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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — For the second time in 16 months, New York Jets wide receiver Devin Smith is recovering from major surgery on his right knee.

Smith, a second-round pick in 2015, was diagnosed with a torn ACL on April 17, the first day of the team’s offseason program. He will be lost for the entire season, the Jets announced Saturday at the conclusion of the draft.

“It’s bad luck and bad timing because the kid worked so hard to get back,” coach Todd Bowles said.
Devin Smith, left, was diagnosed with a torn ACL on April 17, the first day of the team’s offseason program. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
Smith has been plagued by injuries from almost the first moment he stepped on the field. As a rookie, he fractured his ribs on the second day of training camp. He returned and worked his way into the receiver rotation, only to suffer torn knee ligaments late in the 2015 season. As a result, he was unavailable until midway through 2016.

In two seasons, Smith, a former standout at Ohio State, has played in 14 games. He has 10 receptions for 135 yards and one touchdown.

The Jets believe he reinjured the knee before the first official workout.

“He had been around, working and training, but at the first [session] he experienced a situation with his knee,” general manager Mike Maccagnan said. “We actually examined him before he went out.”

Smith was taken for an MRI, which confirmed the tear.

The Jets drafted two receivers, Alabama’s ArDarius Stewart in the third round and Cal’s Chad Hansen in the fourth. They have 13 on the roster.

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — When Muhammad Wilkerson arrived in 2011, he was surrounded on defense by older leaders such as defensive linemen Sione Po’uha and Mike DeVito. When they were gone, the elder statesmen eventually became David Harris and Darrelle Revis. Wilkerson mostly kept to himself, letting his work on the field speak for him.

That Mo is gone.

Only three weeks into training camp, Wilkerson has emerged as a vocal leader for the New York Jets.

On Monday, he addressed the entire team on the practice field, letting his teammates know their “lackadaisical” attitude wasn’t cool. It was a ragged practice, and the man of few words told them they were wasting a work day.
Muhammad Wilkerson on leadership: “Being one of the guys who has been around for a while, it’s kind of only right that I took it upon myself to be more vocal.” Al Pereira/Getty Images
Even though he’s only 27, Wilkerson is the longest-tenured member of the defense, and he’s taking that role seriously. Teammates have noticed. Coaches have noticed.

“Being here seven years, I had a lot of older players that I looked up to and a lot of those older guys are no longer here,” Wilkerson said. “Being one of the guys who has been around for a while, it’s kind of only right that I took it upon myself to be more vocal.

“I feel like I was always considered a leader in my own way, just doing what I was supposed to do. But with guys not being around anymore, I had to step out of my comfort zone and speak up.”

Actually, Wilkerson has addressed the team on more than one occasion. This is good news for the Jets, a young team trying to develop leaders. It’s also good news for Wilkerson, whose promising career went sideways last season.

Not only was it his worst year from a production standpoint (4.5 sacks), but he compounded the problem with questionable behavior. He was disciplined for missing a walk-through practice — he was benched for a quarter in the next game — and he made headlines late in the season by questioning the team’s medical staff. He spent the season rehabbing a surgically repaired ankle, and he was frustrated with the program that had been created for him. Nothing went right for Wilkerson or the Jets in 2016.

 

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“We’re trying to forget last season,” he said. “As far as the team is concerned, the Jets didn’t even play last year. It’s a new Jets team and the focus is on ‘we’ and ‘us.’ Everything is about this team and this organization. We’re trying to get something clicking and something going good this year.”
A healthy, refocused Wilkerson will mean a lot to the defense. He’s the only defensive player with a Pro Bowl on his résumé (2015); Sheldon Richardson (2014) and Leonard Williams (2016) made it as injury replacements.

“The thing that’s really stood out is his leadership,” defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said of Wilkerson. “He’s the guy that’s calling the team up; he’s the guy that’s encouraging people to come together and do this. But the stuff he’s doing on the field, I’m really pleased with where he is right now.”

Wilkerson said he learned from watching players such as Po’uha and DeVito, both high-character individuals who brought a humble mentality to the field.

“One thing about me: I’m an observant person, so I picked things up from older guys and put it into my own game,” he said. “I molded it into the leader I should be.”

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — A look at the positive and negative performances from the New York Jets’ 7-3 victory Saturday over the Tennessee Titans:

THREE UP
Robby Anderson had three catches for 71 yards in the Jets’ victory Saturday over the Titans. AP Photo/Peter Morgan
WR Robby Anderson — This isn’t breaking news: Anderson can fly. Still. On the fourth play of the game, he blew past former New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan and made a 53-yard reception to set up the only touchdown. Ryan, one of the Titans’ big free-agent signings, played a “bail” technique on Anderson, respecting his deep speed. Didn’t matter; he still got torched. “Speed is a premium in this league, and he has it in droves,” said Josh McCown, who made the throw. It was a nice first game for Anderson (three catches, 71 yards), their No. 1 receiver now that Quincy Enunwa is done for the season. The question is, can he beat press coverage? That’s what gives him trouble.

OLB Josh Martin — Playing with the second- and third-stringers, Martin notched one of the team’s eight sacks. He also hit the quarterback on another play and later recovered a fumble. Jordan Jenkins (one sack) and Freddie Bishop started at outside linebacker, with Lorenzo Mauldin (back) sitting out with an injury. The Jets have a lot of bodies at outside linebacker and they’re waiting for two to separate from the pack. Martin is in the conversation. Chances are, they’ll go into the season with a committee approach.

QB Christian Hackenberg — Coach Todd Bowles said Hackenberg looked “comfortable” in the pocket. His performance was far from elite — no points in eight possessions — but he completed 18 of 25 passes. A year ago, he would’ve struggled to complete 18 of 25 against air, let alone a real defense. That’s called progress. “I was so proud of him because you have little hiccups here and there that weren’t necessarily his fault, but he kept battling through and played within the game,” McCown said.

THREE DOWN

The fullbacks — Julian Howsare and rookie Anthony Firkser each dropped a pass, and Algernon Brown missed a block that contributed to a sack of Hackenberg. Howsare’s drop came at the 2-yard line, costing him a walk-in touchdown. A year ago, the Jets didn’t even carry a fullback on the 53-man roster, but the position is back from extinction. It’s an important part of their West Coast offense, and they need someone who can catch the ball. New coordinator John Morton made it clear he intends to utilize the fullback. On Anderson’s 53-yard reception, Howsare was split out wide as a receiver.

 

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WR Jalin Marshall — The Jets had no fewer than four dropped passes, including one by Marshall, who also had a holding penalty. Unlike a year ago, when he made the team as a rookie free agent, Marshall is being counted on to contribute — once he returns from his four-game PED suspension, that is.

P Lachlan Edwards — He shanked a 14-yard punt, costing his team field position. Coming off an underwhelming rookie season, Edwards won’t be gifted a roster spot. He’ll have to earn it, and this wasn’t a good start.

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The New York Jets’ quarterback competition is becoming less competitive as the days roll by. Josh McCown is pulling away, albeit by default.

Friday was another difficult day for the signal-callers, who were a combined 3-for-13 in red-zone plays. Let’s break it down:

JOSH McCOWN

There was some good and some bad. At one point, he completed nine consecutive passes in team periods, perhaps the best stretch of offense in camp. But when he got to the red-zone period, everything came to a halt. He managed to throw a couple of touchdown passes, but he was only 3-for-10, including an interception, in the red zone. All told, he was 12-for-20. As always, McCown worked exclusively with the first-team offense.
Christian Hackenberg seems to have regressed as Jets camp continues. Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports
Wow moment: It happened in the red zone. McCown showed nice touch, hitting Deshon Foxx on a corner fade route. The 38-year-old quarterback raised his arms to celebrate; there haven’t been too many of those moments in camp. Earlier, he zipped a nice scoring pass to Quincy Enunwa, who had roller-coaster day (two drops and a diving catch).

Whoa moment: McCown tried a screen pass to rookie running back Elijah McGuire in the red zone, and it was intercepted by safety Rontez Miles, who might have returned it for a touchdown in a real game. It doesn’t get any worse for a quarterback; a play like that could be a 10-point swing in a game.

CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG

After a relatively promising start, Hackenberg has regressed over the past three practices. The people who say he should be handed the starting job should come to camp and see for themselves. Is he better than last year? No question. Is he ready to start an NFL game? No way. On Friday, he completed only 3 of 11 passes and was “sacked” three times. To be fair, he was victimized by two drops.

Wow moment: Sorry, not on this day.

Whoa moment: In the first team period, Hackenberg coughed up the ball on a sack by Lorenzo Mauldin. It was hard to tell from the sideline, but it didn’t appear that Mauldin actually stripped the ball. Hackenberg just kind of lost it. Sloppy.

BRYCE PETTY

 

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Petty said the other day he refuses to count his practice reps because he doesn’t want to get caught up and distracted by how much (or little) he’s playing. If he decided to go back to his old ways Friday, it wouldn’t have been that hard to count — one, two, three, four. Petty (1-for-3) has all but fallen out of the competition.

Wow moment: Come on, really?

Whoa moment: Late in practice, Petty and the entire third-team offense was told to run a punishment lap around the perimeter of the field. There was some confusion as they broke the huddle. Coach Todd Bowles was fed up and told them to run. Petty’s day was effectively over.

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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:

Pro-Jets: 53.

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.

Key questions:

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.