miserable sophomore season following his promising rookie campaign. Zonovan Knight fell off a cliff after his first three games. Israel Abanikanda is a boom-or-bust rookie with vision, receiving, and pass protection issues. Travis Dye is an undrafted free agent who ran a 4.82 40-yard dash, which, although far worse than his apparent play speed, is unlikely to get him onto the roster.

I previously explained why I don’t think the Jets should acquire another running back, notwithstanding their seeming flirtation with Dalvin Cook. Still, if none of the Jets’ backs stand out in camp, I’m willing to concede that maybe they should bring in someone who can take the holes that are there.

Backup tackle spot

Speaking of Becton, the Jets simply cannot rely on his being healthy in 2023. As it is, I am astonished they came into this training camp with no other reliable starting tackle to replace him. The same goes for Brown on the other side, as the 37-year-old is coming off shoulder surgery. That means the Max Mitchell vs. Turner vs. Carter Warren battle for backup offensive tackle hierarchy will be interesting to watch.

Rich Cimini reported that Mitchell was a surprise standout during OTAs. Michael explained that Mitchell has an opportunity to establish himself as the next man up if Becton goes down. However, the fact that the Jets brought in Turner likely means that they don’t trust Mitchell.

Still, Turner was never that good statistically in the past. Spoiler: Joe Blewett believes that Turner is a better guard than tackle, making him not such an intriguing backup. Still, Blewett did not like Warren’s college film at all and believes that he should redshirt his rookie season.

You want to see Mitchell and/or Turner look at least capable in the offseason. Otherwise, the Jets’ offensive line fate could rest on the body of a man who has not been able to stay healthy in his first three years in the league.

One narrative to ignore: Zach Wilson

The Jets are playing a risky game by having Zach Wilson as their backup quarterback. He is one of the worst backups in the league statistically, and the team is starting a 39-year-old under center. Tim Boyle or Chris Streveler might be nice to have around in an emergency, but realistically, neither one should ever appear in an NFL game.

Still, don’t believe any of the hype that might come out about Wilson in training camp. First of all, he’s often looked good in the past without a pass rush. Second, even media reports claiming that he made a “great” throw almost always ignore his horrible mechanics and shoddy accuracy on that particular toss.

I do not subscribe to the idea that the Jets can reset Wilson. However, if they want to keep playing make-believe, they need to admit that it’s a long-term process that will not take six months. This is the man who was benched for Streveler, a quarterback who cannot throw the ball 10 yards downfield and has the mechanics of a running back.

The Hard Knocks cameras are almost certain to hype up the Rodgers/Wilson narrative. Don’t believe any of it. It’s a made-for-TV story of the usurped draft pick, but Wilson is stuck in New York, and he knows it. He’s not going to make the same mistake he did last season and turn the locker room against him again.

Jets fans, what storylines are you looking forward to on Hard Knocks?

Next Article: 10 most concerning weaknesses among NY Jets’ key players 

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