FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — If the New York Jets adopt an “us-against-the-world” mentality this season, the breakdown would look something like this:
World: 7.5 billion.
No one believes the Jets will contend for anything other than the No. 1 pick in 2018, as outside expectations have plummeted to an all-time low. The players don’t live in caves; they’re aware of the gloom-and-doom forecasts.
“Everybody is saying ‘tanking’ and all that stuff,” Matt Forte said this week. “A lot of people are jumping ship before the season even starts, but I welcome that. All y’all can jump ship if you want to. It shows us you were never on board in the first place. … We don’t care what anybody else says. It’s about us.”
It all starts Friday, when players report to training camp.
1. Does Christian Hackenberg have a chance to be the opening-day starter? I wouldn’t bet your personal seat license on it, but it’s not out of the question. He narrowed the gap with a somewhat encouraging offseason, but he still has to win the trust of the coaching staff and his teammates. The only way he can do that is to perform at a high level in actual games — i.e. the first two preseason contests. It makes total sense to start Hackenberg in the preseason opener; there’s no reason not to. It’ll help the overall rebuilding effort if he outplays Josh McCown and earns the job — no freebies — but coach Todd Bowles tends to err on the side of the veteran when it comes to positional battles.
Christian Hackenberg can dazzle his way into the Jets’ starting QB role with high-level preseason performances. AP Photo/Julio Cortez
2. Does Bryce Petty have a shot? Not really. The Jets may not present it this way, but it’s difficult to have a legitimate, three-way competition at quarterback. There’s simply not enough practice reps to go around. Petty missed his chance last season, and now he’ll have to be content to ride the bench.
3. Who is the most important newcomer? Among the veterans, I’ll go with Morris Claiborne. You saw what happened last season without a true No. 1 cornerback: The secondary was torched. The Jets allowed a 43 percent completion mark on deep passes (at least 20 yards), compared with 22 percent during the height of the Darrelle Revis era (2009-12), per ESPN Stats & Information. Claiborne is the closest thing they have to a No. 1, but he must overcome a long injury history.
4. What about injured players? At least four of the nine draft picks were dealing with injury issues at the end of the offseason program — wide receivers ArDarius Stewart (groin/thumb) and Chad Hansen (knee), safety Marcus Maye (arm) and corner Jeremy Clark (knee surgery). Clark is a good bet to start out on the physically unable to perform list; that was the plan when they drafted him. Stewart, coming off two surgeries in the offseason, bears watching.
5. Which players will generate the most camp buzz? Rookie safety Jamal Adams will be one of the big stories, just watch. He’s talented and mature beyond his years. He will be a Day 1 starter and tone-setter. Look for tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to build on his strong spring, but I’m interested to see if he can take it to game day. This should be Darron Lee’s time to shine; he has the raw talent and an opportunity to lead the linebacking corps. Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson tweeted he was 307 pounds at his weigh-in, one below his prescribed weight — perhaps a sign he will have a bounce-back year.
6. Who will be this summer’s sleeper? Given the state of the roster, every undrafted rookie will have a chance to win a job, but the one to watch is cornerback Xavier Coleman. He really impressed in the spring and will compete for a roster spot in the revamped secondary. You root for guys like Coleman, who overcame open-heart surgery in high school.
7. Will Bowles coach differently in his third year? Yes … on a few levels. I think he’ll be involved in the offense to some degree, in part because he has a first-time coordinator, John Morton. Bowles arrived with a reputation for being a buttoned-down coach, but he left a couple of buttons undone last year. That will change; players already say he’s stricter than last season. To survive, Bowles (15-17) must prove to ownership he’s capable of leading a young team back to relevance.
8. Should Mike Maccagnan feel as much heat as Bowles? Heck yeah. They were hired together under the premise of a 50-50 partnership. The 1.0 version of Maccagnan’s Jets failed to make the playoffs, and now he’s on to 2.0 — young, cheap and scrappy. The general manager won’t get a chance to reinvent the team a third time unless his rebuilding plan bears fruit.
9. Will anything change with Woody Johnson out of the picture? There’s a new Johnson in charge. With Woody poised to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, his younger brother, Christopher, will run the day-to-day operations. Folks at 1 Jets Drive are curious to see if his managerial style differs from that of his brother. Count on this: He will be a more visible presence than Woody, whose schedule prevented him from being at the facility on a regular basis. Chances are, Christopher will consult with big bro on key decisions.
10. Is there anything that can eliminate the gloom and doom? If Hackenberg plays lights-out in the preseason and claims the starting job, it’ll create a positive vibe as the team heads into the season. It’s the Summer of Hackenberg.