Month: September 2014

Big Names, Big Games in AL Wild Card Contest

Lester and Shields Prepared For Their One Game Duel

Lester and Shields Prepared For Their One Game Duel

by Drew Sarver

It has been 29 years since the Kansas City Royals reached the postseason. 1985 saw the Royals win their one and only World Series Championship. (With a  little help from umpire Don Denkinger.) Tuesday night, the Royals will host the Oakland A’s in a one game showdown between the two AL Wild Card winners. To the victor go the spoils and a divisional round match up with the Los Angeles Angels. You know where the losers go.

The A’s have been to the playoffs 11 times during the Royals drought, but haven’t been to the World Series since 1990. Their last World Series title, the ninth in franchise history (The first five were won when they called Philadelphia home), came in the “Earthquake series” with the San Francisco Giants.

The Royals were an expansion team in 1969, two years after the A’s departed Kansas City after a 13-season run. The only prior postseason meeting between the two squads came after the strike-shortened 1981 regular season. The Billy Martin-managed A’s swept KC in three straight games before they were swept in three games by the New York Yankees in the ALCS. It was a disappointing end of the season for Kansas City, which lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies one year earlier.

Tuesday night, the teams will have one chance to move on to the divisional series. That is the punishment in Major League Baseball for not winning your division.

The Royals are counting on their ace, James “Big Game” Shields, who earned that moniker while a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, to take them to the next step. The Rays’ usual money crunching resulted in a trade that sent Shields and reliever Wade Davis to KC for then prospects Wil Myers (now a regular in the Rays’ lineup), pitchers Jake Odorizzi (now a regular in the Rays’ rotation) and Mike Montgomery.

Shields, a free agent after the season, has been incredibly consistent in his two seasons in the state of Missouri. He followed up a 13-9, 3.15 campaign in 2013 with a 14-8, 3.21 mark this season.  The 32-year old has topped 200 innings in eight straight seasons, and pitched just 1.2 innings less this year than he did in 2013. He’s made at least 33 starts in each of the last seven seasons, a testament to his durability.

A 16th round pick in the 2000 MLB amateur draft, Shields has had his ups and downs in six post-season appearances. He put his team in a 3-1 hole in the 3rd inning of Game 1 of the 2008 ALDS, but the Rays rallied for a 6-4 victory. Shields picked up the victory and settled down, before departing in the 7th inning. Though he lost both of his starts in the ALCS, which Tampa Bay won in seven games, Shields lost the opener to Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka, 2-0. He didn’t fare as well in a 4-2 loss in Game 6.

Down one game to none in the World Series, Shields tossed 5.2 shutout innings to help Tampa even the series with the Philadelphia Phillies at a game apiece. Shields didn’t get another chance to pitch, however, as the Phillies closed things out in five games.

Shields will need to be at his best for the one-game playoff, because his counterpart is one tough customer. Jon Lester has a pair of World Series rings, but his victory over cancer is arguably his biggest win. After treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Lester returned to the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and threw 5-plus shutout innings in Game 4 of the Red Sox World Series sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Like Shields, Lester has been a model of consistency in his career. He’s topped 200 innings in six of the last seven seasons and may be having his finest season to date. Lester put up career bests in innings pitched (219.2), ERA (2.46) and walks per nine innings (2.0). He averaged better than nine strikeouts per nine innings, allowed 0.7 home runs per nine innings, and was named to his third All-Star team. For someone that played for over eight years in a baseball hot bed such as Boston, it’s hard to believe how little Lester is talked about when the names of the best pitchers in baseball come up.

Jon Lester is ddefinitelyone of them and that will be reflected this coming offseason when the free agent to be hits the open market. Lester had a tough decision as the trade deadline approached this past Summer. Stay in Boston, destined for last place, or go somewhere with a chance to make the postseason and possibly return to New England over the Winter. Lester chose the latter and produced a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts, of which he won six. Through no fault of his own, Oakland plummeted out of first place (14-23 in their final 37 games) in the AL West and ended up 10 games behind the Angels.

Instead of preparing themselves to play the winner of the Wild Card play-in, and trotting out Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, and Sonny Gray, the A’s will lean heavily on their left-handed ace to give their starting rotation the chance to flex their pitching muscle. They have a good chance to move on with Lester, who enters the game with a 2.11 ERA in 13 playoff appearances, 11 of them starts.

Two big names for one very big game.

Who hits Shields:

Josh Reddick .318/.318/.864  3 HR 5 RBI in 22 plate appearances (PA)
Nick Punto 4-14 (.286) with 4 walks in 18 PA

Who doesn’t hit Shields:

Adam Dunn 7-35 (.200) 1 HR in 40 PA
Coco Crisp 3-24 (.125) in 25 PA
Jed Lowrie 3-16 (.188) in 16 PA

Who hits Lester:

Alcides Escobar .353/.429/.471 in 21 PA
Lorenzo Cain .313/.353/.500 in 17 PA
Eric Hosmer .308/.471/.538 1 HR in 17 PA
Raul Ibanez .333/.333/.667 1 HR in 15 PA

Who doesn’t hit Lester:

Billy Butler 4-28 (.143) in 33 PA
Alex Gordon 4-25 (.160) in 28 PA
Josh Willingham 3-20 (.150) in 26 PA
Omar Infante 3-20 (.150) in 22 PA

 

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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

A Red Sox fan’s farewell to Derek Jeter

By Jim Monaghan

If you’ve listened to me on the radio for any amount of time, you know I’m not a fan of the New York Yankees. Red Sox executive Larry Luchino dubbed them the “Evil Empire” some years back; I’ve been known to say things far less complimentary.

Photo courtesy Reuters

Photo courtesy Reuters

Derek Jeter‘s Hall-of-Fame career will come to an end Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park in what will otherwise be a completely meaningless baseball game for both the Yankees and the Red Sox.

Both teams are out of the playoffs, and the lineups for the two previous games of this series have looked like something you’d see in the late innings of a mid-March spring training game when the starters have long since left the field and showered.

Red Sox principal owner John Henry put Friday night’s lineup into perspective with an all-too-appropriate seven-word tweet.

So with all that said, allow me to get the snark out of the way first.

I agree with much of what Keith Olbermann said this past week about Derek Jeter. In case you somehow managed to miss what Olbermann said, go here and here.

Derek Jeter isn’t going to go down in baseball history as the “Greatest Yankee of All Time.” There are at least five ahead of him you may have actually heard of – Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra. I’d even go so far as to offer up Don Mattingly as a better-than-Jeter candidate. You may have some others as well to throw into the mix.

Derek Jeter isn’t the “Greatest Yankee Shortstop of All Time.” That Rizzuto character was pretty good, you know.

And for awhile, you could make the argument that Derek Jeter wasn’t even the best shortstop on his own team once that Alex Rodriguez fellow – remember him? – joined the Yankees.

Photo courtesy New York Times

Photo courtesy New York Times

Team leader? It was blatantly obvious that Jeter didn’t make Rodriguez’s transition to New York any easier. Truth be told, given my own feelings about Rodriguez I probably would have done the same thing, but as I said right from the start, this is the snarky part.

Team player? One could argue that the Captain could have and should have gone to manager Joe Girardi any number of times this year and asked to be moved out of the two-hole in the lineup as it became painfully evident that he wasn’t producing well enough to be in the first third of the order.

Photo courtesy Associated Press

Photo courtesy Associated Press

And don’t even get me started on the whole “Derek Jeter Farewell Tour sponsored by Steiner Sports.” My first thought on Thursday night when Jeter’s teammates dumped a bucket of Gatorade (with the “2” in place of the usual logo) on him was, “Wonder how much Steiner will be charging for THAT jersey?”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of capitalism, and I’ve never once begrudged an athlete his mega-contract. But these last two weeks of the season have been more like a QVC Network production than a final well-deserved victory lap for a player of Jeter’s stature. Anyone want to buy a rake?

The “flip” play against Oakland in the playoffs? I don’t care how many times Joe Torre makes the claim, but I refuse to believe that the Yankees actually practiced that play. One could make the argument that the Captain was actually out of position. And if Jeremy Giambi had slid…. But I digress.

Photo courtesy Associated Press

Photo courtesy Associated Press

That playoff home run against the Orioles in 1996? It would clearly have been overturned under the current replay rules.

Photo courtesy New York Times

Photo courtesy New York Times

The patented jump throw? I’m old enough to remember a guy named Bobby Wine making similar plays for the Phillies back in the mid-60’s. But again, I digress.

Mr. November? As a Red Sox fan, I’ll always have Jetes’ performance in Games 4 through 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series to look back on.

** SNARK OVER **

Derek Jeter will play the last game of his Hall-of-Fame career Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park. It will cap off what has been a three-day love fest from Red Sox fans. And while details haven’t been announced, you just know that Red Sox Executive Vice President Dr. Charles Steinberg and his staff will be pulling out all the stops to honor Jeter. And deservedly so.

Photo courtesy MLB.com

Photo courtesy MLB.com

Plain and simple, Derek Jeter is everything I want a baseball player to be. And yes, he played hard…and he stayed cool.

He respected his teammates, his opponents, and more importantly, the Game of Baseball. In the PED era of players routinely putting up video game numbers, Jeter’s name was never on the list of the usual suspects, even as some of his own teammates treated the clubhouse like a chemistry lab.

He battled his way through each and every at bat of his career. He may never have put up enough league-leading numbers to satisfy the likes of the Keith Olbermanns of the world, but he certainly had his share of big base hits, and I lost count of how many of those came at the expense of the Red Sox over the years. Derek Jeter could beat you with his bat, his glove, and his legs. And as someone who probably watched or listened to 90% of Jeter’s career, I can say with confidence that he never stopped trying to beat the opponent no matter what the score was.

For years, I led the “if he played anywhere other than New York he’d be considered just another very good player” crowd when it came to assessing Captain Intangibles. But as the final weeks of Jeter’s career have unfolded, I’ve started to appreciate Jeter in a whole new way. I’ve also discovered a sense of melancholy that I wasn’t expecting.

Some of that came from knowing that Jeter is going through that phase of his life as described by Jackie Robinson when he said, “Athletes die twice.” Derek Jeter’s athletic mortality is playing out in front of our eyes. In many ways, I think it’s reminding me of my own mortality.

Photo courtesy New York Times

Photo courtesy New York Times

The image of Jeter heading out to shortstop once last time following Thursday night’s game and crouching down with his hands covering his face, clearly filled with emotion, is one that will stay for me forever. Jeter said more in that moment about his love for the game he played so eloquently for nearly 20 years than he could have said in a month of post-game press conferences.

My 13-year old son wants to play baseball for a living. It’s all he talks about. Like any of the tens of thousands of kids who call themselves Red Sox fans, he wants to call Fenway Park “home” some day, and he absolutely despises the Yankees.

Photo courtesy New York Times

Photo courtesy New York Times

But when Jeter dropped that single into right field in the final home game of his career to drive in the winning run against the Orioles, my son found himself filled with emotions he wasn’t expecting for the only Yankees shortstop he’s ever seen in his brief lifetime. “This is really the end of an era,” he said in one of those moments that may be the first time he’s felt a part of his own childhood dying.

Derek-Jeter-nephew-tips-capSo yes, Keith Olbermann and Derek Jeter’s naysayers may indeed have a lot of valid points. And I warn you now that we’re going to deal with the whole over-the-top Jeter Love Fest again in five years when Cooperstown surely comes calling.

But this Red Sox fan is also hopefully objective enough to acknowledge one of the all-time greats.

#RE2PECT, indeed.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Jim Monaghan can be heard Monday through Friday mornings on the WDHA Morning Jolt from 6-10AM & Sundays from 7-10AM with “All Mixed Up.” He’s also an instructor at Professional Baseball Instruction in Upper Saddle River. Follow him on twitter – @Monaghan21.

Giants Banking on Jennings

jennings

Jennings Needs To Be The Next Great Giants Back

 

by Richard McBane

The addition of running back Rashad Jennings will turn out be a pleasant surprise (although it shouldn’t) to the Giants offense.

With the alarming neck injury to RB David Wilson that ultimately ended his career last season, the Giants were forced to move on with an assortment of five backs that rushed for a little over 1000 yards combined.

This year however, look to Rashad Jennings to become the offensive backbone the Giants have needed of late.  He can virtually do it all for the Giants offense. He has the ability to break out for big plays as seen in his 73 yard touchdown run against the Steelers this preseason, and will take the bulk of carries this season. He also has exceptional blocking and pass catching abilities. He is an all-around competitor and reliable offensive presence solidifying the question mark that was the Giants running game.

Jennings talks the talk and walks the walk in his offseason training routines and the way he he handles press conferences. In an August 23rd interview Jennings said “you always want consistency”; a sign of good things to come and hopefully often for Giant fans. His belief in being consistent coincides with the traditional and hardworking culture the Mara family has established in the Giants organization.  Jennings also said “it’s all about being physical and finishing runs as a runner” in the same August interview. We can assume Jennings will be true to his word, because he was third in the NFL last season in yards after contact finishing only behind Chris Ivory and Adrian Peterson.

In a Giants.com featured video of his workout routines1, he talked of performing exercises to build up “explosiveness, endurance and durability” with muscle activating therapy. He also revealed he sleeps in a “hyperbolic chamber” to keep his body durable due to the everyday wear and tear he endures as a running back. With these serious measures being taken to enhance his athleticism and performance, it seems the Giants finally have the real deal at the running back position they lacked for over a year. He emphasized this feeling by quoting one of his former coaches: “The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender”.

Jennings’ stats through two games:

Game ATT YDS AVG TD REC
9/14vs

Cardinals

18 64 3.6 0 4
9/8@

Lions

16 46 2.9 1 4

The Giants step into the third week of the regular season in what some people would say is a devastating 0-2 hole. 12% of teams since 1990 that dug themselves into this deep of a hole have gone on to make the playoffs (the 2008 super bowl winning Giants being one of them). The Giants opened up the season against the Lions in a completely lopsided game. The revamped New York defense was steamrolled by Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and company, allowing Matt Stafford to throw for 346 yards, including two TD passes to Johnson. Jennings was held to 46 yards rushing, but he did have a goal line dive in which he muscled his way into the end zone for a touchdown.  It was one of the few bright spots in a 35-14 debacle.

In the second game of the season, against the Cardinals, it felt like one of those games where turnovers and penalties end up costing a team a victory. Overall the team showed much improvement as Eli was able to throw for 277 yards and two touchdowns, but too many errors proved to be the Giants’ downfall. The G-Men headed into the fourth quarter up by four points but failed to execute and finish off the game. Among the many mistakes was a costly punt return on a short punt by an injured Weatherford, a lost fumble on the Giants’ own 21 yard line, a pair of Victor Cruz drops, and a 63-yard drive that ended when Jennings’ coughed up the football.

Although he gave up a crucial fumble in the fourth quarter, Jennings rushed for 64 yards and showed his versatility with a surprising blocked punt. The fumble was as he said in his own words “uncharacteristic” of him; his last fumble was in 2012.

With the pressure on the team to win their first game and avoid a disastrous 0-3 start, expect Jennings to bounce back after the shortcomings of his first two games as well as continue to execute the positives of his game. Pressure often brings out the best in good athletes and Jennings is no different. When speaking of the pressure leading to this week’s game he said “pressure can be a great thing, it can break pipes, but can also make diamonds”. His mentality for tomorrow’s game: “everybody is going to dig deep, we love this game and we have a lot to prove”2.

1 – Giants.com(1)

2 – Giants.com(2)

Richard McBane  is a U of Albany Alum, and an avid Yankees and Giants supporter. He can be reached Twitter at @RichieeMC

2014 NY Giants Preview: Can Eli Still Make Fans BELIeve?

EliManning

Eli Manning must stay on his feet and keep the ball out of the opponents’ hands if the Giants are to make the playoffs.

by Drew Sarver

Tom Coughlin’s tenure as head coach of the NY Giants has seens its ups and downs. Those same highs and lows have been experienced by his starting quarterback, Eli Manning. Despite two Super Bowl victories, each of which saw Manning take home the game’s MVP Award, the Giants are in a period of transition. One that could cost both Coughlin and Manning if things don’t work out right.

Based on the pre-season, the Giants have their work cut out for them.

Key New FA Additions: RB Rashad Jennings, OL Geoff Schwartz,  CB Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, LB Jameel McClain

The Giants counted on running back David Wilson to be an integral part of their offense in 2013, but the former stand out at Virginia suffered a season ending neck injury and was forced to retire after a scare during training camp this year. Andre Brown missed half of the 2013 season, but led the team with 492 yard rushing. With his departure as a free agent, the Giants turned to Jennings, who rushed for 723 yards for the Oakland Raiders and looked sharp during the exhibition season.

With the retirements of Chris Snee and Dave Diehl, and the departure of ineffective center David Baas, Schwartz was a major signing to bolster an offensive line that was one of the weakest links on last season’s team. Unfortunately, Schwartz suffered a dislocated toe during the exhibition season and will miss the first half of the season.

The Giants secondary is one of the deeper area’s on this year’s squad, but the acquisition of Rogers-Cromartie give the Giants another top cover guy. He’ll need to be since he’s not particularly physical or consistent.

The Giants linebacking corp are many years removed from the LT years, Jessie Armstead, and Aaron Pierce. Jon Beason was a great addition last year and the Giants hope they can get big-time production from McClain, an excellent run stopper.

Key Departures: Justin Tuck, Chris Snee, David Diehl, David Baa, RB Andre Brown, WR Hsakeem Nicks, TE Brandon Myers, RB Brandon Jacobs

NFL Draft Additions:

Round 1: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

Round 2: Weston Richburg, C, Colorado St.

Round 3: Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse

Round 4: Andre Williams, RB, Boston College

Round 5: Nat Berhe, S, San Diego St.

Round 5: Devon Kennard, LB, LSU

Round 6: Bennet Jackson, CB, Notre Dame

Beckham is being heavily counted on to take pressure off the Giants’ number one playmaker, Victor Cruz. Unfortunately, Beckham missed the pre-season with a bad hamstring and won’t suit up in week 1.

Richburg was a nice choice for an offensive line that needed help. With the injury to Schwartz, Richburg is going to have to adapt quickly.

Bromley joins a line that struggled last year to get to the quarterback last season. A Giants’ fan growing up, Bromley is expected to use his strength and speed to clog up the middle.

Williams could eventually emerge as the team’s number one back this season. That will all depend on the success or failure of Jennings. Either way, Williams should get a good amount of carries in reserve.

Berhe adds more depth to a deep defensive backfield. Extremely athletic, Berhe could have a big impact down the road.

Kennard is a physical player that the Giants will need to contribute immediately. Linebacker continues to be a weak spot on the Giants roster.

Jackson will start the season on the practice squad.

The Offense:

The biggest addition to the Giants is new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. For years, fans have been all over Kevin Gilbride, not affectionately known as “Killdrive” by his detractors. McAdoo brings his version of the west coast offense to a team that has relied on deep QB drop backs and long passes from Manning. The first string offense, particularly the passing game, was a disaster during the exhibition games. The quicker the offense adapts to McAdoo’s schemes, the more successful the team will be. So far, a .500 record might be a stretch.

Jennings, Williams, and Peyton Hillis will need to run the ball effectively to give Manning time to find his receivers. The heaviest pressure is on the re-tooled offensive line to open holes for the aforementioned trio and to keep Manning off his back. Versatile fullback Henry Hynoski returns after missing most of last season due to injury.

Rueben Randle continues to not be on the same page as Manning. At times, Randle looks spectacular; at other times he looks completely lost. Beckham’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for an offense in transition.

The Giants tight end position is up in the air after another free agent, Brandon Myers, left after one year. Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, and Adrien Robinson are the underwhelming trio that will split time at tight end, at least until someone better comes along.

The new line, for now, has J.D. Walton at center with Will Beatty and Richburg filling out the left tackle and guard positions. Brandon Mosley starts at right guard with second year man Justin Pugh getting the nod at right tackle.

In addition to Cruz and Randle, Jerrel Jernigan, Preston Parker, and Corey Washington are the other wideouts. Washington could be the break out star of latter trio.

The Defense:

The key to the Giants defense has been to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. When the line and linebackers get in the quarterback’s face, the Giants coverage in the secondary holds and makes run stopping easier.  The pass rush was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses last season. The primary reason the team was 23rd in the NFL against the pass. The squad finished tied for 25th in the league in sacks.

Veteran leader Justin Tuck is gone and Jason Pierre-Paul is coming off a season in which he struggled post-back surgery. Mathias Kiwanuka, who has played linebacker as well for the Giants, will lineup at the opposite end of Pierre-Paul. Damontre Moore will fill in, in pass rushing situations. Cullin Jenkins and  Johnathan Hankins are plugged in at the tackles spots, with Bromley spelling them.

Jon Beason begins the season with a foot injury, but will start at middle linebacker. He’s also one of the team leaders. Mcclain and Mark Herzlich will back him up. Jacquian Williams starts at the weakside with Kennard lined up at on the strong side. Spencer Paysinger will see some time as a back up and will be a regular on special teams.

The defensive backfield is deep with Rogers-Cromarte and the ever-improving Prince Anukamara at the corners and Stevie Brown, back from knee surgery, at free safety. Veteran mouthpiece Antrel Rolle, who had one of his best seasons in 2013, returns at strong safety. He’ll serve as a good mentor for Berhe.

Special Teams:

The Giants’ special teams have struggled over the years, particularly at stopping the opposing returner. The Giants return men was nothing special last season, as the team finished in the bottom five  of all teams. Due to injuries and ineffectiveness, the Giants have tabbed Parker as the punt returner to being the season. Quinton Demps gets the nod on kick returns, with Parker as his backup.

Kicker Josh Brown and punter Steve Weatherford return to their respective positions.

Outlook:

The Giants could finish in second place in the NFC East this season and not come close to a playoff spot. That’s because of how flawed the teams in the division are.  There’s plenty of pressure on head coach Tom Coughlin, quarterback Eli Manning, o-coordinator Ben McAdoo, and DE Jason Pierre-Paul to turn things around from last season’s medicore 7-9 mark.

It will be far from easy, 8-8 looks about as good as the team will be. It’s not out of the question that the Giants will split their six division games against Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington. But Seattle, Indianoplis, Arizona, and Detroit are on the schedule, and what should be an improved Atlanta squad.

The key to the season is for Manning to keep his turnovers down from the last two seasons. That will at least give the Giants a fighting chance.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

2014 NY Jets Preview: Can Geno Prove His Critics Wrong?

geno-smith

Geno Smith will try to lead the Jets back to the post-season in 2014.

by Connor Rogers

After a surprising 8-8 finish, Rex Ryan is back for his sixth season as the head coach of the New York Jets. With limited talent on the offensive side of the ball and a rookie quarterback starting all year, Ryan and the Jets found a way to finish .500.

 After an offseason filled with multiple free agent additions and twelve draft picks, the Jets look to make a playoff push in 2014. The question is, can the Jets’ offense finally produce average production to aid an extremely solid defense? Let’s take a look how it might all play out…

 Key New FA Additions: WR Eric Decker, RB Chris Johnson, QB Mike Vick, OT Breno Giacomini

Decker was the first free agent addition for the Jets, signing a five year contract worth 36.25 million dollars (15 guaranteed). Vick was brought in on a one-year deal to be Geno Smith’s back up.

Chris Johnson was cut by the Titans well into free agency and was brought in on a two-year deal worth an $8 million dollar base salary (up to $1 million in incentives). Dmitri Patterson was signed after the cornerback market completely fizzled on a one-year deal. Then he fizzled too, going AWOL during the pre-season and was released.

Key Departures: CB Antonio Cromartie (Arizona), Santonio Holmes (Chicago), Mark Sanchez (Philadelphia),  Austin Howard (Oakland)

The Jets made no attempt to bring back Cromartie and failed at coming to terms with Howard, who was paid a king’s ransom by Oakland to move from right tackle to guard. Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes were cut by the Jets after failing to live up to mega contracts they received from former general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

NFL Draft Additions:

Round 1: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville

Round 2: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Round 3: Dexter Mcdougle, CB, Maryland

Round 4: Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma/Shaq Evans, WR, UCLA/Dakota Dozier, OT/OG, Furman

Round 5: Jeremiah George, ILB, Iowa State

Round 6: Brandon Dixon, CB, Northwest Missouri State/Quincy Enunwa, WR, Nebraska/IK Enemkpali, OLB, Louisiana Tech/Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

Round 7: Trevor Reilly, OLB, Utah

Pryor will start at one of the safety spots. He was brought in to improve the Jets turnover differential and overall turnovers, both categories of which the Jets were in the bottom 5 of the league.

Amaro will receive significant (starter level) reps at both tight end and split out wide. His blocking is much better than he is given credit for, while being a red zone target from day one.

Mcdougle is lost for the year with a torn ACL injury and will look to compete for a starting corner spot in training camp in 2015 after rehab.

Jalen Saunders is the starting punt returner and fifth wide out on the team. Shaq Evans has been put on IR for the year. Dakota Dozier brings depth to the interior offensive line positions.

George has struggled in the preseason and is currently on the roster bubble. If he does make the team, he is the backup for Demario Davis and David Harris.

Dixon is a project cornerback that will most likely land on the practice squad in year one. He has excellent speed (top 5 40-yard dash time at the 2014 NFL combine) and experience in man-to-man press coverage. If he can refine his lateral movement and flipping of his hips, he will see the field in 2015.

Enunwa is a big red zone threat (6’2, 225 pounds) and a nasty blocker. He will most likely land on the practice squad as his route running needs work, unless he can stick on special teams.

IK Enemkpali is a power rusher that played at a lower level of competition at Louisiana Tech. He can step in on special teams as a rookie while working on a role as a situational edge rusher for the 2015 NFL season.

Matt Simms beat out Boyd for the third string quarterback spot, though Simms is merely on the practice squad for now.

Trevor Reilly played every position except nose tackle in the front seven at Utah. The versatile 26 year old is a special teams candidate for the Jets in 2014.

The Offense:

Geno Smith will be the starting quarterback, as he looks to carry his strong finish from 2013 into the 2014 season. There is a lot to like about Smith, who was forced into a starter’s role after Mark Sanchez suffered a season-ending injury in the 2013 preseason vs. the Giants.

Smith has a strong, accurate arm and + graded mobility.  He is a “down field” thrower that needs to refine his reads and footwork. After being given a full NFL offseason, Smith should have a better grasp on the playbook and reading of an NFL pass rush. I would temper expectations going into year two, but 18 passing touchdowns, 4 rushing, and 12-15 turnovers are very fair expectations for Smith.

The Jets will rely on a run-heavy attack featuring power back Chris Ivory, speedster Chris Johnson, and the one cut runner in Bilal Powell. Ivory is a load when healthy and a goal line menace. Johnson can bounce it outside and bring it to the house on any play, from handoffs or passes.

Powell is the best pass-protecting back on the team and displays very good vision to find the hole, cut and go. Daryl Richardson will also be featured in case one of the top three are injured. The speedy back from the Rams is very capable of handling second-string running back duties.

Eric Decker will be the primary wide receiver. Jeremy Kerley will handle the slot duties and continue to be the go-to guy on third downs. Jace Amaro and Jeff Cumberland are extremely capable pass catchers that can line up as in-line tight ends as well, although Cumberland has struggled mightly as a blocker in the past.

David Nelson will be a short-intermediate possession target, while Greg Salas will most likely back up Kerley.  Jalen Saunders will handle returning punts and occasionally work out of the slot if he develops as a NFL pass catcher this year. Stephen Hill’s status with the team is up in the air as he continued to struggle in the preseason.

The offensive line will feature mainstays D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold with free agent addition Breno Giacomini. The guards will be Brian Winters and Willie Colon, with Oday Aboushi as a primary do-it-all back up. Giacomini and Colon are bruisers that lack a lot of foot speed but can maul when they get their hands on defenders.

Ferguson is the blindside protector who handles the primary edge rushers. Mangold is as solid as they come, after he did not allow a single sack in 2013. Winters is the guy to keep an eye on as penalties and pass protecting seem to be key struggles in his game right now.

 

The Defense:

The defense is led by young talent along the line in Mo Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Damon Harrison. Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples will start at the outside linebacker positions, with Jason Babin being the situational pass rusher. Antwan Barnes is still working his way back from a 2013 knee injury.

Rookie Calvin Pryor and veteran Dawan Landry will start at the safety positions. The cornerback positions are anyone’s best guess at the moment, outside of Dee Milliner being a lock. Darrin Walls is an extremely capable outside coverage corner who seems to be the front-runner to line up across from Milliner. Antonio Allen will see time at both safety and corner, wherever the Jets need him. Kyle Wilson will most likely play a slot corner position.

Bruiser David Harris and youngster Demario Davis lead the middle of the defense. Harris struggles considerably in coverage but plays the interior run as well as anyone. Davis is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker that could lead the team in tackles in 2014.

 

Special Teams:

First-year coach Thomas McGaughey from LSU will look to improve the Jets special teams in 2014. Jalen Saunders will be the primary punt returner, with Jeremy Kerley serving as his back up.

Kick returner will be a week-to-week position depending who is on the roster. Jacoby Ford, Saalim Hakim, and Clyde Gates can all handle kick return duties. The question is, which one makes the roster, if any?

Nick Bellore is the special team’s “stand out.” Bellore is a tackling machine that always seems to have his nose on shutting down returns.

Nick Folk has been as reliable as they come for the Jets, hitting 33 out of 36 field goal attempts in 2013. Ryan Quigley is a huge question mark at punt returner, and the Jets should look to replace him after cuts. Long-snapper Tanner Purdum seems like a lock.

Outlook:

The Jets made a lot of offseason improvements and will look to build off of their 8-8 finish in 2013. Right now I have them finishing 9-7, just missing the playoffs due to a very strong AFC in 2014. The most important factors for the team will be Geno Smith’s development and the secondary containing the big play, two week-to-week issues they faced last season.

Connor Rogers works in Bleacher Report’s NFL Video Department and is a lead editor for Turn On The Jets. He has been featured on newyorkjets.com and many more outlets. You can follow him on twitter at @CRogers_NFL.