Road to Super Bowl XL: Camp Opens
The New York Jets hit the on-ramp today.
Destination: Detroit in February. I've heard there's no place quite as beautiful as Detroit in February.
There's no "cautious" in my optimism. This is our year. I say that just about every season, but this time I really mean it. The Jets were a doinked crossbar away from the AFC Championship last year, and they'll be a much better squad this time around. The Jets aren't only an improved team, but they've got genuine All-Pro playmakers on both sides of the ball: Chad Sexington, Curtis Martin, Kevin Mawae, La-La-La-Laveranues Coles, Justin McCareins, Jon Vilma, Jonny Abraham, Shaun Ellis, Dewayne Robertson and David Barrett.
The biggest question mark surrounds the health of Pennington's shoulder. After undergoing rotator cuff surgery in February, nobody really knows whether he'll return to his old 2002 and 2004 form. But after the Santana Moss-for-Coles swap -- a deal I believe will go down as the greatest trade in franchise history -- I don't think anybody's more excited about the upcoming season than Chad. He's got his boy back. Now, like Stella, he's gonna get his groove back.
I'll begrudgingly admit Chad's no Tom Brady, but he's definitely an above-average quarterback that has led his team to the playoffs in three of the last four years and can lead his team to a Super Bowl. Should he falter, though, I like the signing of a Jew to back him up: shrewd, nose-driven move. I actually met Donnie's cousin Jay Fiedler in the airport the very day he signed with the Jets, and he seemed ecstatic to return home to Lawn Gisland. I'm pretty psyched about it, too. More than serviceable back-up.
But Chad has no excuses this year. He's got a new offense designed by the energetic Mike Heimerdinger, a great name and a great coordinator who led the Tennessee Titans to the league's highest-scoring offense in 2003 with 435 points. He's got Coles back, who grew up with Chad on the practice squad and connected for 89 catches for nearly 1,300 yards in his last year in Green. Moss is a speedy young tyke, but Coles is so much better on a down-by-down basis it's not even up for debate.
His second option is Justin McCareins, who flourished under Heimerdinger's offense in '03 and can only get better in his second season with the team. He also can count on old standby Wayne Chrebet for a couple big third-down catches, and Jerricho Cotcherry is going to explode onto the scene like a radical Islamist. Plus, Chad finally has a tight end who can catch, the Jets trading for Doug Jolley in the offseason, a deeper threat for Heimerdinger's offense.
Curtis Martin made Mulgrew and many other jerkstores eat their words last season when he led the league in rushing. I don't expect Curtis to repeat that feat, and you have to despise the loss of free agent LaMont Jordan to the hated Raiders, but the three-headed monster of Martin, Derrick Blaylock and rookie draftee Cedric Houston will surely gain as many yards -- if not more -- than a season ago. And that will surely keep the pressure off the quarterback.
On defense, I think the Jets should probably have one of the best five squads in the league. Last year, Donnie Henderson's Jets finished seventh in total yards allowed and fourth in points given up. With the continuing maturity of Vilma and strong-sider Victor Hobson, as well as the heart and energy of Erik "Personal Foul" Barton, the linebacking corps couldn't be more solid. Add those three to a starting D-Line of No-Heart Abes, Ellis, Robertson and a slew of other talented linemen, and you've got a front seven as able as any other in the world (that includes the World League apparently).
The only question on defense comes from the secondary, where only rookie-standout Erik Coleman and corner David Barrett have solidified starting roles. But I have faith that out of the three defensive backs the Jets drafted this year, at least one or two will step up and deliver. That includes cornerback Justin Miller out of Clemson, who the team is very high on (and who will return kicks and punts most likely).
And now we might have a legit kicker. Who knows how this will turn out, but I applauded the shit out of the second-round selection of Ted's son Mike Nugent. The guy drilled kicks in college, in cold weather, in big-pressure situations. What more can you ask for? The Jets rolled the dice, and I think it's going to work out beautifully.
It'll be difficult to beat the Patriots and there are some tough games on the schedule, but I'm sensing an 11-5 season and run to the Super Bowl. I expect nothing less. It's the first day of camp and there's reason to cheer. There's only one thing left to say:
J-E-T-S, Jets Jets Jets. See you at Ford Field.