After advancing to consecutive AFC Championship games, the New York Jets had every reason to approach 2011 with confidence that the team could make the next step.
But by the end of the season, the Jets were out of the playoffs and the team was in disarray, with Santonio Holmes getting benched at the end of a must-win game and Mark Sanchez leaving doubts about his status as the quarterback of the future.
So can Head Coach Rex Ryan right the ship and get his troops back on track? Or have his bravado run its course? Joe Caporoso, owner, editor-in-chief and head writer for Turn on the Jets, shared his thoughts with Zoneblitz. Here’s what he had to say:
Zoneblitz: Three years in, what is your assessment of Rex Ryan as Jets head coach?
Joe Caporoso: Overall, I think most people would sign up for the AFC Championship Game in two of the first three years. Rex has brought a much needed shot of life to this franchise, along with a great defensive mind. That being said, I think he learned a few hard lessons this past season and will hopefully learn from those mistakes in year four. He admittedly lost the pulse of his team and was dealing with a divided locker room. It is on Ryan to bring this team back together and to do a better job of overseeing the offense along with the special teams and not just be a glorified defensive coordinator.
Zoneblitz: Same question for Mark Sanchez? Is he the Jets quarterback of the future?
Caporoso: I am still on the Mark Sanchez bandwagon and believe he is the quarterback of the future. He had a disappointing end to the season without question but that doesn’t erase his overall accomplishments through his first three years. Go back and look at Eli Manning’s stats after his first three years and the articles that were being written about him and you will see how foolish it would be to give up on Sanchez at this point.
Zoneblitz: How much of an impact will the offensive coordinator switch from Brian Schottenheimer to Tony Sparano have on the offense in 2012?
Caporoso: At a minimum it will lead to a bigger emphasis on protecting the quarterback and a fresh approach to the running game, both of which are badly needed. Hopefully, Sparano will also have substantially less head-scratching play calls than Schottenheimer.
Zoneblitz: Plaxico Burress showed some flashes in 2011. Santonio Holmes was involved in some season-closing controversies. Do you expect they’ll be back in 2012 and what do you think of the rest of the Jets receivers?
Caporoso: Plaxico Burress isn’t coming back. Santonio Holmes will be back as the Jets just guaranteed the next two years of his contract. They now need a split end who can create more consistent separation than Burress opposite of Holmes. Jeremy Kerley looks like he has the potential to develop into a terrific slot receiver. I would expect Sparano to use him in the same way he used Davone Bess.
Zoneblitz: Shonn Greene had a few productive games toward the end of the 2011 season. Do you think he’s figured out the feature running back in 2012 or do the Jets have other plans inside or outside the organization?
Caporoso: I am not sold on Greene yet as a feature back. He doesn’t break enough tackles or create enough big plays. I think he is better as a “1B” type option. However, I am not sure the Jets have the means to add a big name in free agency. I would expect them to add a mid-level veteran to take some of the load off him and look to expand Joe McKnight’s role on offense.
Zoneblitz: Is LaDainian Tomlinson coming back? How are the young guys, Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell developing?
Caporoso: LaDainian Tomlinson is expected to retire. McKnight showed some flashes last year and if he could stay healthy, has the potential to be a very good third down back. I wasn’t crazy about what I saw from Powell last year. He looked like a slower version of Shonn Greene.
Zoneblitz: Rex Ryan promised a more “hands-on” approach to the defense in 2012. What do you think that will mean?
Caporoso: I think he will take over as the primary play caller, which is something defensive coordinator Mike Pettine did last year. The Jets need to find a way to get after the quarterback more consistently and I think Ryan will be a more aggressive with his calls.
Zoneblitz: The defense is still good, but did give up 363 points in 2011, up from 304 in 2010 and 236 in 2009. What do the Jets need to do to get back to a dominant level of play there in 2012?
Caporoso: They need two things in a big way – pass rushers and safeties. Hopefully, they will use both free agency and their top draft picks to address these glaring problems.
Zoneblitz: How far is this team from competing with New England for a division championship and from making another deep run in the playoffs?
Caporoso: They finished five games behind New England last year and were swept by them, so they have a ways to go in the AFC East. I do think with a solid off-season and improved play from Sanchez they will be in the mix for a playoff spot and once they get into the tournament they will be a dangerous team because of their experience.
Zoneblitz: What would you like to see the Jets do in free agency and the draft?
Caporoso: The three absolute musts are pass rushers, safeties and a right tackle. They also could use a number two receiver, backup quarterback, and depth at running back. Obviously, they won’t be able to adequately address all of these needs but the more, the better.
Zoneblitz: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Caporoso: Just say no to Randy Moss. Don’t hold your breath on Peyton Manning Jets fans.