We are just a few days from the start of training camp for the New York Jets.
Expectations have skyrocketed following the acquisition of Aaron Rodgers, but it’s Gang Green’s defense that is expected to be the more dominant group heading into the 2023 season. That’s what happens when you return a large amount of starters from a top-five unit last season and have your dynamic defensive tackle back on a lucrative contract extension.
Quinnen Williams’ extension on Thursday means minimal distractions for the Jets next week – even with HBO’s “Hard Knocks” focusing on the team in 2023.
From top position battles to the biggest questions, we have the full breakdown of what to expect in Florham Park next week at the start of Jets training camp.
Projected Starting Lineup
DE: Jermaine Johnson
DT: Quinnen Williams
DT: Quinton Jefferson
DE: Carl Lawson
WLB: Jamien Sherwood
MLB: CJ Mosley
SLB: Quincy Williams
CB: Sauce Gardner
FS: Adrian Amos
SS: Jordan Whitehead
CB: DJ Reed
SCB: Michael Carter II
*= Enters camp with injury
Top Position Battles
DT: Quinton Jefferson vs. Solomon Thomas vs. Al Woods
The Jets aren’t going to make a First-Team All-Pro compete for a starting role. Williams’ defensive tackle pair mate is one of the only positions that needs to be decided during training camp. Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods were brought in to replace Nathan Shepherd and Sheldon Rankins and will need to be used in spurts to maximize their efficiency. The NFL world has been waiting for Solomon Thomas to produce at the level he was expected to be at when he was drafted third overall back in 2017. While there needs to be a winner, it’s more likely that each player in this battle has equal amounts of playing time throughout the season.
DE: Jermaine Johnson vs. John Franklin-Myers
JFM’s size should allow him to have some snaps at the defensive tackle spot instead of the edge. So while both he and last year’s first-round pick Jermaine Johnson will compete for the starting defensive end role on the other side of Carl Lawson, there may not be a true starter. Johnson has looked very strong during OTAs and should get a lot more snaps than last year. New York’s defense wants to have waves of pass rushers so both will be important to the team’s success in 2023.
WLB: Jamien Sherwood vs. Zaire Barnes
Arguably the weakest position on the Jets’ defense entering 2023 is at weakside linebacker. 2021 fifth-round pick Jamien Sherwood is expected to get the leading chance to be the starter after a strong few offseasons but current rookie Zaire Barnes should also get some time to show his skillset as well. There may not be a true winner at this position either. If Sherwood and Barnes both struggle during camp and the preseason, it may get general manager Joe Douglas to resign Kwon Alexander closer to the start of the regular season. This is one of the bigger positions to watch in camp.
Questions to Watch
Is safety or linebacker a more likely position to receive reinforcements later in camp?
If you take a poll on the two weakest positions heading into camp, safety, and linebacker are at the top of the list. Sherwood’s success in camp will determine if the Jets look elsewhere to upgrade the weakside linebacker position. At safety, Adrian Amos and Jordan Whitehead are certainly not the worst safety duo in football, but an upgrade could certainly be used.
If New York struggles in the back end during camp, could the team find a way to bring Budda Baker to Florham Park? Last season, the Eagles brought in Chauncey Gardner-Johnson before the start of the regular season to play safety, and he helped them reach the Super Bowl. Baker could fit that role for the Jets nicely.
What does an encore look like for Quinnen Williams and Sauce Gardner?
The two best players on the Jets last season were Williams and reigning defensive Rookie of the Year Sauce Gardner. Gardner performed at a historic pace last season while Williams showed why he was a top defensive player in the league. What can both do to improve on last year’s numbers though?
For Gardner, the cornerback has reportedly been working on intercepting more passes as opposed to last season (two) while reinforcing the importance of footwork. The first rookie defensive back to be named a First-Team All-Pro since Ronnie Lott, Gardner is going to be tasked with guarding the best receivers in every matchup next season.
Williams, on the other hand, is coming off a dominant season for a defensive tackle. 12 sacks, a First-Team All-Pro, and a lucrative extension highlight an incredible season for the former Alabama prospect. If he can add to his sack total from last year, not only will he get another All-Pro nod, but the Jets’ defensive tackle will probably be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.
How can the Jets’ pass rush improve in 2023?
New York was seventh in sacks last season with 45. That was 25 less than Philadelphia’s franchise record last season and 10 behind Dallas in second. Will McDonald IV and Johnson are expected to be two players that should add to that total in 2023. If the Jets can improve on their pass rush, an increase in forced turnovers should follow. When a front seven gets overwhelming pressure on a quarterback, it makes the entire defense around them better. It’s how Rodgers won his lone Super Bowl in Green Bay and will be a driving force for Gang Green this season as well.