The Jets’ first preseason game sees the spotlight focused on the offense and the competition to be the starting quarterback for the regular season opener.
That’s why 15 straight questions were posed to head coach Todd Bowles on Thursday pertaining to the Jets’ quarterbacks in preparation for Saturday night’s preseason opener against the Titans at MetLife Stadium.
“All three quarterbacks will play,” is about the only guarantee Bowles would offer.
Here’s what we know before the first snap of the preseason is taken: Regardless of who starts at quarterback — Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty — the Jets will have to stay healthy on defense to have any hope of being a surprise team in the AFC East. That’s why Bowles should limit the preseason playing time of the key defensive players he will need during what figures to be a long season.
That’s not necessarily something his players want to hear right now, not after spending weeks of training camp being prohibited from touching the quarterbacks on their own team.
“We finally get to hit a quarterback,” defensive end Leonard Williams said Thursday. “We finally get to go out there and see a different color and an opponent to hit. It’s exciting.”
Williams could emerge as the Jets’ best player this year. Entering his third season, the No. 1 draft pick out of Southern California is expecting big things out of his defense.
“There’s been a lot of competition,” Williams said, “a lot of positive attitude and positive mind set with a lot of belief in the team. Everybody knows what they’re doing and everybody is playing fast.”
Let’s face it. The Jets can’t count on their offense doing much this season. Not with a roster of inexperienced receivers, a reworked offensive line and an unstable quarterback situation. It will be the defense that will need to carry this team. The question is how long it will hold up on Sundays.
The Jets probably won’t lead the league in time of possession, though it would give them the best chance to win. Instead, figure the Jets to have their share of three-and-outs. As good as the defense figures to be, it will be a challenge to stay on the field for extended periods of time throughout a 16-game schedule.
That’s why Bowles must be careful about how long he plays his defensive players during the preseason. It’s the only way to ensure they’re healthy and as rested as possible going into the season opener at Buffalo on Sept. 10.
That won’t be as easy as it sounds.
Bowles has to give plenty of reps to rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, who have to get used to the speed of playing in the NFL. Demario Davis also needs reps after returning from Cleveland to assume the Mike linebacker position, which belonged to David Harris.
By contrast, you probably won’t see much of defensive linemen Steve McLendon in his eighth-year; Sheldon Richardson, in his fifth year; Muhammad Wilkerson, in his seventh season, and Williams. The Jets can’t afford to lose any of those players before getting to Buffalo.
It’s hard to get anyone on the Jets’ defense to admit that unit will have to carry the team during this rebuilding season.
“The weight should be on every person here,” Williams said. “It’s not any individual groups. It’s offense, defense and special teams. It’s going to take everybody to carry the weight.”
That would be ideal, but that’s not how the Jets are currently built. Sure, McCown could have a career year or Hackenberg could be an instant star or Petty could stun everyone and become a dependable starter. That’s being optimistic. The reality is, it’s the Jets defense that has to hold up this season. It doesn’t need to do too much too soon.
Defense must stay healthy, or the Jets won’t have a chance – New York Post