WITH THE POSSIBILITY OF THE PLAYOFFS GONE, WHO WILL STEP UP IN 2012 FOR A SPOT IN 2013?
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The playoffs may be out of sight for the 6-8 Jets, but there is still plenty to keep an eye on in the final two games of the season. These last two games, while still looking for the win, will be used to build cases for who should be a Jet in 2013.
And, no, I’m not just talking about the quarterback position.
The Sanchez/Tebow/McElroy carousel aside, there are plenty of other areas the Jets will look to lock-up or move on with key free agents and budding players alike. The Jets have eleven unrestricted free agents in 2013, including key contributors on both sides of the ball like Shonn Greene, Dustin Keller, Mike DeVito, Yeremiah Bell, LaRon Landry, Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore.
“The younger players are certainly going to get an opportunity to play a little bit more – the Quinton Coples, Bilal Powells, Vlad Ducasses. And I think we have been getting them involved throughout the year. So that will continue,” Rex Ryan continued saying on Thursday, “I think Coples you’ll see more of. I’d like to see Kenrick Ellis some more. Absolutely I want to see some of these young guys play. I’m excited about Antonio Allen. There’s been a lot of young guys who’ve stepped up when we plugged them in.”
Weighing the balance of veteran value and importance on grooming youth, Week 15 is the start of a long, involved evaluation process for what will be the 2013 New York Jets. Here’s a look at some players to keep an eye on as the season comes to a close.
VETERAN FREE AGENTS:
- Dustin Keller, Tight End — It’s been a frustrating year for Keller to say the least. He’s missed five games this season with a hamstring injury and looks like he’ll be out this week with an ankle injury, after playing in every game for the first four years of his career. Keller has been the team’s leading receiver the last two seasons, but that was with Mark Sanchez at the helm. With Sanchez’s future left in limbo, so does Keller’s. Ryan has always raved about Keller’s athletic skill set, but what he really loves is versatility. And his poor blocking doesn’t help his case in a run-oriented offense. The injury hurts his value, but he may find higher value in a spread, passing offense.
- Mike DeVito, Defensive End — One of the unheralded leaders of the defensive unit and the team. He’s quietly enjoying what Ryan calls “his best season since I’ve been here” and stood out with a dominating eight tackle performance against the Titans. DeVito told the Star Ledger he wants to remain a Jet, but would find it interesting if other defensive players went elsewhere. When asked about the future of DeVito, Ryan skirted the questioned by gushing about the five-year player.
He’s doing a great job for us this year. Obviously, there’s going to be situations on futures of players and those will be addressed. But he’s done a tremendous job for us – and not just as a steady player, but as a run-stopping playmaker as well.
- Bart Scott, Linebacker — Not a free agent in 2013, but given his decline in play — likely due to age and struggles dealing with a toe injury — Scott’s $6.9M owed next year is a bloated figure. He’s been hammered by fans for the lack of walk after all his talk, but still, Scott hopes to remain a Jet. He told the Daily News that he’d be willing to take a pay cut to stay with the team. Should he return, he’ll likely platoon at middle linebacker with 2012 third rounder Demario Davis.
- Bryan Thomas, Linebacker — Fighting age and injury as well, Thomas appeared to multiple reporters as “frustrated” with the uncertainty of his future. Mike Pettine said Thursday that the thought of Jets linebacking corps as we know it could be playing their final games has crossed his mind.
- Yeremiah Bell, Safety — The ten-year veteran will be 35 in March and is leaving no doubt he wants to play in 2013 for his eleventh season. He told the Star Ledger that he “definitely playing” and “wants to come back” next year. He, along with fellow free agent-to-be LaRon Landry, has anchored the safety position with 83 tackles while locking down the defensive backfield after the loss of Darrelle Revis. It would be interesting to see what a year of a unit like Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Landry and Bell could do.
- Shonn Greene, Running Back — He’s not pretty. He’s certainly not flashy, but Shonn Greene — very quietly — is putting together a nice season. Early struggles — much of which can be attributed to the offensive lines transition from a zone scheme to gap-based scheme — led to fans crying for his head, but over the last four games Greene has been a different player. In a near 50/50 split in carries, a demotion for Greene, he’s averaged 80 yards a game and 4.6 yards per carry. His smash-mouth style embodies Ryan’s style of play and has been a model citizen in the locker room.
- Matt Slauson, Guard — After a breakout 2011 season in which he admirably played through a gruesome shoulder injury that was torn in two places and never missed a game, Slauson has grown to be a malcontent over the course of the 2012 season. His play has been average — neither stellar nor poor — yet he continually found himself in a positional battle with Vlad Ducasse; a move that offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo alluded to as coming “high above him”. He also got swirled in the storm of the anonymous player ripping Tebow, where his remarks were included in the Daily News’ article. If what DeGuglielmo was alluding to is indeed true, Slauson’s days as a Jet are numbered with the reigns going to Ducasse, for better or worse.
- Quinton Coples, Defensive End — He’s recently proven to be worth the 16th overall selection in the draft. His interior presence has been complimented by the attention former high school teammate Muhammad Wilkerson receives, but it’s provided a glimmer of hope in the future of a team filled with uncertainty. Special teams coach Mike Westhoff said Thursday that he believes with Coples and Wilkerson anchoring the line, the Jets could have something special for years to come. The difference in Coples has been the way he practices during the week, according to Ryan.
I just think now he’s hitting his stride a little bit. He’s more familiar with expectations here – how we do things. And then we try to use him multiple ways – initially, I think that hurt him – now I think that has helped him, where we can take advantage of the type of skill he has. Obviously, he’s going to be a huge part of what we do here in the future. It’s rare to get a guy with his height, weight, speed and to see him really understand how to practice has been the difference. He really knows how to practice. He’s flying around there loose footballs. His technique is getting much better.
- Bilal Powell, Running Back — He’s earned his keep in 2012, that’s for sure. After an eye-opening training camp, Powell has burst on to the scene in the second half and looks to keep it moving in the foreseeable future. Moving from barely used, to a 60/40 split to a now near 50/50 split in carries Powell has been a difference-maker in the team’s near miss of the 2012 playoff run. He’s been over four yards per carry in each game over the past three and has gained 246 of his 405 yards on the ground in his last five games.
- Vlad Ducasse, Guard — He may have gotten off on the wrong foot with the Jets in his early career, but like it or not, it appears Ducasse will get his opportunity to be the starter next year — even if it’s to the dismay of DeGuglielmo. Couple the desire to see Ducasse succeed with Slauson’s outward unhappiness with the platoon, it should spell for the Year of Vlad part two.
- Antonio Allen, Safety — Coaches have been raving about the seventh round pick from South Carolina, and his brief playing experience has been impressive. Westhoff shared that Allen has been one of those young players whose audition has been going well and that, with a little gain in weight, he could be used in a variety of roles. With both of the team’s starting safeties free agents, the a good grade from the front office on Allen could prove to be a savvy, cap-saving move.
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