Editor’s note: This is part of a series on the Patriots scheduled opponents in the upcoming season. The following are questions that have been posed to the beat writers of each particular team. In this case, the New York Jets.
Five questions about the Jets heading into training camp with Jenny Vrentas, the beat writer from The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.
Date: Oct. 21
Time: 4:15 p.m.
Location: Gillette Stadium
Date: Nov. 22
Time: 8:20 p.m.
Location: MetLife Stadium
2011 record: 8-8
1. What is going to be the strength of this team?
The defense. The Jets took steps to add depth and speed. They bolstered the safety position (LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell), added young players who could help cover the tight end (Demario Davis and Josh Bush) and used their first-round pick on a versatile defensive lineman (Quinton Coples) who can boost their pass rush and allow them to play more four-down fronts. Rex Ryan said this unit could be better than the first-in-the-league 2009 defense and, this time, that might not be just bluster.
2. Where are they looking to get better?
The Jets never had an offensive identity last year. Under Tony Sparano, they want to re-establish the ground-and-pound that complemented their defense so well in 2009 and 2010 — albeit with new wrinkles. See: Tim Tebow, who will be a factor in the run game.
3. Players on the spot?
Quarterback Mark Sanchez. He’s coming off a season in which he turned the ball over 26 times, and the general manager said publicly, “He didn’t play well.” And we all know his backup is the most popular backup quarterback in the NFL. By all accounts, Sanchez has responded well to the addition of Tebow so far, taking ownership of Sparano’s new offense and becoming a stronger leader. He’ll need to carry that over to the season: Make smart decisions, hang onto the football and stay in command of the offense. Otherwise, this delicate quarterback dynamic could get messy. Others on the spot: WR Santonio Holmes, RT Wayne Hunter, LB Bart Scott, CB Kyle Wilson.
4. What needs to happen for this team to win big?
Three things: 1) Dominant defense. 2) Efficient offense. 3) Unified locker room
5. Realistic expectations for this team at this point?
You don’t want to read too much into anything that happens in May and June, but this team truly seems to have learned from its mistakes last year. That starts from the top, with coach Rex Ryan, who hasn’t been afraid to admit his missteps in 2011. He’s more involved as a coach — what he does best — which is the first key to turning around from last year’s 8-8 season. The AFC East is shaping up to be a strong division this year, and the Patriots will be difficult to unseat, but I see the Jets returning to the playoffs in 2012.