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New York Jets 2014 Season Preview

By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - If you really like Rex Ryan, pay close attention this season.

Unless every personnel gamble the New York Jets have taken pays off and unless the sixth-year coach can once again be the league's leader in getting something from nothing - then the 2014 season will be the last chance Ryan gets to deliver on a half-decade's worth of promises of Gang Green glory.

True, the bombastic son of Buddy Ryan did guide the team to a pair of AFC Championship Game appearances following his initial two seasons on the job in 2009 and 2010, but nearly all the goodwill generated by those runs has evaporated in three straight years of 8-8, 6-10 and 8-8 mediocrity.

And with all but four of 22 starters gone from the most recent playoff incarnation, it's probably all over but the farewell press conference.

Ryan managed a stay of execution last season under new general manager John Idzik by somehow coaxing a team generally expected to win four games to double that forecast en route to a second-place finish in the AFC East. But the moves the Idzik/Ryan brain trust made in the wake of their unexpected standings spike do little to propel the notion that it'll happen again.

Wide receiver Eric Decker managed to land a five-year deal with $36.25 million after two years of performance-enhancing quarterback play from Peyton Manning in Denver. Reality in New York comes in the form of second-year passer Geno Smith, who threw less than one-fourth the touchdowns that Manning compiled (12 to 55), while still managing to more than double his interceptions (21 to 10).

Chris Johnson is the new kid in town at running back, but the 2,000-yard season he compiled in 2009 has been subsequently blotted out by four straight seasons in which his yard-per-carry average has come in more than a full yard below that magical season.

He's a higher-profile commodity, but not necessarily a better football player than the man whose time he'll cut into - Chris Ivory - who's per-carry average was nearly a yard better (4.6 to 3.9) in 2013.

And then there's the defense, which lost remaining shutdown corner Antonio Cromartie and whiffed on a chance to bring back previously traded favorite son Darrelle Revis, in favor of beginning the season with still-unproven 2013 first-round pick Dee Milliner on one side and a revolving door on the other - especially now that penciled-in starter Dmitri Patterson has been handed an indefinite team suspension.

As Sports Illustrated's Peter King wrote in a preseason piece, if you manage to find real reason to believe here, you might want to consult a doctor.

"The Jets have significant questions at the worst spots," he said. "Expect to hear more Rex Ryan hot seat talk around the holidays."

2013 RECORD: 8-8 (2nd, AFC East)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to Pittsburgh Steelers in AFC Championship Game

COACH (RECORD): Rex Ryan (42-38 in five seasons with Jets)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Marty Mornhinweg (second season with Jets)

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Dennis Thurman (second season with Jets)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Michael Vick (from Eagles), RB Chris Johnson (from Titans), WR Eric Decker (from Broncos), OT Breno Giacomini (from Seahawks), CB Dimitri Patterson (from Dolphins), S Calvin Pryor (first round, Louisville), TE Jace Amaro (second round, Texas Tech), CB Dexter McDougle (third round, Maryland)

KEY SUBTRACTIONS: QB Mark Sanchez (to Eagles), WR Santonio Holmes (to Bears), OT Austin Howard (to Raiders), G Vladimir Ducasse (to Vikings), CB Antonio Cromartie (to Cardinals)

QB: The coach, the general manager and nearly everyone else aligned with the green and white insist that Geno Smith will be the starting quarterback for a second straight season, which will provide the West Virginia alumnus a chance to improve on a rookie year where his interceptions (21) outnumbered his touchdowns (12) and his flashes of mediocrity at least equaled his indications of brilliance. With that in mind, you'd be hard-pressed to find many who don't think veteran signee Michael Vick won't be getting a shot at starting games unless Smith quickly finds another gear in the early season.

Matt Simms is around for window-dressing as the No. 3, but won't see the field unless there's a Greg McIlroy-level disaster similar to 2012.

GRADE: C

RB: As with Vick at quarterback, were this the 2010 season preview then the Jets would be sitting pretty with Chris Johnson as the would-be No. 1 tailback. Now heading into his seventh season, Johnson broke the 2,000-yard barrier with Tennessee in 2009 and has been struggling to regain the form ever since. His yards per carry has not been within a yard of the 2009 average in any season since, and the 3.9-yard mark last season was his worst in six seasons.

Chris Ivory ran tough on his way to 833 yards last season after coming over from New Orleans, and Bilal Powell showed some glimpses, but not enough, 176 times for 697 yards. If Rex Ryan is getting his ground-and-pound way, the yards will go around.

Tommy Bohanon is the second-year incumbent at fullback.

GRADE: C

WR: Eric Decker played 30 games in Denver without Peyton Manning and caught 50 passes. He played 32 games with him and caught 172 passes. In New York, he may be dismayed to learn that his new quarterback is not only not Peyton, but might not be Archie either. Still, the 27-year-old is in his prime and flush with cash after signing a five-year, $36.25 million contract, so at least he'll be happy. David Nelson sort of reinvented himself in New York (36 catches, 423 yards in 12 games) after washing out in Buffalo, and Jeremy Kerley joins Stephen Hill to form a tandem of young receivers with potential.

Clyde Gates is a veteran in the mix and Jalen Saunders was a fourth-round draft pick.

GRADE: C

TE: Jeff Cumberland inherited the tight end job when Dustin Keller left for Miami prior to last season and he's useful, if not exactly prolific, as 54 catches in 30 games over two seasons illustrates. Jace Amaro was a second- round draft choice from Texas Tech and figures to ultimately win the starting role.

GRADE: C

OL: The Jets get mostly high marks across the front line, where D'Brickashaw Ferguson has been a stalwart at left tackle for eight seasons, as has Nick Mangold at center. Veterans Brian Winters and Willie Colon are the guards on the left and right sides, respectively, though fourth-round pick Dakota Dozier might take a run at taking time from one or the other. Breno Giacomini signed on after winning a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks and will replace the exited Austin Howard at right tackle.

In addition to Dozier, other second-tier players include Oday Aboushi, Dalton Freeman, Brent Qvale and Ben Ijalana.

GRADE: B

DL: As with the offense, the line play on the defensive side is the highlight of the entire unit. Muhammad Wilkerson enters his fourth season out of Temple after garnering 10.5 sacks in 2013, and Sheldon Richardson was the No. 13 choice in the 2013 draft for a reason, as his run-stuffing prowess in his rookie season showed. The two youngsters are joined by third-year nose tackle Damon Harrison to form one of the best starting trios in the NFL, which is backed up by the likes of Kenrick Ellis, T.J. Barnes and Leger Douzable.

GRADE: A

LB: More has been expected than what Quinton Coples, the No. 16 overall pick in 2012, has delivered in two seasons. He's accounted for 10 sacks overall, which equals what 33-year-old Calvin Pace delivered from the other outside linebacker spot in 2013 alone. Both are back for 2014, while the inside stays the same as well in the forms of third-year man Demario Davis - a third- rounder in 2012 - and eighth-year man David Harris.

Jason Babin was signed in the offseason as a free agent with some name recognition, and Jeremiah George was a draft pick this spring out of Iowa State. Other names include A.J. Edds, Nick Bellore and Garrett McIntyre.

GRADE: C

DB: Two seasons ago, the Jets began the season with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie as the starting cornerbacks. This year, though both were available as free agents and desired by Ryan, they're in New England and Arizona. That leaves New York with 2013 first-rounder Dee Milliner and ninth-year journeyman Dmitri Patterson as starters, which no doubt leaves Tom Brady, Ryan Tannehill and E.J. Manuel licking their collective AFC East chops. Third-round pick Dexter McDougle is out for the season after a training camp injury, meaning Kyle Wilson and Ellis Lankster are the third and fourth options at corner.

The starting safeties are penciled in as Antonio Allen and Dawan Landry, both holdovers from 2013, though Calvin Pryor was selected No. 18 overall and will play sooner than later.

Jaiquawn Jarrett is the other safety in the top four on the depth chart.

GRADE: D

SPECIAL TEAMS: Nick Folk kicked his way out of Dallas a few years back, but 2013 was the latest year in his resurgence in New York. He made 33 of 36 field goal tries, including all three attempts from 50 or more yards.

On the flip side, Ryan Quigley is hardly Ray Guy when it comes to punting. He was 23rd in a 32-team league in net average and was no ace when it came to getting punts inside the 20-yard line either.

On returns, rookie Jalen Saunders (punts) and second-year man Saalim Hakim (kickoffs) are listed as the top choices on the depth chart, though veterans Jeremy Kerley and Clyde Gates are available in those roles as well.

GRADE: C

COACHING: It wasn't easy to envision a man of Rex Ryan's side wriggling his way out of a sure job loss heading into last season, but that's precisely what he was able to do by taking a team that looked to be among the NFL's worst and guiding it to an 8-8 record with a rookie quarterback and a roster full of no- names and cast-offs.

He's back to his optimistic self this season with the maturation of Smith at QB and a few high-profile signings, but it's a giant leap of faith to think the likes of Vick, Decker and Johnson are going to be what it takes to strike fear into the heart of Bill Belichick in Foxborough.

Still, you've got to give Ryan credit for resilience.

GRADE: C

THE SKINNY: The doom and gloom many forecast for the Jets last season might simply have skipped a year. The opener at home with the Raiders ought to get things off to a positive start, but a trip to Lambeau in Week 2 hastens reality, and a subsequent eight-week stretch that includes San Diego, Denver, New England, Kansas City and Pittsburgh before the bye may remove whatever air still lingers.

A few more wins might be there for the taking after the one-week hiatus, but the chances are awfully good that even a 4-2 stretch run won't do more than get the Jets to six for the season.

One thing's for sure, if he gets this bunch to 8-8 or 9-7 again, Ryan deserves a lifetime deal.

08/25 16:56:15 ET

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