Jake Steinberg, TheJetsBlog.com
With OTAs over and voluntary minicamp set to begin, let’s take a look at some guys who had some of the better under-the-radar performances during the Organized Team Activities that could unexpectedly lead to them getting a bigger role than previously anticipated. Keep in mind, the media was only allowed to attend one practice each week, meaning they have no idea how guys performed when they were not around. Thus, after speaking to a variety of sources, here’s some guys who separated themselves, albeit in shorts, during this period.
1. TE Hayden Smith – Everybody I’ve talked to has absolutely raved about Hayden. The progress he has made from year one to year two is nothing short of phenomenal. If you think about it, this time last year he was just learning to put on a helmet for the first time. Now, he’s getting ready to be make a major impact for this team. In his West Coast offense, the two-tight end set is very common, so it’s more than likely we will see Hayden out there with Jeff Cumberland a majority of the time. While Konrad Reuland is a formidable player, he’s not as versatile as Hayden. People at the practices have raved to me about his route running, improved blocking, and overall understanding for the game. It’s been a while since the Jets have had a legitimate pass catching threat at the TE position. Maybe one might classify Dustin Keller as one, but he would show up for five games than disappear. Hayden is here to stay. This is a guy to watch closely as camp rolls around.
2. WR Zach Rogers – Overshadowed by Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter at Tennessee, Rogers has been lining up everywhere during OTAs. I’m told in addition to playing slot receiver, Rogers has been handling the duties as a punt returner and kick returner as well. In fact, he was the reason the Jets cut Royce Pollard after minicamp. Rogers, who caught 32 passes for 491 yards and seven touchdowns last season, performed so well that Pollard, who spent the entire season on the practice squad, was suddenly let go. Right off the bat Rogers clearly has a leg up on a guy like Titus Ryan in terms of making the team just due to his versatility. Rex has taken notice has well, “Rogers was very productive there and he really did a nice job of running routes and catching the football. He stood out. He caught a lot of balls out there, he was a slot receiver, you saw him return punts. And he did a good job in the special teams drills.” Rex, who is notorious for not knowing undrafted free agents names, clearly has his eye on Rogers. As should you.
3. LB Ricky Sapp – Let’s start off with something that has been reported yet. Last year, Ricky found out in the middle of the season that he was playing with a stress fracture in his right ankle, which was causing him unbearable pain. As such, Rex decided to make a bold decision. He made Ricky inactive for the latter part of the season. With the season pretty much over and Rex looking ahead, he decided to “hide” Ricky. He didn’t want to get him on tape, and also felt it necessary to let his ankle heal. After the season ended, Rex asked Ricky to add on some weight, but not so much that it will affect his speed. He did, and came into camp in the best shape of his life. While the team has said Quinton Coples will be starting at one of the OLB spots, the media has labeled Calvin Pace the starter. Not so fast. They should know on the days they weren’t there, Ricky was receiving a TON of reps and was playing with the first team. I can see a scenario in which Antwan Barnes and Pace end up in more of a situational role with Ricky and Quinton starting. Barnes is probably best suited for that kind of role anyway, and Calvin is getting up there in age. Kristian Dyer said of every single defensive player on the field last week, Ricky “looked the best.” With his ability to drop back in coverage and also get after the QB, will will be playing a lot this season. I can promise you that.
4. RB John Griffin – Like Ricky, Griffin was lighting it up in camp last summer, but suffered a high ankle sprain and was ultimately let go. After being resigned to the practice squad late in the season and activated for the Week 17 game vs. Buffalo, he’s back in camp turning heads once again. RB Coach Anthony Lynn said, “he was really raw when he got here at first but I’m expecting John to really compete, not just be a camp guy but compete for playing time. He’s a big back … He’s fast, he’s quick, he can make people miss inline and he does some really nice things that I like.” The problem is, the Jets are extremely loaded at the running back position, with Mike Goodson, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight. Interestingly, however, I’ve been told Griffin has the best hands out of the aforementioned group, something that is a necessity in a West Coast Offense. Griffin has been making the most out of his reps, and if he continues to shine, he might just push one of these guys off the roster…
5. DB Eric Crocker – First and foremost, from all of us here at TJB, we send our condolences to Eric, who left OTAs this week to return home to California to be with his family following the loss of his father. Signed by the Jets in March, he went attended University of Arkansas at Monticello. After going undrafted in 2012, he joined the San Antonio Talons last season, where he finished the year with 70 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 3 interceptions. Crocker, 6’2, 190lbs., has been making a name for himself during OTAs. The Jets coaches feel he has a real shot to make the team, I’ve learned. He has shown a ton of toughness and ability to match up with receivers during practice. Furthermore, I’ve been told they “can’t wait” to get him in pads. His ability to run down the field and make plays on special teams will also help his cause. He reminds me a lot of Marquice Cole, who like Crocker, was signed by the Jets to a reserve/future contract. Quice became in instant star on special teams while slowly showing he had what it took to play in Rex’s complicated defense as well. Crocker has been working one-on-one with Dennis Thurman and Tim McDonald to better himself every day.