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Mike Devlin and Flagstaff Foothills Memories

Posted by Randy Lange on July 23, 2013 – 11:03 am

Mike Devlin has a long history as a football man. Before he began his coaching career with Toledo, the Arizona Cardinals and, since 2006, the Jets, he played the game in the trenches: three years with the Bills, four more with the Cards.

Coach Dev has more than a few reminiscences about Cardinals camp at Northern Arizona U. up in the hills of Flagstaff.

“Yeah, there’s been some,” Devlin said. “My last year in Arizona [1999], there was a car accident and offensive linemen Ernest Dye and Lester Holmes were injured. The team really didn’t bring in anybody else on the line that summer. There was eight of us and we went the whole training camp, two-a-days in pads, the whole spiel. That stood out to me, just surviving that.”

Then there was a somewhat strange former Arizona teammate from the 1998 camp.

“One day he’d be reading Tolstoy, the next day he’d be reading the Bible, the next day the Koran,” Devlin said. “I remember us saying, ‘We’ve got to get this guy. He’s out of control.’ But then you eventually learned that’s just how he us.”

That player, of course, was the idealistic young safety, Pat Tillman, who left the NFL for the U.S. Army in 2002 and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan two years later.

But perhaps the most rewarding camp story Devlin had came after what he said was the Cardinals’ equivalent of the Jets’ Green & White Scrimmage.

“I took my series, then I legitimately jumped in the car with my pads on and went down the hill two hours from Flagstaff to Phoenix. I made it on time to see my Hallie born,” he said of his daughter’s birth. “She’s my camp baby. Julie, my wife, will tell the story that once I got down there I fell asleep during the whole thing.”

Mike and Julie are the parents of four and Mike has moved back in as the Jets’ full-time offensive line coach after coaching tight ends and assisting on the OL for several years. He loves life now as a coach but he misses a few of those elements of being a player in the NFL.

“You remember the camaraderie, the time in the locker room before you’ve all got to go out there for the grind, complaining about the coaches and everything else before you go out there,” he said. “That’s what you miss when it’s all said and done, the huddle.”

Now Devlin is helping to huddle up the Jets O-linemen as they all set out to write their own training camp stories at SUNY Cortland beginning this week.


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Ryan QB Call Decision to Come Later This Week

Posted by Randy Lange on December 3, 2012 – 4:37 pm

Rex Ryan, emulating the late, great Orson Welles, will name no quarterback before its time. And today wasn’t the time for the Jets head coach to designate his starter for Jacksonville on Sunday.

“I’ll definitely need a little more time to make that decision,” Ryan said one day after Greg McElroy replaced Mark Sanchez, with Tim Tebow sidelined, and rescued the Jets’ 7-6 win over Arizona with a touchdown drive and a clock-draining final drive to the Cardinals’ 1-yard line. “I’m comfortable and confident with all three quarterbacks. I think all three guys now have proven they can win — Greg at the end of the game, Mark’s history here, and the way Tim has played.

“We have three guys I’m confident in and I’ll make that decision as the week goes on.”

So does that mean any of the three QBs on the Jets’ roster has a chance to start against the Jaguars? We’ll leave that odds box for sports editors with time on their hands to pitch to their beatwriters for tomorrow’s sports sections. But it may a measure of the decision ahead for Ryan that there are pros and cons for him to name any one of the three as his fire-starter for the Jags.

To help him in formulating his call this week, Ryan said he might turn to his confidantes in the coaching fraternity for some guidance, but more than likely it will be a decision formulated solely behind the walls of the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.

“I want to make sure I talk to Tony [Sparano], Matt [Cavanaugh] and everybody, make sure I get a sense of what will be the right decision,” he said. “I think I’ll just lean on the guys in here. Again, the decision will be made based on our situation and our football team, on what ultimately I feel will give us the best opportunity to win.”

The opportunity to win means Jacksonville, of course, but also Tennessee, San Diego and Buffalo after the Jags, and conceivably there are considerations for even beyond this season.

“A lot of things go into every decision you make,” Ryan said. “There are three priorities — the team, the team and the team. If you follow that, the decision’s always easier. You’ve got to take away personal feelings outside of it because it’s bigger than just me or this person or that person.”

“Never Let ‘Em See You Sweat”

However it shakes out, McElroy made a statement in his first pro action. Not every Jets QB guides his offense to a touchdown in his first full drive in green and white. Vinny Testaverde did in Game 3 of the 1998 season against then-rookie Peyton Manning and the Colts. Chad Pennington did, too, if you count the last drive of the blowout Sunday night loss at Oakland in 2000. But Sanchez didn’t, nor did Ken O’Brien, nor did Richard Todd, nor did Joe Namath.

It’s not an achievement you put high up on the NFL résumé. On the other hand, it was a TD drive that the Jets needed quickly, and in more ways than one, and McElroy helped deliver.

Then the Jets’ final drive secured the victory as it melted the final 7:55 off the clock. That was the fourth-longest game-ending drive by time since 1990, trailing Kellen Clemens’ monster 11:09 final drive in the rout of St, Louis in 2008, O’Brien’s 9:13 march at Indianapolis in 1991, and Neil O’Donnell’s 8:47 closer in the wind-aided shutout of Tampa Bay in 1997. Fifth on the list was then-rookie Sanchez’s 7:20 deal-sealer in his and Ryan’s first game with the Jets at Houston in ’09. None of those games was as close as this one was.

McElroy explained his rising to the moment on a conference call with reporters this afternoon.

“That thing, confident bordering on cocky, I would like to think its leaning a little bit more towards confident,” he chuckled. “But yeah, basically one thing that I’ve always tried to learn, one thing I’ve always tried to approach this game with, is you just never let them see you sweat. And that includes the players in your huddle, the players in the opposite huddle, the players on the opposite sideline, on your sideline. Regardless of the situation, always stay with an even keel, always have a positive mindset, and good things will happen. And that’s been the case up to this point.”

Tebow also spoke with reporters on this “Victory Monday” and said he’s “not sure” how close he is to playing. “I feel like I’m healing up and getting there,” he said. He shrugged off all the questions about if he could have played Sunday, if he’ll start this weekend — in his hometown of Jacksonville, no less — and the unfairness and controversy of it all.

“Obviously, Jacksonville is where I grew up and it will always be a special place for me. It doesn’t matter how many family members or friends are going to be there. You just have to look at it as another game,” he said, adding of his opportunities this season: “I’m thankful for every one I am given. I think you just try and handle every situation the best you can and I’ve tried to handle every situation this year the best way I know how and make the most of every situation.”

Odds and Ends

The Jets defense against Arizona set, well, if not an NFL record at least a milestone for other big, bad defenses to try and pass as they ride roughshod over struggling offenses. The Elias Sports Bureau revealed that by blanking the Cardinals on 15 third-down conversion attempts, the Jets posted the first 0-for-15 in the NFL since the 1970 merger. The previous oh-fir mark was 0-for-14, set by Denver against San Diego in 1975 and equaled by the Jets at Tampa in 2009.

The Jets achieved a rarity by getting Sunday’s win despite a minus-3 turnover margin. The last time they won with a minus-3 was Game 7 in 2008, the 28-24 comeback win over Kansas City with Brett Favre at the controls. The Jets all-time are 5-56-3 when they have three more turnovers in a game, 5-105-4 when they have three or more TOs.

Sanchez’s interception on the Jets’ first play from scrimmage was not his first time. He also threw a pick on the opening play vs. Jacksonville in Game 9 of 2009. Interestingly, he’s at least in good company. Vinny Testaverde threw interceptions on the Jets’ first plays in back-to-back games in 1998, against Buffalo in Game 9 (win) and at Indy in Game 10 (loss).

Ryan said of the two injured offensive players that TE Dustin Keller’s ankle injury “doesn’t look like a high ankle sprain” but that he “has some swelling,” and that RB-KR Joe McKnight has a rib injury but that tests “were negative as far as broken ribs or anything.”


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Jets-Cardinals: First-Half Tweets

Posted by Randy Lange on December 2, 2012 – 2:35 pm

Here are today’s first-half tweets for the Jets-Cardinals game at MetLife Stadium, in case you missed them on Twitter. Follow Bob Wischusen, Eric Allen and me for our tweets during each Jets game on https://twitter.com/nyjets.

#RL Jets gameday captain vs ARZ: LB Calvin Pace, backed up by David Harris, Bart Scott, Demario Davis, Nick Bellore, Garrett McIntyre, NT Sione Po‘uha.

#RL Jets win toss, defer. Since 09 Jets have won opening toss and deferred 29 times (6 times this yr). Jets record in pvs 28 games: 12-16.

#RL Jets stop Cards on their 1st 3rd-down attempt of the game, Eric Smith PD, Donnie Fletcher on blitz vs QB Ryan Lindley.

#RL Jets run defense stops ARZ on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1, get ball back for the offense at Jets 18 following Sanchez INT on first off play.

#RL Nick Folk 46-yd FG attempt off left upright, no good. Folk now 5-of-7 at home this year with only other miss a blkd try vs MIA.

#EA Bilal Powell off to a good start in the backfield. He has quality vision and continues to be an asset in pass pro.

#EA Jets D doing what they’re supposed to do. Zona last in the NFL in 3rd down conversions (28.4%) entering – now 0 of 3 today.

#RL S Kerry Rhodes has his 2nd INT of Mark Sanchez. 1st Jets opponent w/ 2 1st-quarter INTs since LA Rams’ Kirk Collins in ’83.

#RL Ryan Lindley’s rushed third-and-8 pass incomplete, Jets defense has now stopped Cardinals on all 5 third-down plays.

#EA Jets have held Beanie Wells to 1 yard on 7 attempts. They are winning the battle up front against a young line.

#RL LaRon Landry makes his 2nd INT of season, on Ryan Lindley longball intended for rookie WR Malcolm Floyd. Landry returns to ARZ-38.

#RL Nick Folk tries to convert from 52 yards out. This try hits the right upright. He’s 0-for-2 with two uprights, game continues scoreless.

#RL Nick Folk had hit his previous 4 FG tries from 50-plus yards before the 52-yard miss.

#RL Jets defense in last 6 drives has an INT, a fourth-and-1 stop and 4 three-and-outs.

#RL Defense bringing it today: Cards had 33 drive yards on their opening series and have 26 yards combined on their last 6 series.

#RL Rookie WR Stephen Hill grabs 6-yd pass for first down. Hill now leads all receivers in this game with 4 catches for 37 yds.

#EA Stephen Hill has 4 receptions in the first half. The rookie’s career-high was 5 in Week 1 vs. BUF.

#RL Rex Ryan challenging spot of Dustin Keller completion, a foot short of 1st down. Ryan’s been successful in 12 of previous 17 challenges.

#RL Rex now 13 of 18 on replay challenges. Keller gets 1st down, Jets have it 1st-and-10 at ARZ-44.

#RL Rashad Johnson goes 40 yds on fake punt snap. Longest fake by Jets opps since 40-yd pass from Rohn Stark to Michael Prior vs IND in ’90.

#RL Ex-Jets K Jay Feely hits 48-yd FG as time expires in first half. Cards lead 3-0 over Jets at halftime.

#RL Jets lead at half in yards (146-115), 1st downs (9-4), possession (17:14-12:46), Cards lead in takeaways (3-1) and score (3-0).

#RL First 3-0 Jets game at halftime since 2011 Game 8 (@ BUF, Jets 3-0), first at home since 2010 Game 7 (vs GB, Packers 3-0).


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Jets-Cardinals: Pregame Tweets

Posted by Randy Lange on December 2, 2012 – 12:32 pm

Here are today’s pregame tweets for the Jets-Cardinals game at MetLife Stadium, in case you missed them on Twitter. Follow Bob Wischusen, Eric Allen and me for our tweets during each Jets game on https://twitter.com/nyjets.

#RL Foggy day in East Rutherford town for Jets-Cards at MetLife Stadium. Forecast for game: partly cloudy, temps low 50s, light wind.

#RL Jets, Cards have played 7 times previously. Jets lead series 5-2, winning last 5 games (78, 96, 99, 04, 08) by average score of 27-15.

#RL Jets set franchise single-quarter record with 34 pts in 2nd qtr vs ARZ in 2008. Jets K that day: Jay Feely, who’s now Cards’ kicker.

#RL Protect the ball: Mark Sanchez in 35 career wins has turned ball over 24 times (0.7/gm), in 29 losses has 58 turnovers (2.0/gm).

#RL Jets RB Shonn Greene in last 6 games has averaged 4.4 yards per carry. Greene leads Jets this yr with 33 1st downs, 11 3rd-down convs.

#RL ARZ WR Larry Fitzgerald, who had 8 catches for 122 yds in 08 game vs Jets, leads Cards with 55 catches (for 627 yds, 4 TDs) this yr.

#RL ARZ QBs (Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, rookie Ryan Lindley starting today) have been sacked 46 times, most of any team in NFL thru 12 wks.

#RL Walt Anderson is today’s referee. This is Anderson’s 11th NYJ game as ref since ’03. He worked MIA home game 5 wks ago.

#RL Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick calling game for FOX. Billick, Rex Ryan’s boss 99-07 @ BAL, is working his 2nd Jets game as network analyst.

#RL NYJ inactives: QB Tim Tebow, WR Clyde Gates, CB Aaron Berry, LB Ricky Sapp, DL Damon Harrison, G Caleb Schlauderaff, TE Hayden Smith.

#RL With Tebow deactivated, Greg McElroy is active for today’s game for the first time in his NFL career.

#RL ARZ inactives: QB Kevin Kolb, WR Andre Roberts, RB Alfonso Smith, G Senio Kelemete, T Pat McQuistan, TE Todd Heap, DE Calais Campbell.

#RL Jets wearing green jerseys, white pants today. 22nd time Jets are green/white under Rex Ryan (11-10 since 09), 6th time this yr (2-3).


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STS*: Struggles Past, Challenges, Opportunities Ahead

Posted by jlholt32 on December 1, 2012 – 11:15 am

For whatever reasons, ever since returning from their bye week, the Jets’ special teams haven’t been as sharp and efficient as usual.

Trouble began in Seattle on Nov. 11 when punt returner Jeremy Kerley muffed a second-quarter punt, which the Seahawks recovered and soon thereafter turned into seven points.

That was followed up at St. Louis the next week when one of Nick Folk’s field goals was blocked and a Tim Tebow fake-punt shovel pass to Lex Hilliard was stopped.

And most recently, against the Patriots on Thanksgiving, Joe McKnight fumbled a kickoff return, resulting in a TD for the opposition.

Special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff didn’t have a clear explanation for the recent struggles.

“We do things in practice,” Westhoff said, “but there’s only so many things you can do. I mean, we can’t run a live kickoff coverage in practice this time of the year. We’ve already had a million. You have to be able to hang onto it. So those instances, even though they’re separate entities — very, very frustrating.”

Yet Westhoff was pleased with his kickoff covereage unit against the Pats.

“They couldn’t get to the 20,” Westhoff said. “They couldn’t have gotten to the 20 with an all-star team running that against what we were doing. We had it. I look at it technically. I know what I’m talking about. So we have them covered.”

Westhoff was shocked the McKnight miscue occurred, particularly because it looked like he had a chance to take the return all the way.

“Here I’m seeing this develop,” the ST coordinator said. “I’m thinking, ‘We’ve got them. We’re going to hit this.’ All of a sudden it ends up becoming a gigantic play for them and they get the big Thanksgiving celebration and we get a weekend in Palookaville.”

Jets seventh-year safety Eric Smith said the mistakes and errors on special teams haven’t only been discouraging for Westhoff but for the entire unit.

“We’ve just given up a lot of plays that we don’t need to,” Smith said. “We’ve got them schemed up well, we’ve just got some guys out of position, missed some tackles or missed some blocks.”

The Arizona Cardinals, Sunday’s opponents, feature one of the NFL’s premier punt returners in Patrick Peterson. Last season as a rookie, Peterson tied the NFL single-season punt-return touchdown record, finishing with four, with all four of his scores at least 80-yard returns. Those impressive numbers certainly haven’t gone unnoticed by Westhoff.

“I’ll tell you what he’s incredible at aside from being a prolific punt returner,” Westhoff said. “He rushes field goals as good as maybe anybody I’ve ever seen. He can run under a chair. He explodes and he’s low. He’s strong. At 220 pounds, he runs through a lot of things aside from being so explosive. He’s a real factor.

“Sometimes his numbers maybe aren’t quite what he would want them to be. He takes chances. I mean, he ran a 99-yard punt return. That meant he fielded it on the 1. A lot of guys wouldn’t do that. He does that kind of stuff. So he’s very daring.”

When Peterson entered the NFL out of LSU in 2011, Westhoff listed him as his top draft prospect.

“He’s extremely, extremely talented,” Westhoff said. “I have tremendous respect for him.”

The unit is also hoping personal protector Tim Tebow will be ready to go after he didn’t see action in last week’s game due to his broken ribs.

“I think I know Tim Tebow pretty well,” Westhoff said. “The guy’s pretty tough. Anytime you have one of those things, there’s always a safety or precaution because you don’t know what it could become.”

If the Jets envision being successful Sunday, one area they should attempt to capitalize on McKnight’s specialty, kickoff returns. Arizona ranks 30th in the NFL in both their 27.9-yard average return allowed and opponents’ averaged 24.3-yard-line drive start. But as Westhoff cautioned, it all circles back to fundamentals.

“Every play is measured by the proper execution of that play,” he said. “Sometimes a really good punt return is a fair catch. That can be a heck of a play, things like that. Whatever the situation requires, I want to try to win at that situation. And I want everyone to win at it, every single guy. That’s my goal.”

*Special Teams Saturday


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Everything We Know About Jets’ Backup QB Plan

Posted by Randy Lange on November 30, 2012 – 4:24 pm

The backup QB beat went on today with head coach Rex Ryan still waiting to declare on Sunday, 90 minutes before the 1 p.m. ET kickoff against the Cardinals, whether or not Tim Tebow will be active with his cracked ribs and whether or not Greg McElroy will be active for the first time in his pro career.

“Seriously, we’re looking into it. Tim’s been limited and really very limited in some of the snaps he does take,” Ryan said. “We’re just tracking it and we’ll see how he feels. Could it be a gametime decision? It could be.”

Tebow, after today’s final practice of the week at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, maintained his belief in his ability to suck it up and play, with his ribs protected as much as possible by a flak jacket.

“I feel like I’m getting a little bit better every day,” the QB said. “Obviously, I’d love to be out there doing everything, but they’re trying to be smart so I’m just slowly progressing with things every day and it’ll be up to Coach and the docs.”

Tebow’s also well aware of the Wildcat-preparation-time factor that will have gone into Arizona’s practices this week out in the Valley of the Sun.

“If I knew? No, I wouldn’t tell  you,” Tebow said with a laugh of whether he’d divulge if he knew today that he would be active on Sunday. “I don’t know. Who knows?”

McElroy doesn’t know anything other than that he went into this week getting himself ready to go just as he had before the 11 previous games this season, for all of which he was deactivated on gameday.

“I’m sure it’ll be a decision made on gameday,” G-Mac told reporters in front of his locker. “Every week I try to prepare like I’m going to be activated. Last year I was on IR all year but I still prepared like I was going to be out there.

“This situation hasn’t changed anything for me. There’s no more adrenaline this week, really. I’m just being consistent in preparing as the third quarterback for whatever my role may be.”

Ryan reiterated his stance from before the New England game, that Tebow would not be put in the position of having to throw 50 passes in a game but wasn’t ruling in or out that No. 15 might be active for a much smaller role. The coach reiterated that Tebow was cleared to play medically and that “people have played with cracked ribs before.”

Similarly about McElroy being active, Ryan said, “I’m not read to declare that yet.” But he asked and answered another question a few sentences later: “Is it a possibility we will have Greg up? That is a possibility.”

Now what would happen if Tebow was again active and McElroy wasn’t, and that both Mark Sanchez and Tebow were to get dinged up during the game? Who would go in at QB for the Green & White. Ryan confirmed it would be WR Jeremy Kerley.

“But again, we’re going to be doing a lot of running if that’s the case,” Ryan said. “He was a quarterback in high school, he was recruited that way, he can throw the football. … Obviously, it’s not the situation you’d want to be in.”

One final point: As Ryan noted, “A lot of teams only have two quarterbacks on their entire roster. I’m saying that if Tim had to play every snap with the ribs, then you’d try to protect yourself with another quarterback.” But if the worst-case scenario hit, “basically you’d be trying to get through the game, then next week it’d be a different situation at quarterback.”

It’s true that every team in the NFL, regardless of if it had two or three QBs on the roster, last weekend had only two quarterbacks active for its game. The team closest to having three QBs active were the Bills with Ryan Fitzpatrick starting, Tyler Thigpen backing up and Brad Smith playing at WR and ready to step behind C if needed.

However, it’s not known if any other team fit into the Jets’ situation of having one healthy and one unhealthy QB active for a game. And in a few days we’ll see if the Jets play it similarly on Sunday or come up with a different take on their operational QB depth chart for the game.

Jason Smith, Decoy … or Is He?

It was one lonely touchdown at the end of a long night, but it was interesting to note who was in the pattern along with Dustin Keller, who caught Sanchez’s 1-yard touchdown flip with 2:21 left in the Jets’ Thanksgiving night loss to the Patriots.

“I know Mark threw an awesome ball to Dustin and he made a great catch,” said T/TE Jason Smith. “Touchdowns for any team in the NFL are very, very important. Me as a player, I’m just one piece to the puzzle. I’m very happy to be a part of this team. I believe in what we’re doing here. The guys who deserve credit are Austin, Brandon, Nick, Matt and D’Brickashaw. Those guys are working real hard to make sure this truck goes.”

We’re not sure how much Jason was pulling our leg, but he is an earnest young swing tackle and blocking tight end on this Green & White truck, and on that play he was an eligible receiver.

As Keller released from the right end of the line and curled to the left in the back of the end zone, Smith, one player over, did the same along the goal line. It could even be said that whether Smith was Sanchez’s first, second, third or fourth option on the play, he helped make the play work by drawing rookie CB Alfonzo Dennard up from Keller to have to guard this 6’5″, 308-pounder wearing No. 63 who was barreling toward him looking like a potential TD target.

Smith has been on the field for about 16 offensive plays a game, almost exclusively as a second or third tight end on short yardage/goal line plays. But we big guys can dream, can’t we?

Buttle Enters the Twitterverse

Jets fans are well aware of Greg Buttle’s work, once as the Jets’ top-tackling linebacker behind the Sack Exchange, more recently as a commenter on the team’s pre- and postgame shows on ESPN New York 98.7 FM. And now Buttle’s reaching out to a whole new circle of fans with his new Twitter account, @buttlenews.

“Don LaGreca talked me into tweeting,” Buttle said of his radio cohost. “We’ll be sitting there watching the game when Don will suddenly start tweeting something like, ‘I can’t believe it happened in 52 second.’ I don’t get it. I’m not into putting stuff out that’s so obvious. But Don and everybody I talk to in the marketing world says if you’re not on Twitter, it’s a mistake.”

We’re about to see if Buttle being on Twitter is a mistake, but we don’t think so. Greg is a Jet all the way, yet still ready to put a lick on his old team if the play on the field requires it. And as he realizes, “People out there, for some unknown reason, love this stuff. They want to hear Nick Nolte say, ‘I can’t stand Eddie Murphy.’ “

In less than 48 hours we’ll get to check out Buttle’s tweets on the Jets-Cards game. Make him feel at home, all you tweetahs. At the moment he’s got only one tweet live, he has three followers and he’s following three others.

Official Injury Status

Ryan didn’t pass on his injury list at his afternoon news conference as he usually does on Fridays, but the lists from the Jets and the Cardinals have now been released. Not too many surprises.

For the Jets, WR Clyde Gates (concussion) is listed as doubtful. Besides Tebow, three others are questionable: CB Aaron Berry (quad), DT Sione Po‘uha (back) and LB Ricky Sapp (ankle). The 15 other Jets on the list are all probable, including G Brandon Moore, the only one of the 15 who was limited rather than full-go at today’s shorter final practice.

For the Cards, six players are questionable: WR Laron Byrd (head), DE Calais Campbell (calf), WR Early Doucet (ribs), QB Kevin Kolb (ribs), WR Andre Roberts (ankle) and RB Chris “Beanie” Wells (knee). The other four on the Arizona report this week, including ex-Jets S Kerry Rhodes (back) are probable.

Reports out of Arizona suggest that Kolb is yet ready to take the rigors of a full game of hits on his ribs (where have we heard that before) so rookie Ryan Lindley is expected to make his second pro start. And there was some indecision about whether Campbell would be ready to display what Ryan called his “Pro Bowl-type” play with the calf injury he suffered during the Cards’ bye week.


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Hill, Coples, Davis Tackle the Rookie Wall

Posted by Randy Lange on November 28, 2012 – 6:44 pm

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.”

Injury Picture

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).


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Third-Down Defense Seeks a Turnaround

Posted by Randy Lange on November 27, 2012 – 4:44 pm

One of the elements of the Jets’ game that hurt them on Thanksgiving night — and that has to improve quickly to optimize the results of the regular season’s five-game homestretch — is third-down defense.

“Anytime you can’t get off the field on third down on defense, you’re hurting yourself,” S Yeremiah Bell said Monday. “You know, you give them an extra three downs to kind of do what they need to do. And when they have a quarterback like they have over there, that’s not something you want to do.

New England’s O converted 73.3% of its third-down opportunities (11-of-15), the highest percentage by a Jets opponent since 1986. At one point the Patriots had moved the chains on 11 consecutive third downs.

“We were having a difficult time on third down,” Bell said, “and it’s a very uncomfortable feeling because you know you’re going to be on the field and you know that with the firepower they’ve got that they can put up points at any time.”

Besides the communication errors on the long scoring passes to Shane Vereen and Julian Edelman, head coach Rex Ryan also cited the crunch-down issue.

“The fact is that they did a good job, made some plays on us, and they consistently were able to convert on third down,” Ryan said, “and that’s a problem.”

The problem, of course, starts on downs 1 and 2. There’s nothing counterintuitive about the fact that every yard you add to the opponent’s average third-down distance improves your chances of stopping a conversion.

And over the last four games, the Green & White defense has been giving ground on the first two downs. Miami’s average third-down distance was 5.1 yards, Seattle’s was 5.4, St. Louis’ was 4.5 and New England’s was 5.1. In this four-game streak combined the Jets were trying to stop teams who on average were trying to convert third-and-5.0, the lowest four-game in-season figure since the ’86 Jets, decimated by injuries after winning 10 of their first 11, lost four straight during which opponents were facing third-and-4.6.

Average third-down distance or margin isn’t as good a predictor of success as point margin or turnover margin. The Jets did well in their 27-13 win over the Rams, for instance, despite facing multiple third-and-short situations. And their offense’s puny third-and-3.0 average on 10 third downs vs. the Patriots (three conversions) didn’t help the home side, but that’s another story.

Suffice to say that keeping up the other guys’ average third-down distance is a good way to make them punt, often after with a demoralizing three-and-out series, improve your defense’s third-down conversion rate and get them off the field, and increase your possession time, all of which can be quite helpful components of a winning game plan.

The good news for the Jets is that their third-down defense, now ranked 31st in the NFL with an opponents’ conversion rate of 45.8%, gets a chance to improve that standing and pick up 3-D steam the next two weeks, against the Cardinals’ 32nd-ranked third-down offense (28.4%) and the Jaguars’ 31st-rated offense (30.6%).

As DT Sione Po‘uha, a key part of the Jets defense, tweeted this afternoon:

I’m putting all I got into it. Cause my family, teammates and fans deserve nothing less. Lets get it!!!

Jets Un-Flexed So Far

The Jets’ kickoff times for the coming weeks remain unaffected by the NFL’s flex scheduling procedures. Sunday’s game against the Cardinals remains at its originally scheduled 1 p.m. ET kickoff, next week’s game at the Jaguars is also at 1 p.m., and their Monday night game at Tennessee on Dec. 17 wouldn’t be affected by flex scheduling in any event.

Their Week 16 Sunday night game against San Diego could be changed, but the league, which has confirmed its Weeks 13-15 schedules, doesn’t have to announce Week 16 changes until about 12 days before that weekend, or Dec. 11.


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Arizona, Only Arizona, Comes into Focus

Posted by Randy Lange on November 26, 2012 – 4:47 pm

Rex Ryan pointed the direction: “It’s on to Arizona.”

And the Jets head coach’s finger was pointing to the Cardinals because they’re in the exact opposite direction to the Patriots and the Thanksgiving game the Jets don’t want to see in their rear-view mirror as they put days and weeks in between that game and what remains in their 2012 regular season.

Ryan surely wasn’t selling a playoff push at today’s return-from-the-holiday news conference at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, but he was asked if his approach for his team was to “run the table” on this season.

“Absolutely, that’s what you’re trying to do,” he said. “Our goal was to beat New England also, but that never worked out. That’s why you play. You try and win every game that you’re in.

“I’m not going to make a guarantee that we’re making the playoffs or that deal. We have to get better. It has to start right now. You can’t look down the road. Of course, you’d like to run the table, I guess that’s human nature to say, ‘Hey, I see what’s on our schedule, we have to win all five games, we have to do this, we have to do that.’ We have to win this game. I think that’s where the entire focus is.”

The shame of it is that the Jets’ final five games are table-runnable. Every opponent — Arizona, Jacksonville, Tennessee, San Diego and Buffalo — is 4-7 or worse. Their combined winning percentage is .327. While not an apples-to-apples comparison, if that strength-of-schedule held up the rest of the season, it would be the lowest SOS of the last five opponents’ records when the Jets played them in any season in franchise history.

But to think ahead at this stage for the equally 4-7 Jets right now would be foolhardy, and no one we heard in the locker room after the midday practice was going there.

Reporter John Holt dropped in on the media gathering around Yeremiah Bell’s locker. Here’s John’s report:

Bell has always considered Thanksgiving a special holiday.

But this year the holiday wasn’t as enjoyable for the Jets’ safety as the Green & White were defeated by the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. 

“Just from a feelings standpoint, I mean, that was about as low as you can get, especially on national television,” Bell said this afternoon after practice at the Atlantic Health Training Center. “But you know, it’s over and you just move on to the next.”

“Obviously it was an embarrassing game,” No. 37 said. “Kind of a low point, the way we went out there and kind of what we put on the field. But we know we still have five games left, so we’re more focused on the Arizona Cardinals and taking each game one game at a time.”

Although the Pats won by 30 Thursday, Bell wouldn’t concede that New England was a better team than when the teams first met in Foxboro on Oct. 21. The Jets led that game with less than two minutes to go in regulation before the Patriots sent the game to overtime for the 29-26 win.

“I think they’re a good team, no doubt about it,” the former Miami Dolphin said. “But do I think the score reflects how good they are? Maybe not. They’re good, no doubt about it. But there were some crazy things that happened in that game [Thursday].”

The craziest was three New England touchdowns in a span of 52 seconds, something Bell said he’d never witnessed.

“I’ve never seen a game and the things that happened in that game spin out of control so fast,” he said.

With five games remaining on the schedule, maybe a players-only meeting could prove beneficial.

“We’ve talked as players,” Bell said. “But at this point it’s just about doing your job. I don’t know how much more you can say it or how much more clear you can say it. It’s about guys doing their jobs and not doing the boneheaded things in games; not turning the ball over, not committing stupid penalties on defense and things like that. We just have to do more as a group.”

LaRon Landry, Bell’s safety mate, put the same sentiments in his own words:

“We have five more weeks and I’ll take it one day at a time, one practice at a time, like I’ve been doing. Go out there and give it my all and let the outcome speak for itself. I can only control what I can control.”

“There’s nothing more to say about it — we stunk it up,” LB Bryan Thomas said of their Turkey Day trimming. “Hats off to the Pats. Now we move on. Arizona’s coming in and we’re getting prepped on them, even a little bit today. Our sole focus is on this game. What would we look ahead for?”

And guard Brandon Moore uncharacteristically stepped on some reporters’ questions.

On the games down the road—

“It’s only about today for me.”

—but the possibility of running that proverbial table—

“I don’t know. I’m focused on today. I’m not going to even go there.”

That is the way it is today, will be this week. Only after Arizona will the focus shift to Jacksonville, and Tennessee will be unspoken before the Jaguars game. That’s the way it must be for this Jets team in this season.


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Saints, Cards (but not Jets) in Hall of Fame Game

Posted by Randy Lange on February 29, 2012 – 5:51 pm

There had been some sentiment for the New York Jets to play in this summer’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. After all, running back Curtis Martin will be inducted into the Hall during enshrinement ceremonies the day before the game.

However, other teams have favorite sons being inducted as well, and the NFL saw a different matchup. The league announced today that this year’s game at Canton’s Fawcett Stadium will match the New Orleans Saints and the Arizona Cardinals. Longtime Saints tackle Willie Roaf will also be inducted, and the Saints appear to enjoy playing in the game. This will be their fifth HOF game and their first since last playing in the first preseason game of the new season in 2007.

There is no set interval between appearances for any given team. The NFL rotates its teams through the Hall of Fame Game schedule so that each of the 32 teams will participate in the game once every 16 years or so.

The Jets last appeared in the game in 1992, when they defeated the Eagles, 41-14. Their only other Hall of Fame Game appearance came in 1977, when they lost to the Bears, 20-6.

Even without the Jets making an appearance in Ohio this year, fans may be interested in attending the weekend to celebrate Martin’s induction. Tickets for the game on Sunday, Aug. 5, priced at $35, $45, $60 and $70, will go on sale March 13. And additional information on both the game and the enshrinement ceremony the day before the game, including Enshrinement Festival fan packages, can be found at profootballhof.com.


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