Jets’ Injuries Put Young Players, Tannenbaum Under Spotlight

Corey Griffin , TheJetsBlog.com

In the NFL, the phrase “next man up” is a common way of getting across an “injuries happen” mentality. For the Jets in an injury-riddled 2012 season, the saying has been extended over the river, through the woods and into the dregs of the off-the-street free agent pool.

In Monday night’s loss, wide receiver Jason Hill played in 37 percent of the team’s snaps. You know, the same Jason Hill the Jets signed five days earlier after losing Santonio Holmes for the season. The only reason Hill played that much was because mini-draft pick Clyde Gates became the latest member of Gang Green’s walking wounded Monday.

All in all, the Jets have dealt with injuries to eight starters (Holmes, Dustin Keller, Sione Pouha, Darrelle Revis, Stephen Hill, John Conner, Bryan Thomas and Nick Mangold) and four role players (Eric Smith, Kenrick Ellis, Clyde Gates and Josh Mauga). That’s an amazing number through only five weeks, especially when measured against Rex Ryan’s first three seasons in New York.

Consider that in Ryan’s first two full seasons as coach, almost every starter avoided serious injury. In 2009, 19(!) out of 22 “starters” played 14 games or more (a full season in this day and age), according to Pro-Football-Reference. In 2010, that number dropped slightly to 17, but jumped back to 19 in 2011, according to PFR. In all three seasons, the Jets either made the playoffs or were in contention entering the final week. The common sense message being: The healthier these veteran-laden Jets teams have been, the more likely they are to chase a playoff spot.

This year, we already know that Keller, Revis, Holmes and Pouha won’t play in 14 games. Unless Conner, Thomas and Stephen Hill play every remaining week, they’ll likely miss the cut too, along with Ellis, the de facto starting NT. Barring no other major injuries (a tall task with a roster aging at key positions), the Jets will only have 12 players reach 14 games played and lo and behold, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that thinks the Jets will compete for a playoff spot.

Admittedly, that’s a simplistic way to break down a team’s playoff hopes, but it’s a fact of life for these Mike Tannenbaum teams that have struggled to build depth beyond the top 22.

This past week, in Jeremy Kerley’s first crack at being the Jets’ top wide receiver, the second-year wideout tied a career high in receptions (5) and set a career high in yards (94). While Jets fans and pundits had tagged Kerley as a future slot receiver, there’s absolutely no reason he can’t have a bigger role in today’s spread-out NFL offenses (see: Cruz, Victor and Welker, Wes). Kerley is fantastic with the ball in his hands and it will be interesting to see whether he has the chops to replace Santonio (in role, at least) next season and team with Stephen Hill to give the Jets a potentially dangerous 1-2 punch in future seasons.

Kyle Wilson has been OK since Revis went down, but the Jets will finally be able to evaluate if he’s anything more than a depth piece –although it’s pretty well established that he can’t cover in space. With Pouha out, Jets fans got to see that Kenrick Ellis is a much better player than he appeared in his washout rookie season. Now with Ellis sidelined, expect to see more of 2012 first-round pick Quinton Coples and maybe even fan favorite Damon Harrison on the D-line.

Kerley is not Holmes (yet), Wilson is not Revis (ever) and Jeff Cumberland is not Keller (although what Keller is remains a mystery). The development or regression of the bottom half of the 53-man roster will be the main storyline as the Jets go forward and how these players fare and how the Jets compete without a majority of their starting-caliber players on the sideline will determine whether Tannenbaum and his front office are still standing when the Jets begin their preparations for the 2013 season. That alone is reason for Jets fans to watch.