We will be providing position-by-position breakdowns leading up to Jets training camp this Thursday. For now, we focus on the defensive backs.
Brian Bassett, TheJetsBlog.com
Notable losses: Antonio Cromartie, Ed Reed, Isaiah Trufant
2013 notes: At the outset of the season, the Jets looked set to soldier on in their first year without Darrelle Revis. The team had drafted Dee Milliner to slide into the CB2 spot while Antonio Cromartie took the familiar top corner spot he was used to from 2012 and filled to great effect. Unfortunately, Cromartie was injured during the season and played most of the season with a bad hip and it showed. His trademark speed wasn’t there and he couldn’t run deep with receivers. The Jets added Ed Reed mid-way through the season and even switched at time to Cover-Two defense at times; a telltale to the Jets secondary playing on their heels. Dee Milliner struggled for much of the season, but as the season wore on the fundamentals looked better. First, he was in the right place, swiveling his head. The he was swiveling his head in the right place and contesting passes. This led to Milliner putting up ten passes defensed in the last two weeks of the season and ending the season with 17, the most for any Jet since Darrelle Revis (21) in 2011.
Behind Cro & Dee, Kyle Wilson finally looked at home in the slot and played as such. Wilson ranked as the top slot corner in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus. Darrin Walls saw about a quarter of the team’s defensive snaps, working as an extra defensive back or in outright replacement of Milliner looking rough but passable in his time on the field. The Jets seemed to bury Ellis Lankster (in favor of Isaiah Trufant) and emphasize Lankster’s role on a struggling special teams group. Strange considering the corners troubles last year — this might speak to longer term issues.
While this was taking place, the Jets did a good job last year of building depth for training camp by acquiring Ras-I Dowling for their practice squad.
As for the safeties, Dawan Landry held the group together all season long as a starter and ended with the third most tackles on the team; speaking to his use more in run support. Landry wasn’t great against the pass, but on the whole he still fared better than Antonio Allen. Allen has athleticism, range, vision and speed but he has work to do in coverage despite his game-changing pick-six of Tom Brady.
Allen’s growth as a coverage player was suspended though once he was moved to the bench when the Jets brought in Ed Reed to help stabilize the coverage deficient safety position. Reed rounded into form by the end of the season, but some very visible mixups in coverage seemed to make his return unlikely.
Jaiquawn Jarrett seems to have found a role with the Jets as a backup and played solid football without major concerns about his needed to see extra time in emergency work. Josh Bush also played fine in the small numbers of snaps he saw scattered across the season.
Overall outlook: There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a lot of questions in the minds of many when it comes to this group, but the additions were positive, granted not to the same degree had they landed one of the top defensive backs in free agency. Even so, Calvin Pryor’s athleticism, versatility and physicality make him a lock as one of Ryan’s safeties who the team can feel confident in deploying in man-coverage roles when required. Allen seems a rangy and versatile complement to Pryor, though Allen still needs to refine his pass coverage before the team feels confident in mixing and matching safeties.
At corner, the group from 1-8 looks to be one of the deepest in recent memory, though I get the concerns around the projected starters. Dee Milliner has had trouble staying on the field due to health and play in 2013, but his December was so strong it’s hard to shake those images. Dimitri Patterson wasn’t a high profile free agent, but he fits the mold of corner for which Rex typically looks.
Wilson shone as a slot corner in 2013 and we look for more of the same. Darrin Walls graded out well in 2013 and we expect him to be a competent backup who can play the against the boundary in a pinch. Ellis Lankster might settle into a role as a core special teamer only, or he might get a shot at beating a stout group of corners for time in sub-packages. Ras-I Dowling has had a stellar spring, but he’s demonstrated durability concerns dating back to high school so it comes down to his ability to stay healthy and look just as good when the pads come on.
The Jets drafting of Dexter McDougle is a huge open switch; the team went out of their way to take McDougle rounds ahead of where he might have otherwise gone on the basis of his junior tape because of an injury during his senior season. It is an indication of just how highly the Jets think of McDougle. Expectations could be high for McDougle from early on.
Camp competition: Dee Milliner and Calvin Pryor’s jobs are the only two sure things in this entire group, the rest will be up for grabs from among a diverse and talented group of corners and safeties. This means that the Jets will have the luxury to let the best players play through their competition mantra during training camp and preseason. Patterson is the presumptive starter across from Milliner, but if another player clearly states their case the Jets will have no reason to refuse. The same holds true for the rest of the corners down the line. At safety while Allen is the presumptive starter, Landry could fill the clean-up run support role easily with the tradeoff of less versatility in range. Meanwhile Jaiquawn Jarrett, Rontez Miles and Josh Bush will fight for what might be the last safety spot.