The New York Jets have plenty of work to do this off-season if they hope to return to the playoffs after a turmoil-filled 8-8 year in 2011. The Jets were 8-5 and in control of their own destiny last season, but ended up losing their final three games and missing the playoffs. A season that started with so much promise ended in disappointment. To make matters worse for Rex Ryan’s club, two of their biggest rivals met in the Super Bowl: division foe New England and the cross town rival Giants.
Here is a list of some of the things the Jets need to address before training camp opens in July:
1) The chemistry in the locker room must improve. Santonio Holmes was benched in the season finale because he was not getting along well with his teammates including quarterback Mark Sanchez. After the season was over, several Jets threw Sanchez under the bus and were openly critical of their quarterback’s lack of progress on the field. Rookie quarterback Greg McElroy, who spent the entire season on injured reserve, said he never saw a locker room quite as toxic as the Jets this season.
The Jets say they will have Holmes and Sanchez sit down to mend fences this off-season and promise to do more team building exercises in training camp next year, but there is a lot of work to do to get harmony back in the club house. Rex Ryan can’t let the locker room get away from him again next season. As a head coach, he needs to be more in touch with his offense and not just spend all his time addressing the defense.
2) A backup quarterback must be brought in. Mark Brunell has served as the backup the past three years but at age 41, Brunell is not really capable of taking over as an effective long term replacement if Sanchez were to go down. Furthermore, while Brunell was almost a coach on the sidelines, his presence didn’t make Sanchez look over his shoulder at all or push him to be better. The Jets need to walk that fine line between bringing in somebody who will push Sanchez without threatening him. Regardless, the backup needs to be capable of stepping in for several games at a time if Sanchez gets injured.
3) The Jets must re-establish an offensive identity. When they went to back-to-back AFC Championship games, the Jets were a run first, “ground and pound” offense. This year, they got away from that in part due to injuries on the offensive line (see #4). New offensive coordinator Tony Sporano is known to favor a run-first approach which Rex Ryan prefers. If the Jets can re-establish their offensive identity, Mark Sanchez should have less of a burden to carry the offense.
4) The offensive line must be improved. The Jets running game and pass protection fell off last season as compared to 2010 and the offensive line was a major reason. Right tackle was a huge problem as neither Wayne Hunter nor Vladimir Ducasse was able to solidify that position. Brandon Moore was serviceable at best at right guard. When Nick Mangold went down for a few games, the entire line suffered. The right side needs to be rebuilt and depth needs to be added. If the O-line can return to form, the rest of the offense should also make big strides.
5) Re-sign Sione Pouha. Pouha is the key to the Jets run defense. Although he is 33, the Jets need to have Pouha back. He is an immovable object in the middle of the defensive line. If they can’t reach a long term deal with Pouha, the Jets are expected to use the franchise tag their nose tackle(s).
6) Improve the pass rush. The Jets didn’t have a player with more than six sacks on the season. As a team, they finished with 35 sacks, which was in the middle of the pack. Unfortunately, there was not a consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Jets need to add an outside linebacker or a defensive end that can help add some more teeth to the once vaunted Jets defense.
7) Reinforce the secondary. Jim Leonhard ended the season on the injured reserve for the second year in a row. The other starting safety, Eric Smith, gave up too many big plays over the course of the season. The Jets need at least one new starting safety and some more overall secondary depth as well.
8) Settle the backup running back situation. The Jets still aren’t sure if LaDanian Tomlinson will be back or retire. It’s still not clear if Joe McKnight can overcome his fumbling issues and become a solid NFL backup. If Tomlinson does not come back, someone to compete with McKnight for the backup RB spot is a necessity.
As you can see, there are plenty of areas the Jets need to address this off-season. Despite all of these issues, the Jets finished just one game behind the Bengals for the final wild card spot in the AFC. If a few of these areas are adequately addressed, there is no reason the Jets cannot contend for the playoffs again in 2012.