Rookies Could Push for Valuable Playing Time on Defense; Who Will be Green & White’s Kicker in 2021? Ethan Greenberg
With training camp on the horizon, here are three positional battles (and some honorable mentions) to keep tabs on throughout the summer.
The Jets linebackers have potential, but the group has some question marks.
Four-time Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley, who looked in fine form during the spring, has played in two games the past two seasons (core injury, opted out). General manager Joe Douglas added LB Jarrad Davis in free agency, a first-round pick of the Lions in 2017. Davis (6-1, 245), could be primed for a breakout season after many believe he was miscast in Detroit. Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich believes Davis will be a good fit in the Jets' 4-3 with his combination of size and speed.
If you pencil in Mosley and Davis as starters, who will be the third linebacker? The Jets have Blake Cashman, a 2019 fifth-round pick with good athleticism, but he's missed 21 games in his first two NFL seasons. Douglas also drafted a pair of college safeties who will transition to outside linebacker -- Jamien Sherwood (Auburn) and Hamsah Nasirildeen (Florida State).
"They're long, they're fast, they're instinctual," Ulbrich said of the rookies. "Jamien Sherwood, I've been around a lot of rookies as a player and coach, he's unique in the way that he has absolutely picked up the finite details of this defense already. ... And then Hamsah has a different level of anticipation and instinct that rookies don't normally have to go along with both guys being long and athletic. It's an exciting group, it'll be fun to watch those young guys grow and try to find spaces for them to play this season and contribute."
The Jets cornerbacks are young and inexperienced. Justin Hardee's five years are the most in the room, but he's taken 115 career defensive snaps as he's primarily been used on special teams.
Bless Austin and Corey Ballentine are next with three seasons each. Austin (681) and Bryce Hall (547) took the most snaps on defense for the Jets in the 2020 season. Hall (6-1, 202) flashed at times as a rookie after missing the first eight games rehabbing from a leg injury that ended his last collegiate season at Virginia.
"That entire room, they're competing," Ulbrich said. "We're going to try to fine-tune that group that we go out there and win with and play good defense with. Bryce will definitely be in that mix. I don't think necessarily anybody has set themselves apart from the next. He's got the most experience of the group. He's played the most football of the group but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's his spot so it's going to be a great competition for the corner spot and you're going to get the best version of whoever ends up being the starter."
Douglas added three rookies in the draft -- Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock and Brandin Echols -- before signing Isaiah Dunn in undrafted free agency. Carter II could join the fray on the inside at nickel with Javelin Guidry.
The Jets currently have three quarterbacks on the roster who have combined for zero NFL snaps. If No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson is named the starter, who will back him up? Douglas has complimented Mike White and James Morgan, who was drafted in the fourth round in 2020, but could add a veteran quarterback.
Head coach Robert Saleh said the Jets elected to not sign a veteran in the spring to give the reps to White and Morgan and that the team would make a decision whether to bring in a QB, or not, down the road.
"There's a scheme familiarity that has to happen," Saleh said. "If you just bring in a veteran who doesn't know anything about your scheme, he's learning just like a rookie is."
It wouldn't be an article on training camp battles without a kicker competition. The Jets have Sam Ficken, who's played 24 games with the team in 2019-20, and undrafted rookie Chris Naggar on the roster.
Ficken has converted 76.2% of his field-goal attempts since joining the Green & White, in addition to 85.4% of his extra points. Naggar began his collegiate career at Texas before transferring to SMU for his senior year where he went 17 of 21 on field goals (81%), which led the AAC. He missed three extra points (43 of 46) and had 46 touchbacks on 69 kickoffs. He led the conference with 94 points scored, which ranked 19th nationally.