Jets could have the right mixture
By Barry Wilner, Associated Press, 08/29/00
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- If this was a veteran coach such as, say, Bill Parcells opening another NFL season, everyone around the league could shrug it off.
This, however, is the first time Al Groh will be a head coach in professional football. While Groh has more than three decades of sideline experience, there is a huge difference between being a position coach or coordinator, and running the whole show.
"My first time as head coach does not factor into it at all," Groh said as the New York Jets prepared for their first year post-Parcells. "I am pretty sure I will coach it the same way in the opener five years from now.
"This is my, I don't know, 31st opener, something like that. Every job I have had for every one of those openers has been important to me."
But the spotlight wasn't as glaring. And the stakes weren't as high for the 56-year-old Groh, whose only head-coaching experience was six seasons at Wake Forest.
What's ahead for Groh, of course, depends on his players. But regardless of how well or poorly the Jets fare this year, he will be compared with his guru, Parcells, who still is handling personnel decisions for the Jets. And Groh will be coaching mostly players who were hand-picked by Parcells.
"How he coaches all of us and how he coached the linebackers is totally different," safety Victor Green said. "It's a wait-and-see type thing."
Added Curtis Martin, the team's star running back who is coming off a superb preseason, "It's not fair to talk about them and compare them. Bill is Bill and Al is Al, and it's our job to play hard and work hard for whoever the coach is."
The transition to Groh appears to have gone smoothly. He kept the same offense, although Dan Henning now is running it instead of Charlie Weis -- or Parcells, who called nearly all the plays last season. And the defensive system, in which Groh has worked for more than a decade, remains.
Who else is gone could be pivotal: Keyshawn Johnson. The Pro Bowl receiver was traded to Tampa Bay during a contract dispute, and the Jets didn't bring in anyone with slightly similar credentials.
That means Wayne Chrebet, a fine pass-catcher who excels on third downs, will be the primary target. Unless Dedric Ward or Vincent Brisby can deflect some of the attention defenses will pay to Chrebet, the passing game could struggle.
Rookie tight end Anthony Becht has had problems with his blocking and needs to be a force on the line and as a receiver. Martin, Richie Anderson and Bernie Parmalee will get lots of opportunities out of the backfield.
Is that enough for Vinny Testaverde to have a year similar to 1998, when he led the Jets to the AFC title game? And has Testaverde, 36, lost anything after a torn Achilles' tendon cost him all but two quarters of 1999?
"I'm not aiming to be in the lineup just for opening day," said Testaverde, who threw only 21 preseason passes and still is slightly bothered by a sprained left big toe. "I'll be truly happy when I make it through the entire season and it's a good season.
"I don't have a lot of worries that we will not be good. I have the same concerns anyone would have, as I did going into 1998, but that is a good thing. That keeps you motivated."
A rapidly developing offensive line should keep Testaverde upright, and the Jets have the comfort of Ray Lucas backing him up. Lucas was 6-3 as a starter in '99, going from special-teamer to NFL quarterback.
Of New York's unprecedented four first-round draft picks, the first two -- Shaun Ellis and John Abraham -- are being counted on to upgrade the anemic pass rush. While neither will start at Green Bay, both will get ample playing time.
Few teams can match the Jets at linebacker, although outside LB Mo Lewis is unhappy he couldn't get a big, longterm deal and is playing out his contract. Bryan Cox, Marvin Jones, Roman Phifer, James Farrior, Dwayne Gordon and Abraham give the Jets plenty of depth.
The secondary was shaky in preseason and starts untested Kevin Williams at free safety. But strong safety Victor Green and cornerback Aaron Glenn are proven commodities.
So is Groh, albeit as an assistant. Now, he is in charge.
"I haven't been nervous yet, but it means more, everything means more now," he said. "Every mistake counts now. Except for coaches' anguish, most of the preseason games are forgotten in a day or two.
"They all go on the record now. I think anybody in any pro football organization realizes that."