The monstrous Damon Harrison was a big key for the Jets last season. Credit: Getty Images
Jets head coach Rex Ryan might be in for an even tougher job in 2014 after arguably his best coaching job last season.
Expectations are raised with the bulk of his defense returning, additions to a bland offsense last season and 12 draft picks adding depth on the both sides of the ball.
Another season of .500 football isn't good enough in an era of raised expectations. The Jets could be a playoff team this year, even with a difficult schedule and a rapidly improving AFC East. And while Ryan dodged perceived doom last year by coaching his team into playoff contention in December, the Jets have to make the postseason this year.
That's something they haven't done under Ryan since 2010. A fourth year without the playoffs might lead general manager John Idzik to make a very difficult choice and let go of the immensely popular Ryan.
There are no excuses for this team. Ryan's bravado seems to have returned in painting the Jets as a playoff team. But the swagger for the head coach is a double-edged sword, as he has to back up the talk with a winning season.
If he doesn't, then he's coaching at Rutgers next year.
Three storylines to watch ...
1. No quarterback competition
The starting quarterback job is Geno Smith's job – not his to lose, it's just his job. Even as management has used the "competition" mantra across the board over the past year, it clearly won't apply to the most important position on the field. Veteran Michael Vick was brought in solely to mentor Smith it appears — a head scratcher given his experience in the West Coast offense.
But no matter how well Vick plays or how poorly Smith does, it won't matter much. Smith will be the starter in preseason and Week 1 despite what unfolds in training camp. This isn't Debbie Downer talk, it's just reality. Smith is the starter and there is no quarterback battle.
2. Guarded concern
Rookie Brian Winters had struggles when slotted into the starting left guard job midseason. While he improved, he still has shortcomings — including short arms which lead to struggles against the bull-rush. With veteran right guard Willie Colon recovering from offseason knee surgery, there is precious depth at either guard position. Rookie Oday Aboushi was on the 53-man roster last season but wasn't active for any games.
Winters should be better, but if Colon isn't ready to go, Aboushi is a major question mark. He does get credit for reshaping his body this offseason and adding strength. Now he has to prove he can transition from being a tackle in college to a starting guard in the NFL where he must be stronger and more physical.
3. Nose tackle depth
Last year's defense was so good largely because of the work done by Damon Harrison and Kenrick Ellis at nose tackle. Harrison stepped up as an undrafted rookie free agent to play a major role in his second season along the defensive line. Kenrick Ellis, now entering his fourth year in the league, took major steps forward in his development. If both players continue their development — in particular Ellis, who made huge strides physically last year — the Jets could have two young anchors for their defensive line who are both selfless, team players.
Three names to watch ...
1. Trevor Reilly
The outside linebacker is a 26-year-old rookie but he had a solid offseason so far and if he can develop, would add tremendous depth to a linebacker two-deep that is very thin across the board after the starters.
2. Ellis Lankster
The cornerback was re-signed by the Jets primarily for his work on special teams, but showed some real promise at cornerback this offseason. He made a lot of plays and if he can continue to do so, he could be a nice addition to the secondary this year.
3. Kyle Wilson
Most Jets fans have written off the former first-round pick as a disappointment, but his fifth year in the league could be a good one. Wilson will be asked to play more inside — a strength of his — than on the outside where he has struggled. If Dee Milliner and Dimitri Patterson can hold down the two outside spot, then Wilson slides inside where he's excelled in the past.