In large part, how the Jets finish this season will depend on how their top first-year players finish this season.
Which brings us to our annual “rookie wall” story. The Jets’ top three picks in the April draft all say the wall is a non-issue for them. The two guys on defense, top pick Quinton Coples and third-rounder Demario Davis, say they’re not expecting to hit the wall.
And second-round WR Stephen Hill says he’s already busted through it.
“I’m not going to be the rookie to say no, because I did hit it. And I learned a lot from that time,” Hill said today after the Jets’ first big practice of the week for Sunday’s home game against the Cardinals. “I felt it a little bit during training camp and definitely earlier in the season. It didn’t last as long as some of the guys I talked to said it would — they said it could go on for weeks. They also said it all depends on how you bounce back. It wasn’t even physical as much as it was basically mental.”
But now Hill feels he’s starting to hit his stride again, the stride we saw flashes of in the opener against Buffalo and for most of the game at New England last month. It’s time for his numbers — 38 targets, 16 receptions, 212 yards, 13.3 average, 2.2 YAC average, five drops, three touchdowns — to all take turns for the better.
And his timing is good, because as head coach Rex Ryan told reporters at today’s news conference at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center: “This is a big week for Stephen to step up, and I expect him to. I like the way he played last week. He was confident in that game. I saw that just by the way he was running his routes and everything. He’s to the point where he’s wanting the football. He needs to step up big.”
Nothing like a little pressure from the coach. But that’s cool with Hill.
“It’s definitely not pressure. It’s an opportunity to go out there and get the job done. I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I feel comfortable, especially running routes, getting off certain jams, reading coverages. I’m definitely getting smarter with situations. I’m just making sure I come out there and do what I have to do.”
Coples has also had his moments. His sack total is still stuck on the two he had against Colts rookie Andrew Luck, although he missed a third in that game when he pressured Luck into an intentional grounding. But he’s still been contributing as he can, seeing almost 40 plays a game on defense and special teams, and he leads the Jets defenders with six tackles for loss and, if you throw in the zero-yard runs and receptions, 8.5 tackles for loss no gain.
“I’m good,” Coples said of in regard to the rookie wall. “I enjoy the game of football, which is a reason why I guess I haven’t hit it. I feel good, my body feels good. I think I’m doing well, getting better and learning what I need to know.”
This, too, is good news for the Jets because Ryan, although not singling out Coples as he did Hill, mentioned the need for more of one of “Q’s” specialties.
“We absolutely notice that we have to get to the quarterback better than we have,” Ryan said. “Here’s a team [in Arizona] with 30 sacks. What have we got, half of that? [Actually, 17] It’s a point of emphasis. I know we have the ability to rush the passer with this group of players. We just have to get it done.”
“That’s an opportunity for me to show what I was brought in to do and get after the quarterback,” Coples said. “I’m definitely excited about that and ready to get after it.”
The other Jets rookie who’s been logging lots of time is Davis. In fact, DD even added in a small way to the pass rush when he was chop-blocked by Stevan Ridley in the third quarter on his way to a potential third-quarter blitz-sack of Tom Brady in the Patriots end zone. Davis doesn’t get credit for a sack (there was none on the play), nor even the safety (it’s credited to the team due to the end zone penalty). But that’s fine by him.
“I was just doing my job, blitzing and going through the gap,” he said. “It was a good team play, but it was just one good play. You try to put a string of those plays together in a game.”
Davis is working hard at that goal as well. He’s been on the field quite a lot lately, in part due to Bart Scott’s toe but also because he’s the future of this D and there’s no time like the present to get some experience. In the last five games, in fact, Davis has been in on 344 plays on defense and special teams, which is the 10th-most on the team in that span and the sixth-most on defense.
And Demario, too, hasn’t felt the RW topple onto him yet.
“I haven’t really felt the rookie wall,” he said. “I’ve heard about it, but it’s not a factor right now. I still feel we’re in the season, five games to go, so I just focus on one game at a time. And I took precautions early on to make sure my body feels good and that mentally I can handle the load.
“You always want to be ready when your number gets called. I always try to go a little harder on scout team during the week against the ones, as much as I can, so that I can make practice harder than the games.”
How well the Jets finish is not just on these three rookies’ shoulder pads, but how they fare will have much to say about the final story of 2012 and for some seasons ahead. For that reason, as Hill said:
“I just want to finish this season hard, as hard as I can.”
Two of the Jets’ 18 players listed with injuries sat out today’s practice in the fieldhouse: WR Clyde Gates (concussion) and CB Aaron Berry (quad). Five others were limited: QB Tim Tebow (ribs), WRs Jeremy Kerley (heel/hamstring/illness) and Chaz Schilens (concussion/hip), DT Sione Po‘uha (back) and LB Bart Scott (toe). View the Jets’ full injury report here.
“I don’t want to get into specific things,” Ryan said of Tebow’s status for the Cards. “Let’s see how he progresses during the week. We’ll probably have a better, clear-cut picture as the week goes on. Right now we’re going to limit him in practice and we’ll see how he goes during the week.”
The Cardinals listed 10 players today. WR Andre Roberts (ankle) didn’t participate in team drills. Seven were limited: S Justin Bethel (shoulder), WR Laron Byrd (head), DE Calais Campbell (calf), WR Early Doucet (ribs), QB Kevin Kolb ribs), RB William Powell (shoulder) and RB Chris “Beanie” Wells (knee). S Kerry Rhodes (back) was full-go, as was LS Mike Leach (back).
Tags: Arizona Cardinals, Clyde Gates, Demario Davis, Quinton Coples, Rex Ryan, Stephen Hill, Tim Tebow
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